A newspaper column which called the For Britain Movement “far right” was not inaccurate, the UK’s largest press regulator has ruled.
FBM submitted a complaint to IPSO after the Northern Echo published a column headlined: “Responding to the far right” on 11 August last year.
The group cited clause one (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code, claiming it was an inaccurate description of the group.
The column, by councillor Stephen Lambert, discussed how schools and colleges should respond to the increasing incidence of groups he described as “far right”.
In the column he said: “The fall-out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far-right national socialist movement, such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL.”
The group argued that the characterisation was “baseless”, and said it was not “national socialist”, claiming the term referred exclusively to the Nazis – a group FBM said it was not connected to in any way.
It also said the article gave the impression that Tommy Robinson was leader of the FBM, but the group is led solely by Anne Marie Waters.
The Northern Echo disputed claims the piece compared the FBM to the Nazis, and the claim that the term national socialists automatically refers to Nazism or its politics – arguing that the fact all Nazis were national socialists did not make all national socialists Nazis.
The paper said that looking at FBM’s published policies it could be said to hold nationalist views and its leader, Anne Marie Waters, had a socialist background in the Labour party.
It added that the group was associated with other acknowledged far-right organisations – which many of its members had previously been part of.
In addition, it pointed the group’s policies, its frequent invocation of ethnic and cultural loyalties, and its anti-immigration and pro-deportation stance – the publication said all of which are established conventions of both national socialism and far-right ideology.
For these reasons, it said that it was not misleading to characterise FBM as being “far right”. But, The Echo did acknowledge the reference to Tommy Robinson was ambiguous and offered to clarify this point.
It said it would be happy to publish a letter from the complainant setting out its position, along with the clarification.
IPSO said the placement of policies and values on a political spectrum is subjective and does vary but the Editors’ Code requires publications to take care over the accuracy of characterising groups and individuals.
However, it went on to say the Northern Echo’s stance on the FBM as “far right” had been based on its leader’s political views, the group’s policies, and the presence within the party of people associated with groups understood to be “far right” in character
IPSO’s Complaints Committee said it did not consider there had been a failure to take care over the characterisation and that it did not give rise to a significantly misleading impression among readers.
It said it did not consider the article suggested the group was linked to Nazism and there was no breach of clause one.
The committee also said the article did not state as fact that Tommy Robinson was the leader of the FBM but that new “far right” groups could arise, “such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL”.
While the committee acknowledged that the sentence could carry the meaning attributed to it by the complainant, it did not consider that this grammatical ambiguity represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.
In the context of an opinion piece it did not consider that the article gave rise to any significantly misleading impression on this point, such as would require correction.
The committee said it welcomed the Echo’s offer to clarify any ambiguity in the sentence.