IPSO rejects Katie Hopkins migrant 'cockroaches' complaints: Editors' Code does not cover 'taste and offence'

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has rejected more than 400 complaints about a Sun comment piece which described African migrants as cockroaches.

Two complaints which raised points of accuracy are however being considered by The Sun.

Most complaints covered Clause 12 of the Editors' Code (Discrimination) which states: “The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.?ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.”

There were also complaints under clause 4 (harassment), clause 2 (opportunity for right of reply), clause 5 (intrusion into grief or shock)  and clause 6 (reporting of children).

In a written response to complainants, IPSO said: “While we noted the general concern that the column was discriminatory towards migrants, Clause 12 is designed to protect identified individuals mentioned by the press against discrimination, and does not apply to groups or categories of people.

“The concerns raised by the complainants that the article discriminated against migrants in general did not therefore raise a possible breach of Clause 12.

“A number of complainants also said that it was inaccurate for the columnist to describe migrants as 'cockroaches', 'vagrants', 'feral humans', a 'plague', 'spreading like norovirus', and to suggest that British towns with a large migrant populations are 'festering sores', that migrants 'are built to survive a nuclear bomb' and to liken Australian immigration policy to 'sharia stoning', in breach of clause 1 (accuracy).

“Several complainants said that the article did not distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact, in breach of Clause 1 (iii).

“These descriptions of migrants, British towns and Australian immigration policy, although contentious, were not claims of fact and would not significantly mislead readers. As such, IPSO has reached the conclusion that the concerns raised by the complainants did not raise a possible breach of Clause 1.

 “Although we acknowledge that complainants were offended by the column’s discussion of migrants, the Editors’ Code does not address issues of taste and offence.

“The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy.

“Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not unjustifiably infringed.”

On the issue of grief or shock , the letter said: “IPSO has reached the conclusion that the concerns that the column could potentially constitute an intrusion into the lives of migrants generally did not engage with the terms of the Code, and did not raise a possible breach of Clause 5.

 “With regard to any concerns that the column intruded into the grief or shock of the families of any migrants who have died while attempting to escape hostile environments, IPSO’s regulations require such a complaint to come from those involved or their representatives, so we are be unable to consider these further.”

The piece was headlined: “I’d use gunships to stop migrants”.

In it she said: "NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad."

She also said: "Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit 'Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984', but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.

The article has been condemned by the UN Commissioner on Human Rights and reported to the Met Police as a possible breach of the Public Order Act.

More than 300,000 have signed a petition calling for Hopkins to be sacked.

But the Sun has stood by its columnist and she continues to write for the paper.

The National Union of Journalists has condemned the IPSO decision.

Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ ethics council, said: "Vicious, racist and inflammatory articles impact on all of us. Katie Hopkins and the Sun should be held responsible for whipping up xenophobia and hostility. History has repeatedly shown that when sections of the media resort to describing people as ‘cockroaches’ it only serves to inflame prejudicial hatred. Such language must be considered a breach of ethical codes.

"The NUJ believes that a regulator should accept third party complaints and we also continue to argue that complaints that do not name specific individuals but disparage whole groups of people in society, whether they are migrants, asylum seekers, women, disabled or LGBT people, should be a potential breach of the code of practice.

"IPSO describes itself as upholding the ‘highest standards of journalism’ so by rejecting complaints based on Katie Hopkins’ column they have simply thrown further doubt on their own legitimacy."

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