PCC finds inaccuracies in Telegraph blog posts

Two Daily Telegraph blog posts about Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman were inaccurate and misleading, the Press Complaints Commission has found.

The complaints related to one blog headlined “Lutfur Rahman councillor charged with fraud” on 13 April and another titled “Lutfur Rahman: all his controversies in one place” on 20 October.

The first reported that a Tower Hamlets councillor had been charged with fraud and made reference to Rahman having been “accused of failing to declare substantial donations” to his campaign, which was a criminal offence under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act.

In his complaint Rahman said that following a full investigation the Crown Prosecution Service and the police confirmed in February 2011 that there was no case to answer.

He also pointed out that the newspaper had not contacted him before publication.

The Telegraph ‘stood by the statement that the complainant had been accused of failing to declare substantial donations”, according to the PCC, claiming that ‘the allegations had been, and continued to be, levelled against him by individuals who considered that the police investigation had been inadequate”.

It said the allegations had been reported in detail on numerous occasions by the newspaper in blog posts during September and October 2010 without complaint, but was also willing to add a statement to the post making clear that the police investigation had been concluded and found there was no case to answer.

The October 2011 blog post was a summary of Rahman’s first year in office in the form of a timeline of his ‘controversies” – with one entry reading: “September 18 [2010]: Lutfur is accused of failing to declare thousands of pounds in donations from Shiraj Haque – a criminal offence, if true”.

Rahman complained that the paper had again failed to make clear the outcome of the investigation, and the Telegraph offered to add a similar statement to the April blog post.

Claims were ‘regrettable and preventable’.

In its adjudication the PCC said the paper had ‘been wholly entitled to refer to these allegations, which were serious and a matter of public interest”, but added: ‘under the Editors’ Code, the newspaper was also required to take care not to present the allegations in a manner which would be inaccurate or misleading to readers.

‘This included reporting the outcome of the relevant police investigation, which had concluded in February 2011 that there was no case to answer.

‘The Commission considered that, by failing to include this information, readers would have been misled into believing that the investigation was ongoing. This raised a breach of Clause 1.”

The PCC said the Telegraph’s offer to update the blog post in April was a sufficient remedy but described the repeat of the allegations in October as ‘regrettable, and preventable”.

‘The blog had made reference to the claim being ‘a criminal offence, if true’ without any mention of the position in regard to the police investigation. This would have clearly misled readers in breach of Clause 1.

‘It was the publication of this second blog that has led to the Commission finding an outstanding breach of the Code, and the complaint has been upheld on that basis.”

Rahman also complained that the April 2011 blog contained additional inaccuracies but the complaint was not upheld.

He felt the headline ‘gave the misleading impression either that he had been charged with fraud, or that he had been connected to the charges against the councillor, which was not the case”.

He also raised concerns over claims he was ‘extremist-backed’and had close links with an organisation called the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE).

The PCC found ‘owing to their brevity’headlines should be ‘considered in the context of the article when read as a whole’and did not uphold the complaint.

On the issue of the phrase ‘extremist-backed” it added: ‘The Commission was satisfied that the article at no point stated that the complainant himself was extremist, or that readers would have been misled into thinking that he was.

‘The claim in the article was rather that the complainant was ‘extremist-backed’. It was not in dispute that members of the IFE supported the complainant.”

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