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Sun and Telegraph cleared by IPSO over report of claim Hamas ‘beheaded babies’ on 7 October

Newspapers reported disputed incident as a claim, regulator finds.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Original story 29 February: UK press regulator IPSO has ruled for the first time on a newspaper repeating the claim that Hamas “beheaded babies” in Israel during the 7 October massacre.

IPSO said The Sun had presented the information as a claim rather than stating it as fact and therefore did not breach the accuracy rules in the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Scroll down for update on subsequent Telegraph ruling

The Sun reported on its front page on 11 October that “savages ‘beheaded babies’ in massacre” and “terrorists from Hamas also reportedly beheaded babies in a barbaric rampage through a nearby Israeli village which left 40 youngsters dead”.

A complaint made to IPSO said this was an “unsubstantiated and false… sensationalist claim which had been debunked by various media and fact-checking agencies and there was no evidence to support this claim”.

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Although US president Joe Biden appeared to say on 11 October that he had seen pictures of beheaded children, the White House later clarified that neither Biden nor US officials had “seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently”.

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The claim was first made in a live broadcast by a journalist for Israel-based news channel i24 who said she had spoken to Israeli soldiers who had seen decapitated babies.

Several other UK newspapers also led with the claims on the same day as The Sun, including the Daily Mail’s front page subheading and story which both began with the words “babies beheaded” with no single quote marks, and the Daily Express whose headline read “horror at ‘pure evil beheading of babies’”.

IPSO cleared The Sun because it said it had presented the reference to beheaded babies as a claim rather than a statement of fact, its subheading used inverted commas around the claim to indicate it was unconfirmed, and the text referred to Hamas having “reportedly” beheaded babies.

During the investigation The Sun told IPSO the claim “was a credible one, based on what was indisputably true about the massacre at Kfar Aza”.

It shared several articles published after the one in question supporting its eyewitness accounts, including a major who reported finding “beheaded children of varying ages, ranging from babies to slightly older children”.

The Sun had also argued that even if the claim had been reported as a fact, it could not have been classed as a “significant” inaccuracy under Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice because Hamas did murder defenceless babies, and older children and adults, and “within this context, how exactly the children were killed could not be considered significantly inaccurate”.

Update 8 March: A front page article in The Daily Telegraph also on 11 October stated: “One of the soldiers involved in the operation, […] deputy commander of Unit 17, said children had been beheaded. ‘They chop the heads of women and children,’ he told news channel i24. The Telegraph could not verify the claim.”

In response to a complaint that the newspaper had published “unfounded” claims about Hamas beheading babies, IPSO said the article “made clear this was attributed to an eyewitness at the scene” and noted that it went on to clarify the statement had not been verified.

The regulator was “therefore satisfied that the article had distinguished this clearly as comment, and had not presented it as a claim of fact” and found no breach of the Editors’ Code.

The Daily Telegraph front page on 11 October 2023
The Daily Telegraph front page on 11 October 2023

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