Free, Fair & Accountable: Challenging hate speech in the press

by Rachel Elgy

Free, Fair & Accountable: Challenging hate speech in the press

by Rachel Elgy
Rachel Elgy
Case Owner
I’m seeking a judicial review to hold the press to account for hate speech and challenge ineffective press regulation. freefairpress@gmail.com @freefairpress
Closed
on 22nd February 2018
£3,150
pledged of £25,000 target from 104 pledges
Rachel Elgy
Case Owner
I’m seeking a judicial review to hold the press to account for hate speech and challenge ineffective press regulation. freefairpress@gmail.com @freefairpress

Latest: March 10, 2018

Update: Evidence Submitted to Home Affairs Committee

Hello again!

As promised in my previous update, while I'm no longer able to go ahead with the Judicial Review, I am not giving up on working towards better press regulation. 

The Home A...

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In a democratic society the press must be accountable for stirring up hate 

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) was set up in the wake of the Leveson report on phone hacking. The public were told it would have “very real teeth” and be “tough”, but IPSO’s Board contains people who come from the very organisations it regulates. Worse still, when deciding on complaints about hate speech, that causes real damage to British society, IPSO has repeatedly sided with those organisations. With your support, I will bring a judicial review test case to challenge this shameful state of affairs.

My case arises out of hundreds of complaints made to IPSO in August 2017. A Sun columnist, Trevor Kavanagh, had used the rightful conviction of a gang for serious sexual exploitation offences as a pretext for wildly discriminatory, inaccurate and inflammatory comments about a “problem” with “young, single migrant men,” that was “turbocharged” by “over a million more so-called refugees,” had a “common denominator…  Islam,” and involved “Muslim sex crimes.” His article closed with this question: “…what will we do about The Muslim Problem then?” a sinister echo of the words used by the Nazis in 1940s Germany.

Mr Kavanagh was then a board member of IPSO and so responsible for overseeing, appointing and remunerating its Complaints Committee members. They investigated only my complaint - so other complainants were silenced. My complaint was then rejected, demonstrating inbuilt appearance of bias and ineffective protection against discrimination and hate speech. Freedom of speech must be protected, but journalists should be accurate and fair in their comment and held accountable for hate speech by their regulators. Please support my case and help bring about that accountability.

Who am I and why do I care?

I'm Rachel, an individual involved in equality education. I work with young people and adults on an almost daily basis to open up conversations on controversial issues, and provide opportunities for critical thinking and discussion. I recognise the importance of talking about sensitive topics, but I’m a firm believer that these conversations should be mindful of facts, and undertaken with care.

I am often told by students as young as 8 years old that the press holds significant power in influencing people’s opinions, and that spreading harmful stereotypes and misinformation can lead to prejudice, and unfair treatment. Just today a student told me she believes people are likely to trust a journalist, as they have been given the power and responsibility to write on these topics and therefore “must know more about it than I do.”

Press regulation is not about censorship; it is about maintaining fair and decent standards that the public can confidently expect will be upheld. Journalists should not be above the law, and those with the power to influence opinions must be held accountable for the words they choose, and the consequences those words could have.

It is a demonstration of the unfairness of the process that I am currently the sole complainant, despite hundreds of complaints being submitted. I do not undertake this review to speak for others, but hopefully to speak with them, condemning hatred, and encouraging fairer regulation.

The law does not come cheap, so I am raising funds to support a judicial review, to pay the legal fees involved, but I also hope this crowdfunding platform will serve to bring people together from all communities and walks of life to stand together to condemn hate speech, and work towards a free and fair press. I hope I can count on you to stand with me.

The case 

I intend to bring a judicial review, to challenge the unlawful decision that IPSO made on this article. The case highlights that IPSO have inconsistent regulation with regards to discrimination and accuracy, that hundreds of complainants went unheard, and there was a clear appearance of bias, as the journalist who wrote the article sat on IPSO's board for the duration of the investigation.

What does success look like?

First, if the judicial review succeeds, it will mean the decision on this article will have to be made afresh, taking into account all of the complaints submitted, and with safeguards against bias. 

But the case has even greater implications. It could lead to press regulation being improved by removing the risk of bias in many other IPSO decisions. And it could lead to the Editors’ Code being interpreted, or suitably amended, to effectively protect against discrimination and hate speech within the press.

Why is this important?

