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Newspaper rapped over terrorism slur on bookshop

The London Evening Standard has been rapped for not taking enough care over the accuracy of a story in which it claimed a bookshop sold books that advocated terrorism.

The article appeared soon after the London bombings under the headline ‘Terror and hatred for sale just yards from Baker Street’, but the shop did not sell the books and DVDs which were included in the article.

Samir El-Atar, managing director of the Dar Al-Taqwa bookshop, told the Press Complaints Commission that the shop had never stocked the books in question, and as a result of the article staff had suffered abuse and threats of violence and they had had to seek police protection.

He also complained that the paper had quoted selectively from a pamphlet on jihad which was on sale in the bookshop, and said he was unhappy that a clarification had been published without his approval and that other remedial action offered to him was unsuitable.

The PCC upheld complaints under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Code.

The Evening Standard article focused on allegedly extremist literature which was on sale in Islamic bookshops in the aftermath of the London bombings, and the complainant’s bookshop featured prominently in a photograph, alongside pictures of three of the titles that the newspaper said advocated terrorism and which were said to be sold at premises “such as Dar Al-Taqwa”.

The paper later conceded that the books and DVDs pictured were not sold in the shop, and the PCC said the while the paper was doubtless acting in the public interest when researching the article, there was insufficient corroboration to support the “extremely serious” claims contained in the headline.

It said that sufficient care had not been taken over the accuracy of the story, and that in the climate of anxiety following the attacks, the consequences of the misleading allegations – particularly given the fact that the shop’s contact details had been prominently displayed – could have been extremely serious for the complainant.

In these circumstances it said the offered remedies were inadequate to resolve what was a clear breach of Clause 1, and therefore there was also a breach of Clause 2 of the Code.

A further complaint under Clause 3 of the Code, intrusion, objected to the publication of the photograph of the shop in which its telephone and fax number were clearly displayed.

The Commission decided that publication of the shop’s telephone number in the context of the piece was likely to cause serious difficulties, but did not consider that the publication of a shop-front represented a failure to respect the private life of the complainant as it did not contain private information.