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Regulator dismisses complaint over weekly’s ‘anti-Semitic’ letter

IPSO_logo_newA complaint over an “anti-Semitic” letter which appeared in a weekly newspaper has been dismissed by the press regulator.

Daniel Blake complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Watford Observer had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice after it printed a reader’s letter highlighting concerns over plans made by a local synagogue.

The plans involve the building of an eruv, a defined area in which Jewish people may carry or push objects on the Sabbath, in the town of Bushey.

The letter, from a member of a residents’ association in the town, expressed concern that Bushey was going to become a Jewish area, whereas previously people of all religions had “happily co-existed”.

She claimed that “Jewish law can discriminate against a disabled wheelchair user” and asked “why are Jews exempt from the law?”

Mr Blake had led the eruv project at Bushey Synagogue, and said that the letter was clearly anti-Semitic, adding the letter’s references to a “powerful Jewish lobby” and local Jews’ attempts to “socially engineer” the area were discriminatory and breached Clause 12.

The complainant had submitted his own letter to the newspaper in response, which was published the following week, addressing the points made.

The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code by publishing the reader’s letter. It said that it was the writer’s honestly-held interpretation of events surrounding the eruv application. Publication of the letter did not indicate that the newspaper shared the views of the author, and the following week the newspaper had published a number of letters in favour of the eruv.

IPSO concluded newspapers are entitled to publish readers’ letters which robustly argue controversial opinions, including where it is likely that those opinions will offend.

The letter under complaint had plainly been the writer’s opinion and it had been appropriate to publish the complainant’s reply promptly, in line with the newspaper’s obligations under Clause 2 of the Code, which provides an opportunity to reply to inaccuracies when reasonably called for.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

IPSO also dismissed a complaint by Vanessa Arif against the Manchester Evening News.

Mrs Arif complained the MEN had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Privacy) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)in an article which reported that Jack Smith, a convicted murderer, had confessed to ten unsolved offences, including the burglary of the complainant’s house.

The article stated that photographs of the complainant’s late husband, who was murdered in 2006 by an actor who used to appear in TV drama ‘Shameless’, had been lost in the burglary.

The complainant said the newspaper had inaccurately reported in the online article that her husband had been murdered in a “racist attack”, when it had been a revenge attack.

She also considered the publication of personal details and extracts of her witness impact statement, read out during proceedings against Smith, as an intrusion into he privacy.

The MEN said it appreciated that the report had been upsetting for the complainant to read, but it said her husband’s murder had been reported previously, and repeating that report did not represent an intrusion into grief in breach of the Editors’ Code.

The newspaper accepted, however, that the motive behind the murder was revenge and not race, and it apologised for the inaccuracy in the online article.

It said it had sourced the information from the complainant’s son’s Just Giving fundraising page, in which he had stated that his father had been murdered by a man who was “on bail for another racist attack”.

The newspaper did not consider that this was a significant inaccuracy. Nonetheless, it offered to correct the detail online.

The MEN added the complainant’s address had been mentioned in court, and was not private. It also noted that her name had been in the public domain following her husband’s murder, and it had been given in court during Jack Smith’s trial.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.