The Independent Press Standards Organisation (“IPSO”) is an independent regulator of the press in the United Kingdom, including the publisher of The Times and The Sunday Times, who submitted to IPSO’s jurisdiction by a set of contractual arrangements. Accordingly, one of the functions of IPSO is to rule on complaints against publishers it regulates for infringements of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
On 25 October 2016, there was a meeting at the House of Lords to launch the second phase of the “Balfour Apology Campaign” (“the Meeting”). The Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 by the British Government, announcing its intention to assist in establishing “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
On 26 October 2016, The Times published an article with the headline “Jews blamed for Holocaust at ‘shameful’ House of Lords event”. On 28 October 2016, The Times published a second article with the headline “Tonge’s obnoxious ideas on Jews set a terrible example”. On 30 October 2016 The Sunday Times published an article entitled “Peace be upon Israel – the Lib Dems have cut off their Tonge”. All of the articles were published online and in hard copy.
On 3 December 2016, C and 29 other signatories filed an IPSO complaint in relation to the Times articles for “gross misreporting”, presenting a misleading picture, containing factual inaccuracies, and making unjustified and unfair accusations against Baroness Tonge. On 6 December 2016 C filed an addendum to complain about the Sunday Times article.
In March 2017, the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct published a report, which assessed Baroness Tonge’s conduct at the Meeting (“the Report”).
In April 2017, IPSO made a decision on the complaints in relation to the Times articles, finding that the first Times article had inaccurately reported that an audience member had been applauded after suggesting that “Hitler only decided to kill all the Jews after he was provoked by anti-German protests led by a Rabbi in Manhattan” when in fact the applause was in relation to subsequent comments made by Baroness Tonge about the importance of a campaign to boycott Israeli goods and services. IPSO concluded that this was a significant inaccuracy, and that an appropriate remedy would be for the newspaper to publish a correction and amendment, as The Times had already proposed. The Times published the correction. IPSO did not uphold C’s complaint about the second Times article as it was “clearly […] an opinion piece” and was not significantly misleading. It determined C was a third party in relation to the claims about Baroness Tonge’s conduct at the meeting and accordingly did not consider these aspects further.
IPSO did not uphold the complaint about the Sunday Times article, adopting the same approach about C being a third party in relation to Baroness Tonge’s conduct as it had in the Times complaint.
C sought an independent review of the determinations. In June 2017, the Independent Reviewer made written determinations against the claimant, ruling that the process in each decision “was not substantially flawed”, noting that Baroness Tonge was offered and refused to accept the opportunity to make a complaint in her own name. After this, IPSO wrote to Baroness Tonge notifying her of the decisions and elements of these that related to her. The Baroness made no reply.
C sought for the decisions to be judicially reviewed, with IPSO resisting the application for permission on its merits, but not jurisdiction. Goose J granted permission in respect of all three grounds of challenge in October 2017.