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Weekly rapped over front page story on alleged ‘anti-Semitic’ abuse

IPSO_logo_newA weekly newspaper has been rapped by the press watchdog and ordered to publish a front-page correction over a report on alleged “anti-Semitic” abuse at a local council meeting.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has criticised the Hampstead & Highgate Express over its handling of a story in which it claimed a man had referred to a property developer as ‘Shylock’.

The Ham & High had initially claimed Herminio Martinez used the term, the name of a Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’ play The Merchant of Venice, during a meeting in February 2016 at which Haringey Council approved the developer’s scheme.

However, while admitting having at a previous public meeting in 2015, Mr Martinez said he had not done so at the subsequent meeting, and that he had not used it in an anti-Semitic context.

Mr Martinez complained to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice over the front page story from 11 February this year.

In it the paper reported that two property developers were the subject of anti-Semitic abuse after a “fracas” – with cries of “you’re anti-Semitic” and “you’re a fascist” heard in the lobby of Haringey civic centre after their scheme was approved.

It said that Mr Martinez had admitted to the newspaper that he called one of the developers ‘Shylock’, but he did not believe his words were anti-Semitic.

Mr Martinez denied having made the admission, and said that after being asked for the spelling of his first name by the journalist, he had told her he did not want his name in the article, and did not wish to talk to her.

He said he did not know one of the developers was Jewish, and that on being introduced to him in 2015, he had made the remark in the context of comparing him to bankers, investors and developers down through the ages who had destroyed society.

The Ham & High responded that the journalist had been part of a conversation at the meeting in which Mr Martinez had explained his comment to a group of people, but after she had introduced herself to him and asked him his name, he said he did not want to give it or comment.

The newspaper was unable to provide notes from these conversations to IPSO, but said it did have further off-the-record conversations with witnesses prior to publication.

It accepted the term ‘Shylock’ had not been made during the conversation, but said the it had been an honest misunderstanding as its journalist believed, from the atmosphere of the conversation and the degree of confrontation, that the comment had only just been made.

The Ham & High had removed the article from its website and offered to publish a correction, adding it would print one on its front page if required to do so by IPSO.

IPSO said the failure of the newspaper to verify when the comment had been made, and its inability to provide material to support the claims made in the article, such as notes, represented a failure to comply with the requirements of Clause 1(i) of the Code, meaning a front page correction was required.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.