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Daily justified in branding political party as ‘far-right’, watchdog rules

Anne-Marie Waters.png.galleryA regional daily was justified in characterising a political party as “far-right” in its pages, the press watchdog has ruled.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has rejected claims by the For Britain party that the Northern Echo had used the description inaccurately in a comment piece written by a local councillor on its patch.

The piece discussed how schools and colleges should respond to the increasing incidence of groups the councillor described as “far-right.”

It claimed: “The fall-out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far right national socialist movement, such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL.”

For Britain claimed the term “far-right” denoted illiberal, authoritarian, and anti-democratic politics, which it said did not reflect its values, and believed the Darlington-based Echo should have stated the party disputed this characterisation.

However, IPSO ruled in the Echo’s favour, echoing a similar ruling two years ago in which the organisation rejected a claim by English Democrats leader Robin Tilbrook that the Yorkshire Post had inaccurately used the term”far-right” to refer to his party.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, For Britain added that the term “national socialism” was a creation of the Nazi party and thus would be understood to refer directly and only to the Nazis.

The party claimed it was in no way supportive or connected with Nazi ideology, and further added it was inaccurate to linke For Britain with people suchTommy Robinson, ex-leader of the English Defence League, when Ms Waters, pictured, was in fact its leader.

In response, the Echo said that political values lie on an inherently subjective spectrum, adding the author was entitled to put across his opinion that the group were “far-right national socialist” when he had a sufficient basis to do so.

The newspaper said it was clear from For Britain’s published policies on culture and immigration that it held nationalist views, and pointed to its leader’s socialist origins within the Labour Party, which together gave a sufficient basis for the “national socialist” description.

The Echo added that others had described the party as far-right, that it was associated with acknowledged far-right groups, that members had been part of other far-right groups and that a documentary titled ‘Undercover: Inside Britain’s new Far-Right’ featured an attendee of the group’s events.

In addition, it pointed out that the group’s populist policies, its frequent invocation of ethnic and cultural loyalties and its anti-immigration and pro-deportation stance were established conventions of both national socialism and far-right ideology.

In any event, the Echo said that it was not true that the article compared For Britain to Nazis, or that the phrase “national socialists” would automatically denote Nazism or its politics.

It accepted that its reference to Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who is better known under the pseudonym ‘Tommy Robinson’, was inadvertently ambiguous, and offered to clarify this point, although the Echo said it was not significantly misleading to link him to the group’s beliefs given he shared similar views to Ms Waters.

The Echo said that it would also be happy to consider publishing a letter from For Britain setting out its position.

IPSO did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over the characterisations made in the Echo, and the complaint was not upheld.

The full adjudication can be read here.