What the press say has consequences. Islamophobia has increased alarmingly in recent years, as have hate crimes generally, particularly since the EU Referendum. There have been several previous complaints made regarding Islamophobia within the press, prompting the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to call for an investigation into press racism. While freedom of speech and expression is an important human right, in exercising our rights we should not infringe upon the rights of others in a way that harms them. The rights to live in safety and dignity, free from discrimination with freedom of religious belief are all vital in a democracy. This is why the law has always recognised that hate speech should be regulated.

Regulating its members is IPSO’s job. It exists to ensure reporting is fair, accurate and is held up to suitable standards. Like any other regulator, IPSO should be accountable to the Courts. If it appears biased and really is free to interpret the Editors’ Code to allow articles of this kind to be published with impunity, it is completely unfit for purpose.  

How much am I raising and why?

I am raising £25,000 to for my lawyers to prepare and issue the case ,and  seek the Court’s permission for judicial review. I also need to set aside some of this money in case the case fails and IPSO seeks its costs. I will ask the Court for protection against further costs at the next stage.

What is the next step in the case?

IPSO has a few days left to respond to the letter before claim, after which my legal team will need to prepare the judicial review for issue.  But this will only be possible with your support.

Case background

In 2017, I complained about a Sun article entitled, ‘Now Philip Hammond is finally Out he must shut the door behind him and take control over our laws, our trade and especially immigration’. Part way through the article, its focus shifts to migrants, refugees and Muslims, who are said to be responsible for particular crimes. Muslims are said to be “a specific problem”. Readers are expected to speculate on “what will we do about The Muslim Problem… ?”

The comments that followed left no doubt about the intent and nature of the article.

Hundreds of complaints – a single,  unlawful response from IPSO

I complained that Mr Kavanagh’s article breached two key principles of IPSO’s Editors’ Code which are supposed to guard against inaccurate statements and discriminatory reporting that targets people on racial or religious grounds. There were many other complaints (over 200, according to one report), including one from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In parallel with the IPSO complaints, 107 MPs from across parties also wrote a letter to The Sun’s editor condemning the article.

But only my complaint was used in the investigation of the article by IPSO’s Complaints Committee and I was told the whole process was confidential, so I could not liaise with other complainants. The net result was that what other complainants had to say was ignored and they had no opportunity to respond to The Sun’s defence. I provided ample factual evidence to prove many of the points in the article inaccurate. I argued emphatically that the discrimination was blatant and, should IPSO decide that the Editors’ Code did not protect against this kind of discrimination, then the Code would not be fit for purpose.

Outrageously, the complaint was not upheld. The decision is a masterpiece of sophistry, with IPSO arguing that the inaccuracies are just a columnist’s opinions and “could not be understood as a claim of fact,” and that while they recognise that the article “was capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust,” it did not breach the Code’s provisions on discrimination either. IPSO claimed “an individual” would be protected against discrimination, but groups of individuals were not. Yet its own guidance says that “identifiable groups” are protected - and identifying particular racial and religious groups and attributing criminality to them was the whole point of Mr Kavanagh’s article.

Perhaps the decision is less surprising when we remember that Mr Kavanagh sat on IPSO’s Board throughout the investigation. Though he was not a member of the IPSO Complaints Committee, its members are appointed by the Board and it decides what they are paid, raising serious concerns about IPSO’s ‘independence’ and highlighting a clear bias built into the process.

The time has come to hold IPSO to account in the Courts. Importantly, this case is not about suppressing free speech (which IPSO cannot do). It is about the press being fair when they speak freely and accountable to an unbiased and genuinely independent regulator when they are not.

What next? 

 IPSO has a few days left to respond to the letter before claim, after which my legal team will need to prepare the judicial review for issue.  But this will only be possible with your support.

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Update 3

Rachel Elgy

March 10, 2018

Update: Evidence Submitted to Home Affairs Committee

Hello again!

As promised in my previous update, while I'm no longer able to go ahead with the Judicial Review, I am not giving up on working towards better press regulation. 

The Home Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into 'Hate crime and its violent consequences,' and held a session on 20th February collecting evidence on anti-Muslim sentiment in the press. It was an interesting and at times frustrating session to watch, with some hard-hitting evidence from Baroness Warsi of the prevalence of Islamophobia in the press. 

Representatives from the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), led by its chair Sir Alan Moses, gave evidence that was at times weak, and at other times simply untrue when considered against my own experience. 

I have since submitted a written statement of evidence, challenging directly some of the comments made by IPSO, explaining my own experience as a complainant, and noting the tangible impact that Islamophobia in the press has on young people- drawing on my professional experiences.

