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NUJ condemns IPSO decision on describing migrants as ‘cockroaches’

5 May 2015

The NUJ has condemned the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) decision to reject complaints about a column in the Sun newspaper by Katie Hopkins comparing migrants to cockroaches. By rejecting the complaint, IPSO has thrown further doubt on its own legitimacy.

IPSO’s rejection was based on the commentary not referring to specific individuals and was therefore outside of IPSO’s powers and remit. The Guardian reported only two complaints out of more than 400 were referred to the Sun by IPSO but under clauses of the editors’ code dealing with accuracy not discrimination. In a reply to a complaint made to IPSO, the regulator said a large number of the complaints: "do not raise a possible breach of the code".

It continues: "Many complainants said the column breached clause 12 (discrimination) … while we noted the general concern that the column was discriminatory towards migrants, cause 12 is designed to protect identified individuals mentioned by the press against discrimination, and does not apply to groups or categories of people.

"The concerns raised by the complainants that the article discriminated against migrants in general did not therefore raise a possible breach of clause 12."

In March 2013, the NUJ highlighted a range of failures linked to the previous regulator, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), and at the time NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet, said: "The failure by the PCC to take up third party complaints has meant that some of the most vulnerable, such as asylum seekers, have been subject to unchecked vilification by parts of the press."

During the Leveson Inquiry, the NUJ campaigned for a new regulatory framework that included third party complaints and the proposal was endorsed and recommended by Lord Justice Leveson in his report. Today the union is dismayed by IPSO’s decision to rule out the complaints and IPSO’s decision again highlights the failure of both past and current regulators.

Chris Frost, chair of the NUJ ethics council, said:

"Vicious, racist and inflammatory articles impact on all of us. Katie Hopkins and the Sun should be held responsible for whipping up xenophobia and hostility. History has repeatedly shown that when sections of the media resort to describing people as ‘cockroaches’ it only serves to inflame prejudicial hatred. Such language must be considered a breach of ethical codes.
"The NUJ believes that a regulator should accept third party complaints and we also continue to argue that complaints that do not name specific individuals but disparage whole groups of people in society, whether they are migrants, asylum seekers, women, disabled or LGBT people, should be a potential breach of the code of practice.
"IPSO describes itself as upholding the ‘highest standards of journalism’ so by rejecting complaints based on Katie Hopkins’ column they have simply thrown further doubt on their own legitimacy."

Further information:

IPSO editors' code of practice

NUJ code of conduct

Tags: , media reform, regulation, the sun, newspapers, ethics, code of conduct, complaints, ipso, leveson, discrimination