Thursday, 25 November 2010

Melanie Phillips takes over two years to admit she got something wrong

The Spectator has been forced to pay substantial damages and publish the following apology over some false accusations made by Melanie Phillips on her blog:

Mohammad Sawalha: Apology

On 2 July 2008 we published an article entitled "Just look what came crawling out" which alleged that at a protest at the celebration in London of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, Mohammad Sawalha had referred to Jews in Britain as "evil/noxious". We now accept that Mr Sawalha made no such anti-Semitic statement and that the article was based on a mistranslation elsewhere of an earlier report. We and Melanie Phillips apologise for the error.

The background to the case, and why it took nearly two-and-a-half years to get to this point, are explained on Islamophobia Watch:

On 2 July 2008, the Spectator website published an article by Melanie Phillips entitled "Just Look What Came Crawling Out" ("the Article"). The Article falsely stated that Mohammad Sawalha had referred to Jews in Britain as "evil/noxious". Mohammad Sawalha has worked hard to build strong relations between communities of different faiths and no faith both in Britain and internationally, and was therefore shocked and outraged to read such a false and offensive accusation. It was immediately pointed out to the Spectator and Ms Phillips that this was a mistranslation of a transcript of an interview, which contained a typographical error, rendering the relevant phrase meaningless. It was also pointed out that the publisher of the original transcript of the interview had corrected the quotation already, making clear that Mr Sawalha had made no such anti-Semitic comment.

Rather than carrying out the reasonable and obvious course of action of amending the Article, Melanie Phillips instead chose to go on and publish a further article, entitled "Taking the Airbrush to Evil", repeating the highly insulting false allegation made in the Article and casting doubt on the suggestion that there had been a typographical error.

As neither the Spectator nor Ms Phillips agreed to deal with the matter amicably, despite requests by Mr Sawalha to do so, Mr Sawalha had no option but to seek vindication from the High Court.

An independent expert, jointly commissioned by Mr Sawalha, the Spectator and Ms Phillips, confirmed that the phrase in the original transcript of Mr Sawalha's interview was meaningless and that it could not be translated as referring to Jews as "evil/noxious". Nonetheless, the Spectator and Ms Phillips continued to defend Mr Sawalha's claim.

However, we are pleased to report that the Spectator and Ms Phillips have now agreed to remove both the offending Articles and have undertaken never to repeat the allegations complained of. They will pay Mr. Sawalha substantial compensation for the damage to his reputation as will as paying all his legal costs and publishing an Apology on the Spectator website...

So Phillips repeated an accusation made elsewhere (by Al Jazeera and Harry's Place) without checking it out for herself.

But why did it take so long for the Spectator to admit the error? It seems particularly odd when according to Matthew Norman:

Al Jazeera corrected it instantly, and Harry's Place later, yet [Phillips] magisterially ignored requests for a simple correction until a trial was imminent, when she caved.

There's also a question over the placement of the apology on the Spectator's website. It hasn't been published on Phillips' blog, where the false claim was made - twice - or even on the homepage of the 'blogs' section. Instead, it's in Magazine>Essays.

One more thing to note is the reaction of Stephen Glover who, like Phillips, is a columnist for the Mail. In his media column in Monday's Independent he wrote:

I understand The Spectator has recently settled with [Mohammed Sawalha] after publishing a blog on its website by my friend Melanie Phillips which he regarded as libellous, and has again incurred costs said to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

No criticism of Phillips for doing such a poor job as a journalist or for taking so long to apologise. No mention of the anti-Semitic remark Phillips attributed to Sawalha. Just a passing reference to something 'he regarded as libellous'. But then, that's what 'friends' are for...


  1. Blimey! Who goes into print to say that they are a friend of Melanie Philips??

  2. I bet the auld bat's fingers are still crossed.


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