303/2020 - 5Pillars UK
Publication: 5Pillars UK
Relevant clauses: Accuracy 1.4 and Discrimination 4.3 of the IMPRESS Standards Code
Outcome: Breach of Clause 4.3. No breach of Clause 1.4
Executive summary of Case
1.1. On 3 July 2020 IMPRESS issued a press release stating that it was gathering information in relation to allegations and concerns raised about the standards of content of 5Pillars UK. Between 3 July 2020 and 3 November 2020, IMPRESS received representations from 7 different individuals and organisations; those parties did not wish to engage in the formal complaints process.
1.2. Their submissions were gathered and tabled in a report, put to a Regulatory Committee on 17 December 2020 for consideration. 16 items of published material were then considered by the Committee. The Committee was tasked with deciding whether the published material fell within the regulatory remit of IMPRESS, and if it did, whether IMPRESS should investigate potential breaches of the Code on its own initiative.
1.3. The Committee considered that 12 items did not engage the Code or were outside of its remit to consider. It considered that four of the published items should be considered further:
An article published on 25 May 2013 under the headline “Was Michael Adebolajo an MI5 Agent?.”
An article published 14 August 2014 under the headline “Did Western Intelligence murder James Foley?”
A podcast published on 5 September 2019, titled, “Blood Brothers #10: Glorifying drug dealers, sectarianism and Sunni unity”
A video published from 5Pillar UK’s Facebook page on 14 June 2019, titled, “The people of Sodom, Prophet Lut and the LGBT movement”
1.4. The first ground is whether the following published material misrepresented or distorted facts in order to further the Publisher’s worldview, titled:
“Was Michael Adebolajo an MI5 Agent?”
“Did Western Intelligence murder James Foley?”
“Blood Brothers #10: Glorifying drug dealers, sectarianism and Sunni unity”
1.5. The relevant Code standard is Code Clause 1.4: Whilst free to be partisan, publishers must not misrepresent or distort the facts.
1.6. After IMPRESS notified the Publisher of the investigation, the Publisher offered to remove two of the articles that were published on the 5Pillars UK website: “Was Michael Adebolajo an MI5 Agent?” and “Did Western Intelligence murder James Foley?” which had been published before 5Pillars UK became regulated by IMPRESS on 5 April 2018.
1.7. The Publisher stated that it had decided to join IMPRESS in 2018 as it wanted to hold itself to the highest standards. It said that it would not necessarily publish these articles again today. It offered to remove the articles and, as of 12 January 2021, the two articles no longer appeared on the Publisher’s website.
1.8. The Committee noted that position, and further considered that the articles were archived material which had been published many years before the Publisher had entered into a Regulatory Agreement with IMPRESS and had adopted the IMPRESS Standards Code. As the articles had since been removed, the Committee ceased consideration of the two articles.
1.9. The Committee turned its consideration to whether the podcast titled, “Blood Brothers #10: Glorifying drug dealers, sectarianism and Sunni unity” amounted to a breach of the Code. The Guidance sets out that the IMPRESS Code safeguards a journalist’s right to present partisan opinions. However publishers must ensure the information underpinning the expression of their opinions and their ‘take’ on a given story is accurate.
1.10. The Committee considered that the ordinary reasonable listener would clearly regard the views expressed in the podcast as partisan political opinion. Evidence provided by the Publisher supported the position that the opinions expressed in the podcast were views shared by other sources. The Committee accepted that the Publisher was entitled to express or share partisan political views that were controversial or even deemed offensive, so long as it did so without misrepresenting or distorting facts. The Committee noted that the views expressed regarding the intention of nation states were not underpinned by discrete factual statements which could be subject to proof and, therefore, the Committee did not consider that the Publisher had misrepresented or distorted facts. There was no breach of Code Clause 1.
1.11. The second ground is whether the following published material incites hatred against any group on the basis of that group’s race, religion or sexual orientation, titled:
“Blood Brothers #10: Glorifying drug dealers, sectarianism and Sunni unity”
“The people of Sodom, Prophet Lut and the LGBT movement”
1.12. The relevant Code rule is Code Clause 4.3: Publishers must not incite hatred against any group on the basis of that group’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that group vulnerable to discrimination.
1.13. The Committee considered that the podcast titled, “Blood Brothers #10: Glorifying drug dealers, sectarianism and Sunni unity”, did not feature views about any particular race or religious group, rather, that the particular sections of the podcast were confined to expressions of political opinion about various nation states. The Committee, therefore, did not consider that the podcast was discriminatory.
1.14. In the video titled “The people of Sodom, Prophet Lut and the LGBT movement”, the Publisher’s deputy editor declaimed vehemently that homosexuality was “a gross crime against Allah”. The Publisher’s view was that it was expressing opinion according to its religious tradition. While the Committee accepted that the Publisher was entitled to freely express opinion on matters of sexual morality in accordance with its traditional religious beliefs, it did not agree that the Publisher had sufficiently contextualised its explanation of homosexuality in the video.
1.15. The Committee considered that the ordinary reasonable viewer would not consider crime, criminality and sinfulness as equivalent or synonymous terms. It considered that crime has a clear and persuasive meaning to audiences and to associate this with the LGBT community was more likely to encourage or legitimise real world threat against those in the LGBT community, as opposed to mere association with ‘sin’ or ‘sinfulness’. The Committee noted that the emphasis of tone and repetition used by the Deputy Editor of the publication in the video was pointed and could evoke a strong reaction, which resonated in a way that could put a person or group in fear.
1.16. For these reasons, the Committee decided that the video met the threshold of discrimination set out in Clause 4.3 and a breach of the Code had occurred.
1.17. The outcome of the investigation was that of the 16 published items presented, four were further considered. Consideration was withdrawn for two of those items. With respect to two remaining items, no breach of Code Clause 1 had occurred. A breach of Code Clause 4.3 was upheld concerning one of the published items.
1.18. The Committee directed that the video which appeared on 5Pillar UK’s Facebook page, titled, “The people of Sodom, Prophet Lut and the LGBT movement”, be amended to remove references to homosexuality being criminal or a crime, or alternatively, if those references were not removed, where it was made accessible to audiences either on its Facebook page or via a link on its website, the entire video be removed.