IPSO clears The Sun’s “Muslim Problem” article demonstrating inadequacies of Editors’ Code
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Friday November 24 2017
Newspaper regulator IPSO has once again shown its lack of bite by declaring Trevor Kavanagh’s “Muslim Problem” column free from any Editors’ Code infringements.
Kavanagh’s article titled “Now Phil’s finally Out, he must shut door behind him” was published in The Sun newspaper on the 14th August 2017, with the article also published online on the paper’s website. Kavanagh’s article referenced Chancellor Phil Hammond’s joint statement on Brexit with Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, before segueing into a diatribe against Islam and Muslims.
Kavanagh wrote that the “unspoken fear” linking Britain and the rest of Europe is Islam and claimed that authorities had long disregarded “Muslim sex crimes”. He stated that a full Brexit would put Britain “back in charge of immigration”, before signing off his article by asking “What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?”
This clear reference to the phrase “The Jewish Problem”, used by Nazis in 1930’s Germany prior to the Holocaust, shocked and offended many. It prompted over 100 cross-party politicians to sign a letter to The Sun’s editor, Tony Gallagher, stating they were “truly outraged by the hate and bigotry” displayed in the comment piece, which left “little doubt that Kavanagh was intentionally comparing Muslims to ‘The Jewish Problem’”.
The comment piece by Kavanagh also led to a flood of complaints to IPSO, with the self-regulator choosing to investigate Rachel Elgy’s complaint that the article breached clause 1 (accuracy) and clause 12 (discrimination) of IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice.
The regulator rejected both elements of Elgy’s complaint. Regarding Kavanagh’s use of the phrase “The Muslim Problem” at the end of his article, IPSO acknowledged that the question “was capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust.”
The Complaints Committee stated however that there is no clause in the Editors’ Code which prohibits the publication of offensive content. This allowed them to conclude that while many were offended by this aspect of the article, “there was no breach of the Code on this point”.
On the aspect of the complaint which alleged a breach of Clause 12 regarding discrimination, IPSO indicated its impotence by stating, “The Code protects identifiable individuals from discrimination; it does not relate to discrimination against groups or categories of people.” Due to this failure to protect minority groups in the code, the Committee concluded that “the complainant’s concern that the article discriminated against Muslims in general did not breach Clause 12”.
Miqdaad Versi from the Muslim Council of Britain called IPSO’s findings astonishing and questioned what Kavanagh would have to do to be removed from IPSO’s board, given his previous reprimand for attacking Channel 4 presenter Fatima Manji. Versi told Buzzfeed News, “What is truly astonishing is that regardless of the specifics of the code, IPSO does not seem to have any concern that one of its board members used this Nazi-like phrase about Muslims”.
IPSO’s latest ruling simply outlines how impotent the current media regulator is at protecting Muslims and other minorities from hate speech and incitement, and highlights how crucial it is for the Government to adequately safeguard minority groups by enforcing an independent and Leveson-compliant regulatory system.