AlphabiolabsHousing Law WeekBerkeley Lifford Hall Accountancy Services

IPSO upholds complaint against Times story about Muslim fostering arrangement

Newspaper's report distorted judge’s decision

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint by Tower Hamlets Borough Council against The Times under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors Code relating to an article headlined "Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home" published on 30 August 2017.

The 30 August article formed part of the newspaper's coverage of a child's fostering arrangement. Articles published on 28 and 29 August reported a number of concerns about the cultural appropriateness of the child's fostering placements, attributed to a social services supervisor, and friends of the child's mother. The 30 August article reported that following a family court hearing about the child's care arrangements the previous day, the child was "removed from her Muslim foster parents yesterday and reunited with her family as a judge urged councils to seek 'culturally matched placements' for vulnerable children".

The article reported that the court "ruled that she should not remain in the placement organised by [the complainant]" and that the court was told that the family's wish for the child to be placed in the care of her grandmother had been under consideration for months. The article noted that "all parties, including Tower Hamlets, supported the decision". The final paragraph of the article quoted a spokesperson for the complainant who said, in part, "we have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member and will continue to do so". The article reported that when the newspaper told the complainant it would be writing about the case, it "tried to block the story", and wrote to the court where the case was being heard, to complain that publication of the article would be an offence. It then reported that security staff at the court ordered its journalist to leave, and threatened an escorted removal, but that the journalist was readmitted when the judge heard the newspaper wished to attend the hearing.

The headline of the 30 August article claimed that the judge had ruled the child "must leave Muslim foster home". The subheadline referred to the judge praising the newspaper for "exposing council's failure" and stated that "the judge ordered the council to conduct an urgent investigation into issues reported by The Times". In the second paragraph, the article claimed that the child "should not remain in the placement organised by Tower Hamlets". The headline on the story continued on page 6 was "Girl's welfare is the priority, says judge". The article noted that the judge said that she had made her decision, not because of "undue media involvement", but "because of the evidence available to the court today, that the grandmother is an appropriate carer for the child", and that all parties, including [the complainant], supported the decision". It also quoted the complainant saying that "we have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member". However, the article did not make clear that the application for the child to live with the grandmother had in fact been filed by the complainant. Read as a whole, the article gave the impression that the judge had found that the placement was a "failure" by the council; and that this was why she was "removing" the child from her current foster carers, and placing the child with the grandmother.

The IPSO Complaints Committee found that this was a distortion. The impression given by the article was that the judge's decision represented a finding against the complainant's assessment of the child's needs in organising the foster placements. This was not what the court had decided, or an implication of what the court had decided. The Committee therefore found that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish distorted information, in breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Editor's Code of Practice: 'The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text'. The newspaper made no proposals to correct this distortion, in breach of Clause 1 (ii): 'A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator'. 

The Committee considered that the article did not imply that the security staff were acting at the request of the complainant, when trying to prevent the journalist attending the hearing, simply because the security staff's actions were reported immediately after describing the complainant's objections to the reporting. The article was not misleading in the manner alleged, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

The Committee decided that its adjudication should be published in full on page 6 of the newspaper, or further forward, and on the newspaper's website. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against The Times, and refer to its subject matter.

For the full IPSO ruling, click here.