This is an updated version of a paper I wrote in late 2017, when I was crowdfunding my challenge to IPSO. It provides some details of the case and my motives.
In October 2016, The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) held a meeting in the House of Lords to launch a petition for Britain to apologise for repercussions of the Balfour Declaration. Baroness Tonge was in the chair, there were four invited speakers and fourteen audience members also spoke. The meeting went smoothly and Karl Sabbagh provided a carefully reasoned argument as to why Britain needed to apologise.
The Times (27/10 and 28/10) and Sunday Times (30/10) reported the meeting in a totally distorted and at times untruthful manner, making it look like a sort of anti-Semitic hate-fest. A disproportionate amount of the reporting focused on a scarcely audible audience member, an orthodox rabbi of the Neturei Karta sect, who made a confused statement about the Holocaust, on the basis of which the newspapers asserted that it had been stated that Jews (in general) were responsible for the Holocaust, and as if this view was widely shared among those present. This was utterly misleading, since the individual concerned was a singleton flying his own kite and in any event he did not blame Jewish people in general. Taken together, these three articles unjustly defamed everyone present, particularly Tonge who was promptly suspended by the Lib Dems, and subjected to a long House of Lords inquiry.
Thirty attendees, including myself, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), a ‘self-regulatory body’ that belongs to the UK’s leading newspaper groups. IPSO upheld just one aspect of our complaint, but not the bulk of our criticisms.
It is in the light of this that I went a step further and launched a Judicial Review challenging IPSO’s response, engaging nationally renowned lawyers ITN. I had noted that the press was bullying people in such a way that they were reluctant to speak up on Israel/Palestine, and that this was resulting in the de-facto suppression of debate. This was particularly evident in a much reported smear campaign against Labour party activists.
I was working with the support of the Hacked Off Campaign which (while having no position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute) believed IPSO to be a sham regulator, and agreed that its rulings in the above case were so biased as to be irrational and unfair.
My main grounds for this Judicial Review were that IPSO unreasonably refused to accept part of the complaint on spurious grounds and even against their own rules. It also refused to accept my evidence that the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards had dismissed all the accusations that the meeting “had brought the House into disrepute”. And finally IPSO misdirected itself on its own standards code, by deeming all opinion articles to be fact-free and by confusing the concepts of careless errors and significant errors.
This judicial review was the first of its kind and we were quickly granted permission to proceed with the Judicial Review on all the grounds. I crowdfunded my expenses, and the hearing was scheduled to be held at the Royal Courts of Justice on 17th April 2018.
In the event I lost the case, but as I explain in the post “the judge has pronounced“, it has provided some achievements and useful lessons for the future – – – for which reason I say watch this space.
Jonathan Coulter, 3 May 2018