Muslim Council of Britain takes aim at The Sun

:: The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wants better regulation of the UK press following an article in The Sun calling for an answer to “The Muslim Problem.”

Writing in the UK’s most widely read newspaper, Trevor Kavanagh claimed that Britain had a “Muslim Problem.”

This drew widespread comparisons to “The Jewish Problem,” an expression used in Nazi Germany.

The British Independent Press Standards Organization received more than 150 complaints about the phrase, and is looking into whether it will take action against The Sun. The MCB is not holding its breath.

“The current press regulator IPSO is unlikely to act as its code doesn’t protect groups from discrimination and incitement to hatred,” Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary-general of the MCB, told Arab News. “Even more shocking is that this very same columnist is on the board of the regulator.”

Versi said inflammatory language could result in a rise in hate crime against Muslims, and for that reason alone there had to be better deterrence to such articles.

“In the UK there has been a rise in Islamophobia and hate crime, with 40 neo-Nazis currently being investigated for fears they’re plotting terrorist attacks against Muslims. In this climate, such a column is not only irresponsible but downright dangerous,” he added.

“There’s no doubt that we need a regulator willing to act, and journalists willing to stand up to this hatred in the same way they stand up against hatred spread against other minorities.”

The Sun has a history of printing articles that many say are anti-Muslim. In 2015 the newspaper, which has more than 5 million weekly readers, was forced to correct a “significantly misleading” front page claiming that one in five British Muslims had sympathy for jihadists.

This was followed by columnist Kelvin MacKenzie attacking Channel 4 newsreader Fatima Manji for wearing a hijab while reporting on the Nice terror attack.

IPSO upheld the 3,000 complaints over the first story, forcing The Sun to publish the regulator’s adjudication on page 2 of the paper.

But IPSO rejected complaints in the MacKenzie case. The judgment stated: “He was entitled to express his view that, in the context of a terrorist act which had been carried out ostensibly in the name of Islam, it was inappropriate for a person wearing Islamic dress to present coverage of the story.”

Niall Duffy, director of external affairs at IPSO, told Arab News: “That adjudication, while clearly relating to an issue of faith, was about an individual, not a group.”

An earlier IPSO judgment on another article published in The Sun, in which Katie Hopkins referred to migrants as “cockroaches,” also highlighted that clause 12 of its code referred only to discrimination of individuals rather than groups.

Of that ruling, Duffy said: “Clause 12 is designed to protect identified individuals, and doesn’t apply to groups or categories of people. The concerns raised by the complainants that the article discriminated against migrants in general didn’t therefore raise a possible breach of clause 12.”

IPSO replaced the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which was heavily criticized in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry set up to probe the culture, practices and ethics of the British press in the wake of the hacking scandal.

Like its predecessor, IPSO has been accused of suffering from a lack of independence, with many saying it is run by the newspapers it is supposed to regulate.

The presence of Kavanagh on IPSO’s board would appear to back up that claim. But Duffy said the regulator has always been independent and will continue to be so.

“Kavanagh is a member of IPSO’s board. The board has no role in the consideration of individual complaints, which are adjudicated on by the Complaints Committee,” Duffy said. “IPSO has already upheld a (past) complaint against Kavanagh.”

One group that agrees with the MCB is IMPRESS, an independently funded regulator created in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. It aims to follow the recommendations of Leveson, something IPSO is accused of not doing.

IMPRESS CEO Jonathan Heawood told Arab News: “There has been widespread debate this week about coverage of Muslims in the press. Unlike (IPSO), the new IMPRESS standards code protects groups vulnerable to discrimination against reporting that incites hatred.

“Clearly free speech includes the right to offend. However, there’s a difference between offensive commentary and incitement to hatred. Like many other professional journalism codes around the world, the IMPRESS code draws this line.”

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