My evidence has been published, and can be read in full here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/hate-crime-and-its-violent-consequences/written/79623.html 

The other evidence given can be seen here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/home-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/inquiry3/publications/

In further news, the Government has recently announced its decision not to go ahead with part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, and to repeal Article 40, which would ensure access to justice for individuals targeted by the press. One of the reasons given by the culture secretary is that the press have "cleaned up their act," since 2012. I believe this is very clearly not the case. Lord Justice Leveson has urged that going ahead with part 2 is in the public interest. 

Alarmingly, if unsurprisingly, a majority of news organisations have welcomed this news, further cementing the perception of a Government sitting tightly under the thumb of press barons. 

I will be continuing to speak to organisations, individuals, and MPs about my experience, and hope to join forces with those who are campaigning to implement Leveson Part 2, and Article 40.

I will continue to send updates when I have news, but you can also follow on social media:
Twitter: @freefairpress
Facebook: @freefairpress
Instagram: @freefairaccountable

All the best,


Rachel

Update 2

Rachel Elgy

Feb. 21, 2018

They think it's all over...

To all the wonderful people who have supported my campaign so far, a huge, heartfelt thank you. 

Every penny donated, and every comment and share has made my voice louder, and my determination stronger. 

So, the crowdfunding deadline has arrived, and I have not reached my target- not even nearly. This does unfortunately mean that I will not be able to go ahead with the Judicial Review.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't gutted. 

However, it is not the end, and in fact, the only way is up!

The very fact that IPSO cannot be challenged unless I happen to have £25,000 is a huge injustice in itself. And I refuse to let that injustice go unnoticed and unchanged. 

I will continue to speak out about my experience and perspective as a complainant. I will continue to demand a more robust and effective regulator for our press, to ensure our press can be free and fair. I will continue to make a stand against hate speech and discrimination, wherever I see it.

So please keep following and supporting. I will be sharing what I'm up to on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), and will hopefully be finding ways to get other voices heard alongside mine. 

I have begun by submitting evidence to the Home Affairs Committee for their inquiry into Hate Crime and their consideration of Anti-Muslim sentiment in the press. 

The journey isn't over, it's just beginning. Change is coming.

Thank you!


Rachel Elgy

Update 1

Rachel Elgy

Jan. 26, 2018

Thank you! Off to a great start

Hi,


Thank you so much for being among the first to donate to my crowdjustice campaign. Your support is really appreciated, not just because it's meant a great start on the journey to reaching the initial target, but because the importance of the issue is highlighted by all of us taking this stand together. 

We have had an initial response from IPSO's lawyers to our letter before claim, so are working out our next steps as we speak! I will of course keep you updated on our progress.

Please keep talking about it, sending it on to friends & sharing on social media. We need to keep spreading the word as much as possible to make sure the target can be met. If each of you sent it on to just 5 friends it would have a huge impact- I'll include a draft email message for you below.

I have been sharing reasons why this campaign is so important on facebook, twitter & instagram, so follow, share and show your support there to help reinforce the messages:

https://www.facebook.com/freefairpress/

https://twitter.com/freefairpress

https://www.instagram.com/freefairaccountable/

Like I said, it's a great start, but we still have a long way to go. So thank you again for standing with me, and let's keep spreading the word and gaining support, so we can demand a more effective press regulation, that keeps our press free, fair and accountable.

All the best,

Rachel :)


Draft email:

Dear friends and colleagues,

A cause has come to my attention and I need your help. Rachel Elgy needs your help to take a case to Judicial Review to hold the press accountable for hate speech.

In August 2017 hundreds of people, including Rachel, submitted a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), against an inaccurate and Islamophobic article written by Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun. Over a hundred politicians signed a joint letter demanding that action was taken, see here. Screenshots of the original article can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/freefairpress/

Out of hundreds of complaints, Rachel’s was used in IPSO's investigation. She submitted further evidence to explain why the article was inaccurate and discriminatory, but the committee decided not to uphold it. They recognised that the article "was capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust," asking readers "what will we do about the Muslim problem...?" but claimed that it did not break the editors code.

Trevor Kavanagh, who wrote the article, was at the time a member of IPSO's board. 

Rachel is being represented by John Halford at Bindmans LLP to take it to a judicial review and is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the fees. 

Rachel is taking this forward to try and make a difference and reduce the barrage of hate that we constantly see in national press; to demonstrate that we do not accept and validate hate speech; and to recognise that, whilst it is vital that freedom of speech is protected, this must be alongside other human rights: to live in safety and dignity, free from discrimination with freedom of religious belief.

You can help in many different ways. Here’s how:

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me,

Thank you very much in anticipation,

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