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Complainant Name:
A woman

Clauses Noted: 1, 2, 12

Publication: New Statesman

Complaint:

This complaint was adjudicated at the Press Complaints Commission's penultimate meeting on 29 July, and finalised at its final meeting on 4 September 2014. While the PCC has now been closed, the ruling has been published on this website as a public record of the outcome of the complaint.

A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "The radicalism of fools - Anti-Semitism and the left", published by the New Statesman in its 24 January 2014 edition, was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. The complainant also said the magazine had failed to provide her with a reasonable opportunity to reply, in breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), and had discriminated against her in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination).

The magazine had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i) and had published a significant inaccuracy, but had offered sufficient action to remedy the breach. There was no breach of Clause 2 or Clause 12.

The article discussed controversy over a gesture called a quenelle, with particular reference to an incident in which it had been made by a well-known footballer. The writer outlined his view that the gesture was anti-Semitic, because of its origins and the contexts in which it had sometimes been deployed, and he criticised those who defended it, claiming that they were engaging in a "foolish" form of anti-establishment radicalism. The complainant was cited as an example of a "liberal and progressive" who had, in the writer's view, "unbelievably" defended the footballer in a comment piece by her published in The National, a newspaper and website. The article went on to criticise her, wrongly, for having "omitted to mention that some of [the gestures] took place outside synagogues, Holocaust memorials, Auschwitz and even the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse where Mohamed Merah, a Franco-Algerian gunman, murdered three children and a teacher in 2012". In fact, the complainant had said that "there is absolutely no question that [the footballer] would condemn the revolting pictures of idiots performing quenelles outside Holocaust memorials [and] other sites marking attacks on Jews", and called them "obscenities". She was further concerned that amendments to the online article, following her complaint to the magazine, were misleading: it wrongly claimed she "assumed" the footballer would condemn such obscenities. She had spoken to his agent, and knew this to be the case.

The complainant said the inaccurate allegation was a deliberate attempt to undermine her position and to bolster the article's criticism of her and others, and she strongly objected to what she believed to be the article's suggestions that she was guilty of anti-Semitism and foolishness. The complainant also believed that the article had failed to justify its description of her as a "liberal and progressive" and had contained an irrelevant and discriminatory reference to her French-Algerian descent. She said the magazine had failed to provide her with an appropriate opportunity to reply to inaccuracies.

The magazine accepted that the allegation of the omission by the complainant had been wrong. The writer had failed to read the final passages of the complainant's piece, apparently because he had not noticed that the online article had a second page. The magazine had been contacted by the complainant's solicitors prior to the PCC complaint and had published an apology in print in its next issue, stating that the claim was "wrong" and that the complainant "did note in her article that [the footballer] himself would condemn the revolting pictures of idiots performing quenelles outside Holocaust memorials, or other sites marking attacks on Jews". It had also amended the relevant sentence of the online article to say that "although she noted that some of these revolting photographs were taken outside Holocaust memorials she assumed that [the footballer] himself would condemn such obscenities". A note was added to the online article making clear that "a previous version of this story wrongly said that [the complainant] had omitted to mention the use of the quenelle outside Holocaust memorials". The complainant had then contacted the PCC about her concerns. During the PCC investigation, the magazine had offered to add an apology to the online correction and to further clarify her position. It denied that the article had suggested that the complainant was anti-Semitic. Rather, it said the writer had claimed that she was nave or foolish to defend the footballer, which was a legitimate statement of opinion. It had contacted the complainant before publication, but she had declined to be interviewed.

The magazine said that its description of the complainant as "liberal and progressive" was based on the nature of the publications to which she has contributed her writing. It denied any breach of Clause 12; there was no prejudicial reference to her background, and she had referenced it in her original article.

