Simon van Beek and University Observer

By admin
Friday, 5th July 2024
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The Press Ombudsman has decided not to uphold a complaint from Mr Simon van Beek against The University Observer over an article published in March 2024 about his candidacy for the role of Graduate Officer at the university’s Students Union.

Mr van Beek complained that the article was “severely biased” and breached Principle 1 (Truth and Accuracy), Principle 2 (Distinguishing Fact and Comment), Principle 3 (Fair Procedures and Honesty), Principle 4 (Respect for Rights), Principle 5 (Privacy) and Principle 8 (Prejudice) of the Press Council’s Code of Practice.  He sought an apology and the retraction of the article.

The article, published in March 2024, is a profile, based on an interview with Mr van Beek about his candidacy.  On Principle 1 he said that by violating multiple Principles of the code he assumed that “the search for truth and accuracy” was not the focus of the article.  He said statements from his interview had been “dragged out of context or left out”.  On Principle 2 he complained that the article referred to material that was not published in his final manifesto, and that the interview went into a topic that was not relevant to his campaign. He accused the publication of “launching a smear campaign” against him, and said it was “financed by the institution who is holding the elections”.

On Principle 3 he said the interview process had been unfair.  On Principle 4 he said his reputation had been slandered and he wished to restore it.  He said he had been framed as a Zionist and that this had created a hostile environment and made him feel unsafe. On Principle 5 he said the “culture shock” he had experienced [regarding his discovery of what he saw as contrasting German and Irish views on Israel and Palestine] had not been taken into account. On Principle 8 he said that since publication of the article he had “received hate due to my German nationality” and had been framed as a supporter of war and genocide.

The University Observer said there was no inaccuracy or distortion, that the interview had, with Mr van Beek’s consent, been filmed and recorded, and that he was aware that his words were “on record”.  It provided evidence that when asked in advance of the interview for his manifesto, Mr van Beek said he was still working on it, but that he had supplied “the current manifesto draft”. 

The publication said that while Mr van Beek said Palestine was not relevant to his campaign, it was he who had introduced the subject during the interview.  It cited the transcript of the interview in which he was asked what he meant when he said in his manifesto that he engaged in debates “being SU’s devil’s advocate”.  He gave as an example a debate at the beginning of the Palestine-Israeli conflict, “where I stated a speech for the Israeli side”.

It said it was editorially independent, that Mr van Beek had provided no evidence of the bias he alleged, that it had not mentioned the word Zionist, and had quoted him speaking of his culture shock.  It said if there had been “social media upheaval” after publication of the article, it was not responsible.


Decision

Mr van Beek agreed to do an interview based on a draft manifesto which he supplied, knowing he was speaking on the record.  No evidence is offered of inaccuracy.  The Press Ombudsman notes that Mr van Beek presents issues like campaigning for toilet brushes as “a joke-y thing”, but also describes making a pro-Israeli speech at a discussion of a pro-Palestinian motion as an example of him playing “devil’s advocate”.  The University Observer makes it clear that it disapproves of this extension of flippancy to a serious matter.    The interview includes questions about other policies outlined in the draft manifesto. It concludes these “lack depth”. This is a profile of a person standing for election and as such it includes editorial commentary. The Press Ombudsman finds no evidence of breaches of the Code of Practice on any of the grounds cited by the complainant. 

11 June 2024