Kelvin MacKenzie and the hijab-wearing newsreader: Freedom of speech means the freedom to offend - Press Gazette

Kelvin MacKenzie and the hijab-wearing newsreader: Freedom of speech means the freedom to offend

Kelvin MacKenzie must be pleased with the backlash against his latest Sun column, questioning whether a hijab-wearing reporter should present Channel 4 News on the day it reported on a massacre in Nice by a Muslim terrorist.

His job is, afterall, to be controversial. His intent is to provoke.

But I wonder what those complaining to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (more than 800 so far, including Channel 4 News) hope to achieve?

The main possible breach of the Editors’ Code I can see is under “discrimination”:

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

I do not think it is prejudicial or pejorative to question the wearing of a religious garment on TV news.

MacKenzie may be wrong in saying that this should disqualify someone from covering particular stories (and I think he is) but he has a right to express his opinion.

Newspaper comment pages should not become ‘safe spaces’ where certain topics and views are off-limits.

Channel 4 News has indicated that MacKenzie could have committed a criminal offence under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. It said his piece was “arguably tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred”.

But again, I don’t think MacKenzie’s musings were “threatening, abusive, or insulting” and likely to stir up racial or religious hatred – as the law requires.

This all reminded me of the case earlier this month where a man was fined £600 and said he “lost everything” after wearing a highly offensive T-shirt which mocked the Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough tragedy.

The main hurt and offence appears to have been caused when images of the T-shirt were distributed on social media.

Surely freedom of speech also means the freedom to say things which some people may find offensive?

The MacKenzie column may also raise questions under clause one of the editors’ code, accuracy, when he describes Islam as a violent religion.

But this was a comment piece  and  I am not sure that a press regulator is the best place to debate a theological point which is at least arguable either way.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette


4 thoughts on “Kelvin MacKenzie and the hijab-wearing newsreader: Freedom of speech means the freedom to offend”

  1. When there was the launch of a campaign to sack BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg over her coverage of Labour, many journalists came out saying it was appalling and abhorrent to see a reporter attacked for doing her job. There was accusations of sexism by those calling for her head.
    Here we are with a “journalist” – very loosely termed – questioning the integrity of a established journalist, hinting and slyly suggesting she was a sop, a token, a supporter of atrocities because, well, she’s wearing a hijab, which equals Muslim, which equals fanatic, which equals terrorist, doesn’t it, eh, lads? oi, lads? yeah? you know what I’m sayin’…
    Journalists questioning another journalist for their accuracy is one thing. What Kelvin did was gutless, cruel and unwarranted

  2. Are you aware of the concept of racism? Look it up. Racism is affirming one race is superior and another inferior. It has nothing to do with questioning religions or advocating for secular values.

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