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April 25, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:42am

Sun cleared by IPSO over Rod Liddle column dubbed ‘racist’ by Labour

By James Walker

The Sun did not breach accuracy or discrimination rules in publishing a column by Rod Liddle that suggested Labour MP Kate Osamor had won her seat in Parliament because she is black, a press regulator has ruled.

The Labour Party submitted a complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on Osamor’s behalf about the column, which appeared in the paper on 6 December, headlined: “Labour family’s shame”.

In his column, Liddle wrote about Osamor (pictured) continuing to hire her son as a researcher following his drugs conviction, allegedly misleading the public about her knowledge of it and threatening a journalist who appeared at her doorstep to ask about the matter.

He also mentioned Osamor’s mother, Martha, who was made a Labour life peer the same month and whom Liddle alleged had been a “supporter of Labour activists suspended over anti-Semitism”.

He then asked readers: “And do you suppose that either would be in the positions they are now were it not for the colour of their skin?”

Shortly after publication, the Labour Party issued a statement declaring the column “plainly racist” and calling on The Sun to retract it and apologise.

It complained to IPSO under Clause 1 (accuracy) and Clause 12 (discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

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In its complaint, the party said it was inaccurate to suggest that the Edmonton MP had been placed in her current position due to her race, but rather “had been selected, and elected, on the basis of her suitability for her position, not the colour of her skin”.

It also said Osamor’s race had been “irrelevant” to the article, “because it was not the case that she had only achieved her position because of her race”, adding it was prejudicial and should not have been mentioned.

The Sun denied that it broke the IPSO Editors’ Code as the article had been presented as Liddle’s own view, while the suggestion Osamor was selected to be an MP because of her race had been posed as a rhetorical question.

The newspaper said Liddle’s reference to Osamor’s skin colour was not “pejorative or prejudicial” because he “was criticising the MP based on her behaviour, not because of her race, and had only referenced her race to question how she achieved her position in spite of her professional failings”.

The Sun denied that this reference could be considered irrelevant, saying Labour was “merely disagreeing with the view expressed by the columnist that the MP’s race might have contributed to her success”.

In its ruling, IPSO said news publishers are “entitled to draw attention to the perceived failings of public figures” and that its discrimination rules weren’t to be interpreted “in such a way as to prevent debate as to whether possessing a particular characteristic has conferred privilege on an individual”.

The regulator added that, in the context of criticism about Osamor’s behaviour, the suggestion made by Liddle did not breach its discrimination rules.

IPSO also rejected Labour’s complaint that The Sun had broken accuracy rules.

It said: “The article did not state that Ms Osamor had received any formal affirmative action in relation to her race, or suggest that that the political party of which she was a member had a policy to this effect.

“In relation to any preferential treatment the MP may have received, the complainant was not in a position to dispute that the relevant individuals may have considered the MP’s race in coming to a choice of which candidate to select, or elect.”

IPSO went on to say that, in light of Osamor’s alleged behaviour, the complaint did not provide grounds for the Code Committee to consider Liddle’s speculation that Osamor benefited from “information preferential treatment” to be misleading.

Read the full IPSO ruling here.

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