The complainant said that the apology was inadequate. The wording had not been agreed, and it failed to make clear that she had condemned the use of the quenelle in places linked to anti-Semitism. No apology had been published online, and the amendments had failed to make clear that she had condemned the activity. She also denied that she had "assumed" that the footballer would condemn these instances; in fact, she had established this with the footballer's agent before writing her article. The subsequent offer of an extended apology online failed to address why the error had been made, or the allegation of anti-Semitism, and was insincere.

Decision:
Sufficient remedial action offered

Adjudication:

The magazine's failure to notice that the complainant's article had a second page was a careless and unacceptable error, and a clear breach of Clause 1 (i).This was particularly concerning given the subject matter of the article, and all the more serious because it had formed part of the basis on which the complainant had been criticised by the writer. In such circumstances, an apology to the complainant was clearly warranted under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), in addition to the correction of the inaccuracy.

While the prompt publication of the print correction and apology was sufficient to comply with the requirements of Clause 1(ii), the Commission was disappointed that the magazine had failed to adequately correct the error online - publishing only a brief update, without the necessary apology. The Commission cautioned the magazine that it expects necessary remedies - including apologies, where relevant - to appear in all media in which the original breach has been published. However, it noted that the print correction, and online amendments, had been published by the magazine at the earliest opportunity, at which point the matter was referred to the PCC without further correspondence. The magazine had subsequently made an improved offer, which included an online apology. On balance, the further wording it had proposed in relation to the online article was sufficient, in conjunction with the immediate print apology, to remedy the initial breach. This should now be published.

The Commission did not agree that the amendment to the online article - stating that the complainant had assumed the footballer would condemn the use of the quenelle outside holocaust memorials - was misleading. She had stated in her own article that "there was absolutely no question that [he] would condemn them"; the amended article did not misrepresent this expression.

The Commission turned to consider the complainant's broader concern that she had been cited in the article at all, and what she believed to be the implication that she herself is anti-Semitic. In assessing this concern, the Commission noted that the criticism of her position was made in the context of an extensive, international debate over the quenelle, in which the complainant had played an active role. The Commission would be slow to impose restraint on legitimate contributions to such a debate, even (and perhaps particularly) where the issues involved were highly emotive and politically charged, as was the case here.

The Commission considered the article's discussion of the complainant's position in the context of the article's broader argument: that while overt expressions of anti-Semitism are less common in the public sphere than they once were, anti-Semitism remains a major threat and anti-racists should therefore challenge potentially anti-Semitic expressions wherever they appear, including when they are presented as "taboo-breaking" expressions of anti-establishment sentiment. The article discussed a number of incidents which the author argued shed light on this issue, both historical and contemporary, only some of which some were presented as overt anti-Semitism. The reference to the complainant specifically related to her defence of the footballer over the quenelle incident, which was in the writer's view "unbelievable". The thrust of the article's criticism was that the complainant had failed to attach sufficient weight to broader concerns about the way in which the gesture had been used. This was distinct from a more serious claim that her position was, in itself, anti-Semitic. Notwithstanding the serious inaccuracy discussed above, the article had summarised the complainant's broader point that reaction to the footballer's actions was influenced by his social class and race. It had also quoted the complainant's comments in which she had condemned other views espoused by the quenelle's creator as "repugnant". It was not misleading to refer to her piece as a "defence", and the description of it as "unbelievable" was a legitimate comment by the columnist. There was no further breach in this regard.

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) requires publications to afford individuals a fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The Commission was satisfied that the published apology in print and the proposed apology for the website were sufficient to meet the requirement of this Code. The magazine need offer no further opportunity for the complainant to respond to the piece.

Finally, the article had not contained any prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant's race or religion, and the reference to her as "a French journalist of Algerian descent" was relevant, given that her own article had noted prominently that "there [was] much about [Anelka] with which [she] could relate", highlighting the fact his parents were immigrants to France and that he was Muslim whilst discussing her views about the case. The complaint under Clause 12 (Discrimination) was not upheld.

Date Published:
10/09/2014



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