Archive for August 18th, 2010

Abjol Miah, IFE and PCC

Last March, Andrew Gilligan presented a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary (in which I appeared) about the links between various politicians in Tower Hamlets and the Islamic Forum of Europe, a lobby group based at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel. Andrew also wrote series of articles and blog posts here, here, here and here on the same subject for the Daily Telegraph and its sister Sunday title.

These pieces and that documentary have become THE backdrop to the ongoing campaign to become Tower Hamlets mayor. They contained heavy reference to former Labour council leader Lutfur Rahman and ex-Respect councillor Abjol Miah. The latter was described as a “senior activist” in IFE. The articles pointed out that he was not a member.

Following publication, Abjol complained to the Press Complaints Commission that his denial of “senior activism” had not been published. He further complained that the Telegraph had failed to provide him, prior to publication, with specific evidence to back up its allegations.

The text of the PCC’s ruling can be seen in a press release from Tower Hamlets Respect here (I’ve pasted it below as well). Respect’s spin is that the ruling is a victory for their man, who is likely to be the Respect candidate in the forthcoming Mayoral election. Read the ruling and judge for yourselves. Note, in particular, that the PCC is NOT requiring the Telegraph to print a correction or an apology, which is what Respect and Abjol were after (in that matter, I’ve highlighted in bold the significant paragraph in the ruling).

Commission’s decision in the case of

Miah v The Daily Telegraph

The complainant, a Tower Hamlets councillor and former parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow, said that the newspaper had significantly misled readers and breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code by publishing the claim that he was a “senior activist in” the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) without making clear that that he had denied having such a relationship with the group. The complainant said that the publication of the claim unaccompanied by his denial would suggest to readers that he had accepted it and that he had previously dishonestly represented his political allegiances.

The complainant considered that the newspaper’s argument was “guilt by association”. He made clear that he did not deny that he had friends and family members in the IFE and had professional links to the IFE, but argued that this did not corroborate the specific claim made by the newspaper. In the complainant’s view, the distinction drawn by the newspaper between senior activism in and membership of a group was spurious and illogical.

The newspaper maintained that there was an important distinction to be made between membership of the group and “senior activism in” the group. The newspaper provided evidence in respect of the complainant’s links to the IFE, including his regular participation in a radio show described in IFE literature as a “project of the IFE” and co-presented by IFE activists; the description of him by a fellow member of the Respect party as a “young member of IFE” in 2007; support he had received from prominent members of the IFE during his election campaign; and his associations with three groups it said have strong ties to the IFE: the Young Muslim Organisation UK, Elite Youth, and the Brick Lane Youth Development Association (Blyda).

Nonetheless, at a late stage in the correspondence it offered to publish the following denial from the complainant at the foot of the blog post: Abjol Miah denies that he is an IFE activist. This was not accepted by the complainant as sufficient resolution of his complaint; he required a public admission by the newspaper that it had erred in failing to publish his denial at the time of the original article and that it had not put to him specific evidence to corroborate the claim prior to publication.

In reaching a view on this matter, the primary concern for the Commission was whether readers would have been significantly misled on two points: the newspaper’s claim that the complainant was a senior activist in the IFE, and its omission of the information that the complainant denied this claim.

The Commission made clear that the newspaper was entitled to put forward its view on the significance of the complainant’s links to the group. It had been able to provide a substantial amount of on-the-record corroborating evidence in correspondence to support the suggestion that the complainant had a number of personal and professional links to the group.  The Commission understood the complainant’s concern that the distinction proposed by the newspaper between being a “senior activist in” a group and a “member” of a group was somewhat artificial. Nonetheless, it had to have regard for the fact that the claim advanced by the newspaper was less definitive than a claim of membership. Against this background, and the points put forward by the newspaper, the Commission did not consider that the complainant had been able to establish that the article had been significantly misleading or inaccurate on this point such that it warranted correction or clarification under the Editors’ Code.

The Commission noted, however, that the evidence provided by the newspaper did not provide complete corroboration of the precise claim it had made. The newspaper had made the claim based on a particular interpretation of the material, which it was open to the complainant to dispute. Although it appeared that the precise claim that had been published had not been put to the complainant for comment, he had strongly denied a number of allegations relating to his connections with the organisation. There did not appear to be any suggestion that the newspaper was unaware of his general view on the matter. Under the circumstances, the Commission considered that by excluding this view the newspaper may have given readers the misleading and inaccurate impression that he accepted this description of his relationship with the organisation. The Commission concluded that there was a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code which merited prompt and explicit remedial action on the part of the newspaper.

The Commission was disappointed at the time it had taken the newspaper to offer this remedy, which had not assisted in the resolution of the complaint. Nonetheless, on balance the Commission considered that the statement offered by the newspaper would clarify the position to readers and acted as a sufficient response to the concerns raised by the complainant. The Commission trusted that this offer would remain open to the complainant.

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