Press regulator IPSO has ruled that the Daily Express was right to refer to a shipment of 800 shotguns, impounded for customs irregularities, as being destined for ISIS – even though there was zero evidence to support that claim.
The offending article, headlined “Paris massacre cops arrest German arms dealer, as 800 ‘ISIS weapons’ seized” was published on 27th November. An archived copy is available online here. It was bylined to Tom Batchelor and Leda Reynolds.
Its misleading paragraphs read:
News of the arrest comes after police seized a shipment of 800 shotguns moving from Turkey to Belgium, two countries linked to recent Islamic State-inspired terror plots, sparking fears weapons are continuing to be smuggled across Europe.
A huge manhunt is continuing in Belgium to find several terrorists who are linked to co-ordinated shootings and bombings in Paris earlier this month.
It remains unclear where the cache of weapons was heading but authorities in Italy, where the haul was discovered, warned of the risk that it could end up in ISIS’ hands.
Colin Jenkins, a member of the licensed firearms community, complained to IPSO saying there was no evidence to support the article’s assertion that the shotguns – which appeared to be being legally shipped from Turkey to Belgium and the Netherlands, despite the driver’s reported paperwork irregularities – were destined for Islamic State terrorists.
The full story, as reported by many other respectable news outlets, was very different from the version the Express presented.
Globally respected newswire Reuters reported the same story, a day before the Express. Its story said: “The finance police, who are often in charge of port security, said that while customs rules had not been violated, the Turkish truck driver did not have the licenses needed to transport the 781 Winchester SXP shotguns.“
Reuters added, quoting a statement made by Italian customs: “Given the delicate nature of the cargo, its origin and its destination, the documentation regarding the rifles was immediately examined.”
That statement is freely available on the Italian customs service website in Italian. A Google Translate rendition of the page does not show any obvious or implicit link made by the Italians to the Islamic State, merely that the Dutch-registered truck’s Turkish driver didn’t have the correct licence to transport the 781 Winchester SXP pump-action shotguns.
IPSO’s Ciaran Cronin, however, in a letter sent to Mr Jenkins dismissing his complaint, said:
You complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) that it was inaccurate and misleading for the article to report that the 800 guns seized were “ISIS weapons” because there was no evidence to back up that assertion. The article reported that “it remains unclear where the cache of weapons was heading but authorities in Italy, where the haul was discovered, warned of the risk that it could end up in ISIS hands”. The article made clear that basis for the claim made in the article and in such circumstances, we did not consider that the headline was inaccurate and misleading. As such, your complaint did not raise a possible breach of Clause 1.
UK Shooting News’ author, a working sub-editor with experience as chief sub and revise sub for a global technology news website, cannot see any way in which the Italian authorities’ statement linked the shipment to Islamic State. Put bluntly, there is no evidence to support the Express’ assertion that they “could” have ended up in IS’ hands, any more than a shipment of Qurans could.
When IPSO endorses such idiocy from my trade, blithely claiming that an outright falsehood is true when 10 minutes on Google shows otherwise, I despair. Any competent sub-editor knows that you trace your reporters’ assertions back to source when doing your fact-checking prior to publication, particularly if they’re summarising words said by a third party.
I struggle to see how the public will be convinced that IPSO is anything more than a fig-leaf for the press to continue getting it wrong on issues that readers care about if its level of investigation into complaints made is “the journalist wrote something that’s wrong but I can’t be bothered checking it properly and doing my job.”
Mr Jenkins also complained about the use of a stock photo of a SPAS-12 pump-action shotgun, instead of one of a Winchester SXP. This complaint was not upheld because IPSO felt the SPAS-12 was accurate enough to illustrate a story about a very similar but ultimately different product.