The Times has been forced to pay damages after the headline and preview of an article seen by non-subscribers outside the digital paywall made a “libellous imputation” about the former chief executive of an Islamic bank.
The article, published in August last year, was headlined “Female Circumcision is like clipping a nail, claimed speaker” with a labelled photo underneath of former Al Rayan Bank boss Sultan Choudhury OBE.
The full article, visible only to subscribers, explained that the quote in the headline was attributed to a former speaker at the Al-Kauthur Institute, of which Choudhury was previously an unpaid director.
But his lawyers said it was “misleading and libellous” to show his name and photo alongside the headline, a combination that wrongly suggested he held extremist views.
They added that Choudhury (pictured) found the views expressed about female genital mutilation, which were properly attributed to the other man in the full article, “abhorrent”.
He brought a defamation claim against The Times, arguing that a publisher could not rely on a link to a full article when the ordinary internet user was unable to see because it was behind a paywall.
The Times has now published an apology and correction in print and online, and agreed to pay damages and legal costs to Choudhury.
The apology said: “This headline appeared above a picture of Mr Sultan Choudhury in the online edition. Any impression that those views were his was not intended.
“Mr Sultan Choudhury did not say that ‘female circumcision is like clipping a nail’ (as explained in the full version of the article published in print and online). The article explained that he did not support any alleged extremist views.
“We apologise for any distress caused to Mr Choudhury.”
Choudhury said he had been “utterly shocked” by the article and that he was caused “huge distress” by the false imputation, including by being sent “hateful” comments online.
He said: “By unjustly associating me with extremist views such as the repulsive quote on female circumcision (an illegal practice my wife deals with as part of her work as a GP) we were all devastated.
“As a result of that article, I suffered graphic personal abuse from all over the world, which was incredibly hurtful and upsetting to all of us.”
Nishtar Saleem of Saracens Solicitors, who represented Choudhury alongside his colleague Abtin Yeganeh and Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers, said: “Publishing sensational excerpts on a ‘free site’ whilst concealing the full article behind a paywall is a dangerous game.
“By taking this stand, Mr Choudhury has shown publishers that they cannot avoid responsibility for libellous material, paywall or no paywall.”
Picture: Sultan Choudhury OBE/Saracens Solicitors