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  1. Media Law
November 26, 2015

Times corrects ‘misleading’ headline in follow-up of Sun’s ‘one in five British Muslims’ poll report

By William Turvill

The Times has issued a correction after following up on The Sun’s poll finding that “one in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis”.

The Sun's front page story on Monday (pictured, left) reported on a poll of 1,000 British Muslims under the headline: “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”.

It reported: “Nearly one in five British Muslims has some sympathy with those who have fled the UK to fight for IS in Syria.”

On Tuesday, The Times reported the poll under the headline: “One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis” (pictured, right).

Beneath, however, the story did not report that this “sympathy” was necessarily for Islamic State fighters. It said: “One in five Muslims has sympathy for fighters who choose to leave Britain to wage war in Syria, according to an opinion poll. The Survation survey of 1,000 British Muslims found that 19 per cent either felt some sympathy, or a lot of sympathy, for young Muslims ‘who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria’.”

The Times also reported on questions being raised about the “reliability” of the poll, reporting: “Critics said that it did not make a distinction between those who have gone out to fight for Islamic State and the multitude of other factions, including the Shia militias and Kurds fighting in Syria.”

The Times, which like The Sun is a News UK newspaper, today stated in its ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ section that its headline was “misleading”.

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It said: “We reported the findings of a Survation poll of 1,000 British Muslims. Asked ‘How do you feel about young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria?’, 14 per cent of respondens 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.”

Yesterday, press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation said The Sun’s coverage of the poll had led to more than 2,000 complaints, the majority under clause one (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Some 5 per cent of respondents in the Survation poll agreed with the statement “I have a lot of sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”, and 14 per cent said they had some sympathy.

The Sun has been accused of misrepresenting these statistics and Survation has distanced itself from the reporting.

Survation chief executive Damian Lyons Lowe told The Guardian: “Survation do not endorse or support the way in which this poll’s findings have been presented by the Sun newspaper and others. Neither the headline nor the body text of any articles published were shared with or approved by Survation prior to publication.”

The newspaper quotes Ben Page, chief executive of polling company Ipsos Mori, as saying: “The main issue with this poll is the reporting, which made it appear that one in five of those sampled supported Isis, when in fact they were expressing sympathy with people going to fight in Syria, as I understand it, which could of course include British ex-servicemen fighting against Isis with the Kurds, or anti-Assad Muslim forces who are also fighting against Isis.”

The Sun said in a statement yesterday: “We are surprised at the comments from Survation, who undertook the polling for the Sun newspaper. The questions were discussed in full and agreed with them in advance, and the question about ‘sympathy’ was specifically written and suggested by them.  

“In any event, it is not for a polling company to endorse or otherwise the editorial interpretation of a survey. The Sun published the poll's findings clearly and accurately, including the questions in full. 

“The spread inside the newspaper reported other newsworthy lines from the survey, including the percentage of British Muslims who support action in Syria and how British Muslims choose to identify themselves. We also made clear that the number of British Muslims who had sympathy or support for IS was lower than a similar survey by Sky News conducted in March.

“The fact remains that a significant minority of Muslims have sympathy for the actions of extremists. That is a subject worthy of discussion and The Sun believes that it must be appropriate for that conversation to take place.”

More than 20,000 have signed an online petition urging the Attorney General to charge The Sun with incitement to racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986.

And more than 30,000 have signed another petition calling for The Sun to apologise for the headline on its story.

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