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  1. Media Law
November 23, 2017updated 24 Nov 2017 2:40pm

IPSO clears Sun over ‘The Muslim Problem’ article – says causing offence is not a breach of Editors’ Code

By Dominic Ponsford

A Sun column which used the phrase “The Muslim Problem” has been cleared of breaching the Editors’ Code by press regulator IPSO

IPSO said in its adjudication: “The committee acknowledged that the question posed at the end of the column – ‘What will we do about The Muslim Problem then’ – was capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust.

“The committee made clear that there is no clause in the Editors’ Code which prohibits publication of offensive content. It was clear that many, including the complainant, were offended by this aspect of the article, but there was no breach of the code on this point.”

A Sun spokesman said: “This is a welcome reminder that the vitality of newspapers comes from the free exchange of ideas and opinions, perhaps particularly those which some might not like.”

Columnist Trevor Kavanagh has already apologised for any offence caused.

He said: “I can honestly say it never occurred to me that this could be interpreted as a play on ‘the Jewish Problem’ and I will happily apologise to anyone who is thus offended.”

Rachel Elgy complained about the opinion piece which she said breached clause 1 of the Editors’ Code (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination).

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Headlined “Now Phil’s finally Out, he must shut door behind him”, it was published on 14 August 2017. 

It said there was “one unspoken fear, gagged by political correctness, which links Britain and the rest of Europe. The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam”.

It claimed the authorities have “long deliberately disregarded Muslim sex crimes – soon likely to be a racist offence in itself – including outrages such as female genital mutilation and ‘honour’ killings”.

It  concluded by noting that if the UK achieved a full Brexit, it will “be back in charge of immigration”, and asked: “What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?”

The complainant said that it was inaccurate to claim that it was acceptable to say that Muslims were a “specific rather than a cultural problem”.  And she said it was inaccurate to claim that the “contemptible treatment of women” was a problem caused by immigration.

She said female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honour’ based violence cannot be linked to any one religion or culture.

The complainant said the question posed at the end of the article reflected the phrase “The Jewish Problem”, used in 1930s Germany in the context of Nazism. She said that the article discriminated against immigrants and Muslim men.

The IPSO Code committee noted that the column was published in the context of debates following the conviction of 14 people in Newcastle of sexual offences.

It acknowledged that the opinion piece was “contentious, and capable of causing offence” but said it was “clearly the columnist’s comment on the causes of a complex social phenomenon, and it could not be understood as a claim of fact”.

On the issue of female genital mutilation and “honour” killings as examples of “Muslim sex crimes” it said: “It was not in dispute that some individuals committed these offences because they believed it formed part of their Muslim faith, and the article did not imply that these crimes were not committed by members of other faiths.”

In the issue of discrimination, IPSO said: “The Code protects identifiable individuals from discrimination; it does not relate to discrimination against groups or categories of people.”

Trevor Kavanagh is a member of IPSO’s board.

IPSO said: “The board has no role in the consideration of individual complaints, which are adjudicated on by the complaints committee. Mr Kavanagh played no part in the consideration of this complaint.”

Read the adjudication in full.

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