A Channel 4 journalist has accused press regulator IPSO of giving the “green light” for newspapers to abuse Muslims after it cleared a comment piece which questioned her wearing the hijab on screen.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled on Wednesday that Kelvin MacKenzie was entitled to express his views, even though they were “deeply offensive”.
MacKenzie defended his “reasonable” criticism of Channel 4 News, arguing that the hijab headscarf was a “religious statement” and questioning whether a Christian would be able to wear a cross prominently in a TV news broadcast.
Channel 4 News editor Ben De Pear said he was “dismayed” by the ruling, and Manji has now said that the implications of IPSO’s conclusion are “frightening”.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was upsetting enough to find my picture in Britain’s most widely-read newspaper next to the words ‘Muslim terror attack’.
“It was upsetting enough to find myself the latest victim to Kelvin MacKenzie’s tirades. But now to know that that has been given the green light by the press regulator, and that effectively it is open season on minorities and on Muslims in particular is frightening.
“The fact that Kelvin MacKenzie can write a column and suggest that I am somehow sympathetic to the perpetrator of a terrorist attack, that somehow I am not like the rest of us, that I am the ‘other’ means that other people are now open to attack.”
Manji confirmed that she wore the hijab as “a symbol of my religious faith” but insisted that the issue of religious symbols on TV was a “manufactured debate”.
Asked if she would object to journalists wearing large Christian crosses or orthodox Jewish clothing on-screen, she said: “I respect individuals’ choices and I particularly respect individual women’s choices. I respect people’s journalism when they are interested in telling the truth.”
Describing the impact of the article on her personally, she said: “In the days following his column’s publication, I was worried for my safety, my family was worried and my employer was worried. We had to put measures in place.
“In the so-called debate after his column, one contributor to a BBC radio debate approvingly spoke of the idea that I should be lynched.”
She added: “I’m happy for people to ridicule me or to offend me. I’m not happy for people to incite hatred against me, and that’s what happened here.
“We know that hate crimes are up, we know that Muslim women are being attacked on the streets. What IPSO has done has effectively sent out a green light for newspapers to attack minorities and Muslims in particular.”
In its ruling on Wednesday, IPSO said that MacKenzie’s 18 July column did not include “prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of her religion” and had not breached the Editor’s Code of Practice.
Responding to the ruling, MacKenzie said his comments were not directed at Manji’s beliefs or her ability as a journalist, but at Channel 4’s management.
“Channel 4 News editors were wrong to allow a reporter wearing prominent religious attire of any faith to present a story about religious extremism and mass murder,” he said.
Press Gazette has argued that freedom of speech means the freedom to offend as has Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade.