The Times has published a front page correction after the UK’s largest press regulator said aspects of its reporting of the case of a Christian girl placed with Muslim foster carers in east London had “distorted” the facts.
The newspaper was told by the Independent Press Standards Organisation that it must publish a correction on page six or earlier, but opted to put a short story on its front page with the full adjudication running on page two.
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The complaint to IPSO was made by Tower Hamlets Borough Council, who said the Times article published on 30 August 2017 and headlined: “Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home,” contained inaccuracies.
The council said the article had breached of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editor’s Code of Practice – the 16-point standards by which all IPSO members are held to account.
The Times article formed part of the newspaper’s coverage of a child’s fostering arrangement in Tower Hamlets, in which concerns had been expressed that a Christian child’s cultural and religious needs were not being adequately met by her Muslim foster carers.
It was the third story on the girl’s case, following Times coverage on the two previous days (28 August splash pictured) which included claims that foster carers removed the girl’s cross necklace, spoke little English, and covered their faces in public.
The article under complaint was about a family court hearing that had taken place the previous day and reported that the child was “removed from her Muslim foster parents yesterday and reunited with her family.
It said judge Khatun Sapnara urged councils to seek ‘culturally matched placements’ for vulnerable children” and quoted her as having praised the Times for raising “very concerning” matters of “legitimate public interest”.
It said the court “ruled that she should not remain in the placement” organised by the council and that the family’s wish for the child to be placed in the care of her grandmother had been under consideration for months.
Tower Hamlets said the article implied it had been a “passive party” to the judge’s decision to remove the child from her foster carers, when in fact it had actively sought to place the child with her grandmother and had applied to the court for this placement to be made.
The council also claimed the story “misleadingly” suggested that the judge’s comment about “culturally matched placements” was intended as a criticism of it.
It said it had not been criticised by the judge and that this was supported by the fact that she had later said the placements were appropriate in the circumstances.
It said the delay in placing the child with her grandmother had been caused by the need to make checks on the grandmother as a carer, which had been delayed because she had been living abroad.
When they were completed, before the publication of the Times coverage, the council said it applied to the court for the child to be placed into the grandmother’s care.
The newspaper said its articles “did not seek to criticise or demonise all Muslims, nor all Muslim foster carers, nor all Muslim foster carers who provide a home for a non-Muslim child, let alone all cross-cultural foster placements”.
It said that in its leading article on the issue, published on 28 August, it stated that “fostering is an act of great selflessness. Any carer who opens their home is to be commended for offering refuge to vulnerable children”.
It said that its concern in this case was that this particular child’s foster carers “seemed ill-suited to meeting the needs of this particular child”.
IPSO’s Complaints Committee upheld the council’s complaint, saying the article “contained a distortion”, but was nonetheless an “accurate account of the outcome of the judge’s decision”.
The Times was ordered to publish the adjudication in print and online.