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January 27, 2017

Newspaper stories misrepresenting Islam would not be tolerated if they were about Judaism, regulator IPSO needs to step in

By Dominic Ponsford

On this British Holocaust Memorial day it is worth journalists stopping to consider how they cover minorities.

Muslims comprise 5 per cent of the UK population yet appear to account for the majority of newspaper mistakes which disparage a particular religion.

I could find one such story about Christianity (the religion of 60 per cent of Britains) which has involved press regulator IPSO over the last two years but 12 involving Islam (see full list below).

If these mistakes involved Jews I don’t think they would be tolerated, because culturally we are more sensitive about anti-Semitism – for the obvious historic reasons which are being marked today.

I don’t think journalists are knowingly Islamaphobic. I suspect the stories are selected because they are believed to reflect the concerns and interests of readers and the mistakes are probably made due to the age-old problem of pushing stories to make them as engaging (and sensational) as possible.

IPSO gets involved when its member publications fail to resolve complaints themselves within 30 days, so there are many more mistakes involving Islam which do not appear below.

Miqdaad Versi – a management consultant who is also assisant general secretary of the Muslim Council – found 20 such media mistakes involving Islam in the space of a year. In every case, the mistake cast the religion in an unfavourable light.

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Speaking at City University in London this week, he said: “The number of people who trust the press today is very similar to the number who trust politicians or estate agents.

“Why is it that low? If you want to have strength in our press to challenge authority, rather than castigate minorities, we have to worry about inaccuracy and about discriminating against minorities.

“It hurts people on the street. Anyone who has looked at the relationship between the way the media reports on minorities and hate has come up with the conclusion that there is a link. That the way the media reports affects the way people are treated on the street, creates an atmosphere of hostility.”

So what is to be done. The much-derided predecessor of current press regulator IPSO, the Press Complaints Commission, took effective action to change the way newspapers cover both suicide and people who are transgender.

As a result of its actions journalists are far more careful today about reporting suicide, lest reports trigger copycat attempts, and they hardly ever make reference to someone’s transgender status unless it is relevant to the story.

Why can’t IPSO take action to improve the way Islam is covered? It is supposed to have more power than the PCC and its title, the Independent Press Standards Organisations, would suggest a broader remit to improve quality in the press.

Asked about this, an IPSO spokesperson said: “IPSO monitors data on trends relating to complaints we regularly meet with representative groups on a wide range of matters, including how religion is reported in the UK press.

“We use these interactions to plan our work and to consider extra guidance we issue. Our work on transgender issues was well received by our members and we plan to publish more on subjects of interest during 2017.”

The issue is clearly on the regulator’s radar. But, as Versi has noted, every survey I have seen shows that the public holds journalists – and tabloid newspaper journalists in particular – in terribly low esteem. This situation does not seem to have improved since the the Leveson Inquiry and report four years ago.

IPSO needs to fulfil its stated remit of not just brokering the resolution of complaints but raising standards. It is not just the right thing to do but a vital commercial imperative if the newspaper industry is going to effectively compete with the chatter of unregulated online news and social media.

IPSO-brokered corrections involving Islam:

  • Daily Telegraph, 11 February 2015: Muslim family wants ‘non believer’ exhumed

A correction published three months later mediated by IPSO said:
“An article of Feb 11, ‘Muslim family wants ‘non-believer’ exhumed’, wrongly suggested that Burbage Parish Council had contacted the family of Shadrack Smith, following his burial, to ask if they would consider moving his ‘remains’ to an alternative plot. We apologise for the error. The Council denies ever suggesting exhumation of Mr Smith’s body, and has asked us to make clear its position that it has never discussed or considered this.

A similar story was also corrected by Mail Online as was a story published in the Daily Mail headed: “You’ll have to dig up your granddad…he’s not a Muslim”.

  • Mail on Sunday, 26 July 2015: Welcome to Shadwell: Muslim gang sabotages immigration-raid vans

Correction published two months later said:

“An article on July 26 said a gang of Muslim youths was responsible for damaging Home Office Immigration Enforcement vehicles in Shadwell, East London, in the week the Prime Minister appealed to Muslims to help combat extremism. Muslim readers have asked to point out that the youths’ religion was unclear and, in any case, irrelevant to the story. We apologise for any offence caused.”

