Ruling

29107-20 Bird v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      29th July 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 29107-20 Bird v The Jewish Chronicle

Summary of Complaint

1. Jo Bird complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Suspended Corbyn backs activist meeting at which speakers express inflammatory views on Jews and Israel”, published on 5 November 2020 and an article headlined “A leaked report says the only Jewish member of an East London Labour Facebook group was ‘punished’ for raising the issue of antisemitism”, published on 20 November 2020.

2. The first article under complaint was published online and reported on a meeting. It reported that “one of the main speakers claimed the ‘privileging’ of Jewish communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat racism than other minorities”. It continued to report the full quote: “controversial Labour councillor Jo Bird said: ‘I worry about privileging the racism faced by Jewish communities in this country as more worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination - such as against black people, Palestinians, Muslims and refugees.’” The speaker was also described as a “Wirral-based councillor” who “then added: ‘Privileging one group over another is divisive - it is bad for the many, as well as bad for the Jews.’” The article contained quotes from another speaker which it characterised as “inflammatory claims”.

3. The second article concerned a report that had been commissioned into claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The article described three issues which had been considered in the report which were unrelated to the complainant before reporting: “Finally, a letter from Wirral councillor Jo Bird - recently suspended  from Labour for a third time - was also published, which expressed solidarity with [named individual], herself expelled over antisemitism allegations”. The article then said that the author of the report had concluded that the four examples were “indeed antisemitic”.

4. The second article was also published online on 17 November 2020 and was headlined “Only Jewish member of London Labour group left with 'panic attacks’ over 'institutional antisemitism'”. It was substantially the same format, however the online article stated the Wirral councillor had been “suspended from Labour for a third time”.

5. The complainant said that the first article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that it was inaccurate to report that she had claimed the ‘privileging’ of Jewish communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat racism than other minorities, as her actual quote had raised concerns about the privileging of racism that affected Jewish communities, as opposed to the Jewish communities themselves. She said her full quote from the meeting was: “As a Jew, I worry about racism against Jewish people. I also worry about privileging the racism faced by Jewish communities in this country, as more worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination such as against Black people, Palestinians, Muslims and refugees. Abuses of power are measured in detentions, deportations and deaths”. She said that the term “inflammatory” in the headline was inaccurate as it was not justified in the text.

6. The complainant said that the second article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it gave the impression she had written an antisemitic letter. She said she had never written, nor been found by the Labour Party to have written, an antisemitic letter. The complainant said that the quoting a non-academic report which stated she had written an antisemitic letter, should not have been allowed without contacting her for comment directly first.

7. The complainant also said that the online version of the second article was inaccurate as it reported that she had been “suspended” from Labour for a third time. She said she was under investigation, but had not been suspended.

8. The complainant also said both articles were inaccurate to describe her as a “Wirral-based councillor” or “Wirral councillor” as the speech was given in a personal rather than official capacity and she rarely wrote in her capacity as a Wirral councillor. Furthermore, she said that the newspaper had failed to take care to report accurate information as she had not been contacted in advance nor given the right of reply with respect to either article.

9. The complainant said that both articles breached Clause 1 and Clause 12 by omitting to mention that she was Jewish. She said that her Jewishness was genuinely relevant to the story, and by failing to include this it removed the anti-Jewish racism she also faced and the article was therefore discriminatory. She also said that the omission was misleading it distorted the context in which her comments were made.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code with regards to the first article, or the print version of the second article. It said that report that the complainant had claimed that the “‘privileging’ of Jewish communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat racism than other minorities” was an accurate summary of what the complainant had said. It also said it had published similar stories in the past which had not been complained about.

11. The publication said that the letter written by the complainant was a matter of fact, as well as a report which referred to it as antisemitic. The publication said that the report referenced in the article had been commissioned by the Labour Mayor of Newham, who accepted its findings. The publication said that it had gone to the Labour Party and the Mayor for comment prior to publication, and that it was entitled to publish the findings of the report.

12. The publication said it was not inaccurate to describe the complainant as a Wirral councillor, or “Wirral-based-councillor” as this was an accurate description of her. It said that the article did not imply that she had acted within her role as a councillor. The publication said it did not have a responsibility under Clause 1(i) to go to the complainant for comment on comments she had made publicly and the newspaper had accurately reported.

13. The publication accepted that it had been inaccurate to report in the online version of the second article that the complainant had been suspended from Labour for a third time. It amended the article prior to IPSO’s investigation, and added a correction which stated:

An earlier version of this story wrongly stated that Wirral councillor Jo Bird had been suspended for a third time, rather than investigated.

14. The publication said it was neither inaccurate, nor discriminatory to not include the fact the complainant was Jewish within the articles.

Relevant Code Provisions

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

15. The publication had accepted that reporting in the online version of the second article that the complainant had been suspended for the third time was inaccurate, and it had therefore failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i). Where the inaccuracy related to the complainant’s position as a councillor, and inaccurately reported the more serious sanction of suspension, this was a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1(ii).

16. Prior to IPSO’s investigation, the publication had published a footnote to the article, which acknowledged the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. As this was added before IPSO’s investigation this represented due promptness and as a footnote to the article it was duly prominent, and there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

17. The first article had included a summary of, as well as the verbatim quote, from a public speech given by the complainant. The summary of the quote had stated the complainant had claimed the ‘privileging’ of Jewish communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat racism than other minorities, rather than the privileging of “the racism faced by Jewish communities”. Where the summary made clear that privileging of the communities related to being “more worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination” as opposed to the community itself, and the verbatim quote was also included in the article, this was not significantly misleading. The use of the term “inflammatory” was subjective, and represented the publication’s characterisation of the speaker which the complainant was not in a position to determine, this was not inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

18. In the second article, the complainant did not dispute that the named author of the report had claimed that she had written a letter in which she had expressed support for another individual and that the author had described the letter as antisemitic. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that the complainant challenged the finding, it was clear from the article that it was a finding made by the author of the report and was not adopted as fact. On this basis it was not inaccurate to report the findings made in the report, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

19. Both articles had referred to the complainant’s role as a Wirral councillor. Where the complainant did not deny that she was a Wirral councillor, this was not inaccurate. Further the publication did not state that she had acted in an official capacity and was simply describing her job role. The complainant had also said that the publication had failed to take care by not going to her for comment prior to the publication of the article. The Committee made clear that the Editors’ Code does not give a stand-alone requirement for contacting subjects of articles for comment. Where the article reported on a public speech and the findings of a report, it was not a breach of the Editors’ Code to fail to contact the complainant regarding these points of fact.

20. Neither article stated that the complainant was Jewish. The Committee made clear that Clause 12 protects individuals from pejorative and prejudicial references to protected characteristics, and from referring to such characteristics unless it is genuinely relevant to the story. It does not require that such characteristics are referred to. Clause 12 was therefore not engaged.

21. The complainant had also said it was misleading under Clause 1 to omit that she was Jewish, as this changed the context of the quotes she gave. Newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case, where the complainants’ actions had been accurately reported within the articles, omitting to mention that the complainant was Jewish did not make the article inaccurate or misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

22. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

23. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.

 

Date complaint received: 18/11/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/04/2021

 

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.