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Senior Daily Mail editor blames ‘dreadful cesspit’ of social media for rise of Islamophobia as newspaper bosses quizzed in hate crime inquiry

By Charlotte Tobitt

The Daily Mail’s editor emeritus blamed the “dreadful cesspit” of social media for the rise in Islamophobia in the UK as senior editors were quizzed over their newspapers’ responsibility for hate crime yesterday.

Former Mail deputy editor Peter Wright told the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into hate crime that “there is no anti-Muslim agenda” at the Daily Mail, adding: “It doesn’t exist.”

He said of the Mail’s front pages so far this year only five “in any way impinged” on Muslims.

“If we were trying to incite racial hatred it would be appearing on our front page,” he said. “Stories inciting hatred against Muslims do not appear on our front page.”

Wright said people were “not necessarily” getting Islamophobic views from newspapers. “We’re told these days they get them all from social media,” he said. “I think social media is a dreadful cesspit.”

Wright (pictured top, right) added:“I have worked in newsrooms for 40 years and I have never heard an editor say ‘right, let’s run this story because it attacks Muslims’.”

MPs suggested there may instead be an issue of unconscious bias in newsrooms as a study by City University in 2016 found that just 0.4 per cent of British journalists are Muslim.

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Ian Brunskill, associate editor of The Times, agreed that he did not recognise any picture of “intentional deliberate Islamophobia in the press”.

He said: “There are news stories that tackle difficult subjects and there will be problems around those, there are opinion columns which will offend and there have been problems around those, and there are certainly misunderstandings, and there are misjudgments, and there are mistakes.

“But I don’t recognise the picture of deliberate dishonest manipulation of information in order to stoke Islamophobia.”

Paul Clarkson, managing editor of The Sun, said he did not believe Islamophobia was an issue in the mainstream media.

However, holding up the Sun’s 2016 front page headline “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” which the Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled was “significantly misleading”, MP Naz Shah said: “You chose to present an outright lie as a fact because it supports your editorial narrative, which undeniably stirs up hatred against Muslims.”

Clarke disagreed that it was intentionally designed to stir up anti-Muslim hatred, adding: “I do apologise for the errors in the story.”

In the same hearing, Daily Express editor-in-chief Gary Jones, who took over the newspaper last month, admitted that some of its past front page stories made him “very uncomfortable”.

Some of the headlines that the Express has carried in the past created an “Islamophobic sentiment”, he said.

Individually they may not present specific issues, there have been accuracy issues on some of them, and some of them are just downright offensive, and I wouldn’t want to be party to any newspaper that would publish such material.”

It was announced on 1 March that Jones was leaving his post as editor of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People as part of a reshuffle after owner Trinity Mirror bought the Daily Express and Daily Star newspapers.

Jones (picture top, left) told MPs he planned to make changes to the newspaper.

“I have to accept as a newspaper editor that people have different views to my own and the newspaper is there to represent the broader section of views but I think there are limits as to how far you should go in an honest and fair-minded society,” he said.

MPs launched their investigation into “hate speech” in the national press after former Tory cabinet minister Baroness Warsi wrote to the House of Commons home affairs select committee in November last year.

Warsi said: “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.”

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