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December 7, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:49am

Regulator says Skwawkbox and Canary don’t incite hate after anti-Semitism investigation

By Bron Maher

Press regulator Impress has found left-wing news sites The Canary and Skwawkbox do “not rise to the level” of inciting hate after investigating concerns of potential anti-Semitism.

Impress, the Royal Charter-backed press regulator, launched a preliminary investigation after a study found both sites promoted “a negative view of Jews”.

A King’s College London study on alternative media and anti-Semitism, commissioned by former Labour MP and current government independent advisor on anti-Semitism Lord Mann, examined coverage at the two left-wing sites as well as the website of far-right activist Tommy Robinson and European nationalist site Radio Albion.

Impress subsequently reviewed 41 articles and one tweet that informed the KCL report and found the two websites were “not sensationalist” and did not use language “likely to provoke hatred or put a person or group in fear” or appearing to have that intention.

The regulator said: “It is not the case that robust, controversial, or offensive publication on such political matters, as a function of the partisan reporting of the publisher, amounts to a breach of the Impress Code.

“Language that qualifies as hate speech is that which is intended to, or is likely to, provoke hatred or to put a person or group in fear. The disputed words, therefore, must be more than provocative, offensive, hurtful or objectionable: this provision is about hate speech, not speech that merely hurts feelings.”

Impress added that those that disagree with both publishers’ “views on subjects such as Zionism may find these views offensive, adversarial or provocative but this in and of itself does not rise to the level of threat to, or targeting of, persons or groups on the basis of their protected characteristics as envisaged by the Code”.

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Although Impress did not identify the specific material it considered, typical examples cited in the KCL study included a 2019 Canary article stating “the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is actually fuelling anti-Semitism” and a 2017 Skwawkbox article arguing “any MPs found to have colluded with/worked for the Israelis to discredit the Labour party or its leadership should be required to resign”.

Reacting to Impress’ decision not to continue the investigation, Canary chief operations officer Nancy Mendoza said: “This is welcome news following the impacts of a sustained witch hunt against socialists, which has been disingenuously framed as an effort to tackle anti-Semitism.

“As a Jewish person who has experienced genuine anti-Semitism, this has been a very upsetting and difficult experience… the harm the witch hunt has done to individual Jews likely far outweighs any success it may have had in tackling anti-Semitism.”

Canary editor-in-chief Drew Rose said: “As ever, we are grateful to our regulator, Impress, for ensuring that our readership has opportunities to hold us to account… It was right that Impress conducted a preliminary investigation, even though the authors of the report had declined to make any formal complaint against us. Impress examined the evidence cited by the report and found no breach of the relevant clause. This demonstrates the importance of truly independent press regulation.”

Skwawkbox editor Steve Walker said: “The Impress decision is of course welcome, but I believe it was always clear that the motives of this whole charade were political and I’m not alone in that opinion.”

In August, nine complainants wrote to the UK’s other major regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, asking it to conduct a similar standards investigation at the Jewish Chronicle. 

IPSO does not appear to have since taken action over the publisher, telling Press Gazette at the time that “IPSO’s board makes any decision about whether or not to launch a standards investigation after careful consideration of all available evidence”. IPSO confirmed to Press Gazette on Monday that no action had been taken.

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