  • The Sun, 23 November 2015: 1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis

The article was found to be in breach of the code and The Sun was forced to publish a critical adjudication which said:

“Taken in its entirety, the coverage presented as a fact that the poll showed that 1 in 5 British Muslims had sympathy for those who left to join ISIS and for ISIS itself. In fact, neither the question nor the answers which referred to ‘sympathy’ made reference to IS. The newspaper had failed to take appropriate care in its presentation of the poll results, and as a result the coverage was significantly misleading, in breach of Clause 1.”

  • The Times, 24 November 2015: One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis

The Times changed its headline and published this correction: “We reported the findings of a Survation poll of 1,000 British Muslims (News, Nov 24). Asked “’ow do you feel about young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria?’, 14 per cent of respondents expressed ‘some sympathy’ and 5 per cent ‘a lot of sympathy’. The survey did not distinguish between those who go to fight for Islamic State and those who join other factions in Syria, and it did not ask about attitudes towards Isis itself. Our headline, ‘One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis”, was misleading in failing to reflect this.'”

  • Daily Star Sunday, 22 November 2015: UK mosques give cash for terror

Following a complaint the newspaper accepted that the collectons were by individuals acting in persaonl capacity, and not by mosques insitutionally. IPSO said the headlines were “significantly misleading”.

The following correction was published:

“The headline to this article was amended on 4 April 2016. The headline previously said ‘UK mosques fundraising for terror’. We would like to clarify that the headline was based on the claims of radical Isa Amriki that funding for terrorism came from collections at mosques, not by or on behalf of UK mosques, which were not involved in any way.”

  • The Sun, 26 May 2016: Honour killing of Mum – Mum-of-Mum-four butchered while caring for her young kids as cops probe Islamic honour killing lead

The complainant said that ‘honour killings’ are rooted in culture and have nothing to do with Islam.

Following a complaint The Sun published a correction which said: “We are happy to make clear Islam as a religion does no support so-called ‘honour killings’.”

It replaced the words “Islamic honour killing” in the headline to the online article with the words “honour killing” in inverted commas.

A similar Mail Online story was also corrected.

  • The Sunday Times, 6 March 2016: Jails adviser may lose job over hiring hardline imams

The complainant said “just because a few individuals had behaved inappropriately, it did not mean that all Deobandi Muslims were the same” and that it was incorrect to describe this form of Islam as hardline and “anti British” in the story.

The paper published the following correction: “Our report ‘Jails adviser may lose job over hiring hardline imams’ (News, March 6) should have stated that prison imams ‘are suspected of’ holding anti-British values and attributed to ‘security sources and other critics’ the description that Deobandi Islam is ‘contrary to British values and human rights’.”

  • The Sunday Telegraph, 13 March 2016: Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil

A corection published two months later said: “An article of 13 March 2016 portrayed Mr Kozbar, the Chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, as someone who ‘blamed the UK for ISIL’, and appeared to support the use of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, Mr Kozbar has never ‘blamed the UK for ISIL’ and abhors and condemns the use of violence under any circumstances. Mr Kozbar also disputes a number of other accusations contained in the article, and regrets that he was denied a right of reply. We are happy to set the record straight.”

  • The Sun, 20 August 2015: Ramadan train driver in crash

“After a complaint The Sun removed the article and published the following correction: “In a story ‘Ramadan Train Driver in Crash’ (20 Aug) we implied that Rail Accident Investigation Branch said the cause of the derailment at Paddington was that the driver had been fasting during Ramadan. In fact they were unable to conclude that fasting was a factor in the crash on evidence available, although they observed that there is research showing that fasting can affect people’s concentration levels. It was also stated that the driver of a derailed train ran through TWO red lights at London’s Paddington Station. In fact the two red lights were on the same signal. We are happy to clarify.”

IPSO corrections involving Christianity:

  •, 21 October 2015: Christians in Syria SUPPORT Vladimir Putin’s bombing campaign, claims church leader

Correction: “In an earlier version of this article we stated that Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement said ‘The recent Russia action is a clear demonstration of the Assad regime’s weakness.’ That ‘Assad cannot survive without Russian or Iranian support, and Assad cannot win the war in Syria.’ That ‘We don’t buy for one moment his spurious argument that he can protect religious minorities.’ Finally ‘His actions in effect have fuelled sectarian violence, and his regime is ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and as long as Assad is in power the conflict will go on.’ In fact these quotes should have been attributed to the British Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood. We are happy to set the record straight.”

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