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News site’s description of ‘far right’ group was valid, watchdog rules

Stan RobinsonA political group’s claim that a journalist inaccurately branded it “far right” has been dismissed by the press watchdog.

Stan Robinson went to the Independent Press Watchdog on behalf of Voice of Wales over a Wales Online story which reported on an election count some of its members had attended.

Mr Robinson claimed the story had inaccurately referred to the group as “far right” because he associated this term to be associated with authoritarian, extremist, and anti-democratic politics, which he denied reflected the values of the group.

But IPSO backed Wales Online after it provided evidence of the group’s views on a number of different issues.

The Cardiff-based site’s story had reported United Kingdom Independence Party candidate for the Welsh Assembly, Dan Morgan, won “just 567” votes and a “team of supporters, wearing Voice of Wales t-shirts, the far right group whose YouTube page was taken down for allegedly breaching community standards, [were] the only people in the building not wearing face masks”.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mr Robinson said it was also inaccurate to report that the group were “the only people in the building not wearing face masks” because a broadcast production team present were also not wearing face coverings.

Mr Robinson, pictured, claimed this created the misimpression that the UKIP candidate and Voice of Wales were reckless lawbreakers, acting in contravention of government guidance during a global public health emergency, while the story had also “outed” his disability which had exempted him from wearing a face covering at the event.

Denying a breach of Code, Wales Online said political values lie on an inherently subjective spectrum and that the term “far-right” was not explicitly defined, but noted that this particular term was commonly used to encompass those that followed a narrative of a racial and/or cultural threat to a ‘native’ group and which rejected the concepts of diversity and integration.

The site provided examples of the activities of Voice of Wales and the individuals closely associated with it, which it said demonstrated that the group could reasonably be defined as “far-right”.

These included previous comments made by the group regarding the teaching of Black History month and reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr Robinson’s own comments on the inclusion of prominent black figures in the windows of the Arts Council of Wales building, the reference to and monitoring of the group by anti-fascist organisation FarRightWatch and the removal of the Voice of Wales channel from YouTube, which had included videos featuring members of the Proud Boys, the English Defence League and the anti-Muslim Party for Britain.

Wales Online maintained that its reporter had not seen any other person at the count without a mask, but mended the online story to remove the references to the group as “far-right” and the absence of face covering among the group in an effort to resolve the complaint.

In delivering its findings, IPSO noted the important role that journalists have as observers of events and said playing the role of witness is a core part of what it means to be a journalist.

It found in circumstances where it was accepted that nearly all of those in attendance were masked, including apparently all of those who were attending for the purpose of participating in the event, the specific claim that the complainant and his group were “the only people” not wearing face masks did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the story.

The Committee further found Wales Online had been able to provide sufficient evidence to support its interpretation and characterisation of the group as “far right” and did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over this characterisation.

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