The Press Complaints Commission has rejected complaints made by lawyer Muddassar Arani against four national newspapers and ruled that they were right to report that she had spoken at a conference attended by an Islamic extremist.
Arani filed accuracy, privacy and discrimination complaints against the Daily Express, the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph claiming that details of her legal aid earnings were reported inaccurately and that readers were misled by the papers’ references to comments she made at a conference that was also attended by Anjem Choudary, an aide of exiled cleric Omar Bakri.
The complaints regarding Arani’s comments at a conference related to stories published in April. The Sun story was headed ‘£2m brief filmed at exile rally’with a follow-up headlined: ‘Brief’s hate rap”. An article in the The Daily Express was headlined: ‘Outcry over Muslim lawyer who speaks up for fanatics”.
In June, the Daily Mail published an article headlined: ‘Abu Hamza’s lawyer made £1m from legal aid in a single year”. The Daily Express article was headlined: ‘Hamza lawyer earning £1m in legal aid”; and the Daily Telegraph’s headline was: ‘Legal aid fees of Hamza’s solicitor”.
The final story Arani complained about was published on 24 June by The Sun, headlined: ‘One place Bin Laden would be safe: Here”.
Although the PCC agreed there was a small number of inaccuracies in the stories, it said that these were recognised by the newspapers, which had offered suitable remedial action in response.
The stories were not found to have breached the Code of Practice on accuracy and the commission said it was satisfied that the newspapers had accurately reported the amounts earned by Arani.
The PCC said: “The newspapers had the right to inform the public that the complainant had attended and had spoken freely at [a conference], which had been characterised as ‘extremist’ owing to [Anjem] Choudary’s comments.”
The commission did not agree with Arani’s complaint that the articles implied that Arani endorsed the views of Choudary, and pointed out that they noted that ‘various MPs had stated the view that her conduct was inappropriate”.
The commission also rejected the lawyer’s complaints that the articles were part of a ‘sustained, negative campaign against her’which she said amounted to harassment and an invasion of her private life. Arani had also claimed that other solicitors who had represented terror suspects had not been subjected to the same level of scrutiny, and suggested that the newspapers were discriminating against her because of her religious beliefs.
While it was true that the articles had referred briefly to the complainant’s background and lifestyle, the PCC said: ‘The nature of the information was bland and inconsequential. None of the details was intrinsically private and the articles did not intrude unnecessarily into the complainant’s private life.’
The complaint of harassment was rejected, as the commission said it would not prohibit legitimate debate and campaigning journalism, adding that a number of articles about an individual does not constitute harassment.
The complaint of discrimination was rejected because ‘the factual references to her as a Muslim were [not] in any way prejudicial or pejorative”.
The PCC added that the references were justifiable because Arani had become well-known for representing Islamic terror suspects and her firm was orientated towards the Muslim community.