Former Tory cabinet minister Baroness Warsi has written to the House of Commons select committee on Home Affairs urging it to carry out an inquiry into “hate speech” in the national press.
She made the call last night when she delivered the annual Hacked Off Leveson Lecture and condemned what she described as a “plague” of anti-Muslim coverage in newspapers.
Warsi also said that she could not “find the the words to express my disgust” at the fact that prime minister Theresa May last week attended a banquet at Stationers’ Hall to “pay homage” to Paul Dacre for his 25 years as Daily Mail editor.
Speaking nearly five years after the publication of the Leveson Report, she condemned the fact that the newspaper industry has yet to adopt its recommendations in full.
And she said: “Those that bemoan Leveson and predict the end of press freedom seem also to be those who despite all the exposed bad behaviour on hacking and invasion of people’s lives have found another form of bad behaviour to engage in – preaching hate.”
Warsi said that certain newspapers are “steadily and methodically using paper inches and columns to create, feed and ratchet up suspicions and hostilities in our society, driving communities apart and creating untold – and unnecessary – fear and distress…
“Women, the disabled, refugees, the LGBT community, BAME none are beyond the wrath of the hateful write up but I am sure few would dispute that Muslims are now their principal targets.
“This is true not just of two or three notorious dailies, but also of papers some still regard as responsible and ethical. Anti-Muslim hate speech is becoming a regular feature even in the more ‘respectable’parts of the press and that’s why it’s becoming more dangerous.”
By way of examples, she quoted:
- The Sun’s 23 November 2015 front page “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” which was found by the Independent Press Standards Organisations (IPSO) to have misrepresented the findings of a poll
- Kelvin MacKenzie’s criticism in The Sun of Channel 4 newsreader Fatima Manji wearing a hijab in July 2016. IPSO rejected a complaint about this story, MacKenzie left the paper last May after being suspended for comparing a mixed-race footballer to a gorilla
- Sun columnist Trevor Kavanagh’s use of the phrase “The Muslim Problem” in a column in August this year, which Warsi described as the language of “Goebbels and Hitler”. Kavanagh subsequently apologised.
She also singled out the Daily Express saying: “The relentlessness of anti Muslim interspersed with anti immigrant/anti refugee front pages is exhausting.”
And she quoted the following Daily Express headlines:
- Muslim schools ban our culture
- One in 5 Brits will be Ethnics
- Muslims tell British to go to hell
- Fury at the police in Burkhas.
Warsi also condemned The Times for its recent report: “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care.”
On this story she said: “It pandered to bigoted stereotypes, was extraordinarily irresponsible and most shockingly was untrue…
“The Times chose to highlight an instance of cross-cultural fostering where the child was white, even though it knew that it was far more common for it to happen to non-white children.
“For the Times, clearly, it is intrinsically more concerning that a white child should be with Muslim foster parents than the other way around.
“That, for me, is an expression of hatred, and it is also the encouragement of hatred. It is hate speech.”
She cited statistics that show media representations of Muslims are “overwhelmingly negative” in the UK.
She said: “Editors are seizing on every opportunity they can find to vilify and marginalise a substantial minority of their fellow-citizens. To make all Muslims appear dangerous and threatening by virtue of our shared faith.
“This is deliberate and it is dangerous.”
She said IPSO had proved toothless by failing to carry out a single investigation or levy a single fine.
“IPSO has been around for about three years, through two elections and a referendum, Brexit, fake news and terror alerts and whole lot more. These years have seen an onslaught of hate speech of a kind that I don’t think has any precedent in modern history.
“But in all of this IPSO has not spotted anything it considers worth investigating. It apparently has little anxiety about press standards…it is striking that, to date, IPSO has only ever upheld one complaint about discrimination.”
And she said the Government should commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would force publishers into joining a regulator which meets the criteria of the Parliament-backed Royal Charter on press regulation.
She said the Government must “face down newspaper propaganda on this issue”, adding: “The only freedom they stand to lose is the freedom to abuse, and they only risk costs penalties in court if they try to deny justice to people with complaints.
“We must end the era of sycophantic worship of newspapers who may throw us the crumbs of a supportive headline and a front page at election time.”
She concluded: “I believe that the most timely and most effective way to tackle the plague of hate speech that is driving communities apart and poisoning our public discourse is an early inquiry by the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs.
“I have written to the chair of that committee, Yvette Cooper MP, to ask her to consider this. I dearly hope that she will support this proposal, as I hope many others will, and as I hope you will too.”
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville