Parliament hears evidence of Islamophobia in media and powerlessness of regulators
Categories: Latest News
Thursday February 22 2018
The Home Affairs Committee on ‘Hate crime and its violent consequences inquiry’ held an oral evidence session on the 20th of February 2018 with the following witnesses: Baroness Warsi; Professor Chris Frost, Chair of the Ethics Council of the National Union of Journalists; Mr. Nazir Afzal, Member of the Complaints Committee of IPSO; Ms. Anne Lapping, board member of IPSO; Sir Alan Moses, Chairman of IPSO; and Jonathan Heawood, CEO of IMPRESS.
The Committee heard that the problem of Islamophobia is substantial within the media, with witnesses claiming that the press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), was “incapable” of addressing the problem.
Amongst those giving witness were Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who has in the past spoken publicly on the rampant Islamophobia present in politics and the media.
In 2011, the then Conservative Party Chairwoman, Baroness Warsi made a speech on how Islamophobia had “passed the dinner table test”.
During her evidence, she referred back to her 2011 speech stating that, over the period since, the problem has become significantly worse.
Baroness Warsi said: “That was seen as quite a stark statement to make in 2011. It now seems like a very timid statement, seven, eight years on”.
She also said that: “Islamophobia is Britain’s bigotry blindspot” and “I think we still fail to see it in the way that we see other forms of discrimination”.
Professor Chris Frost, Chair of the Ethics Council of the National Union of Journalists, supported Baroness Warsi’s comments on Islamophobia and qualified the significant role the media plays in establishing narrative by providing evidence that 64% of Britons get all their information on Muslims from the media.
Prof. Frost further stated that the mainstream media actively seeks and produces inaccurate Islamophobic news stories to generate revenue and that “…they [mainstream media editors] know perfectly well that if they’re careful about how they are inaccurate that they will not get any comeback on it…complaints might be made to IPSO, those complaints won’t necessarily achieve anything…”.
Prof. Frost pointed out that IPSO, since its inception, has received around 18,666 complaints on claims of discrimination, of which only 7 have been upheld as being a breach of IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice; an upholding rate of approximately 0.038%.
The notorious pattern of IPSO’s inaction was highlighted also when it was revealed that Mr. Trevor Kavanagh’s actions did not result in any disciplinary action, even though he was a member of the IPSO board.
Naz Shah MP, a member of the Committee, noted that “Trevor Kavanagh attacked a complainant for complaining to IPSO…he breached the code [IPSO’s editor code of conduct] himself…he wrote a number of inflammatory articles about Muslims, including the infamous ‘Muslim problem’…” and asked IPSO representatives why they had not pursued any disciplinary action against Mr. Kavanagh.
Sir Alan Moses, the Chairman of IPSO, said that the complaints against Mr. Kavanagh were “considered” by the complaints commission but said the commission had “dismissed the complaints under article 12…”
Article 12 of IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice has been heavily criticised in the past for limiting protection to individuals and not to groups, conspicuously allowing for racial hate speech to occur against Muslims and other minorities.
When this issue was raised at the hearing yesterday, IPSO representatives were quick to point out that as it is criminalised under British Law it should not be IPSO’s responsibility to pursue such issues.
Sir Moses said: “…IPSO’s view, and the editor’s code committee’s view, about that is that [racial hatred] is a criminal offence and regulation ought to be dealing with things other than criminal offence”.
However, the Chair of the Committee, Yvette Cooper MP, noted later that there are ample examples within IPSO’s editor’s code of practice which deal or refer to British Criminal Law.
Ms. Cooper made reference to Clause 15, which prevents payments to witnesses, and Clause 7, which prevents identification of children in sex cases; and said: “I can find several more [examples]”.
Ms. Copper continued: “You have within the editor’s code a whole series of statements which are basically replicating the law of the land”.
As such, IPSO’s justification of not including racial hatred within the Editors’ Code of Practice is unique in comparison to the rest of IPSO’s Code.
IMPRESS another independent press regulator in the UK, representatives of which were also present at the hearing, does have a clause, specifically Clause 4.3, which protects groups against racial hatred.
Mr. Jonathan Heawood, CEO of IMPRESS, said: “…where they [mainstream media] cross the line into inciting hatred, we see no argument for saying that we should stand back somehow and let the law do its business…”
The Committee’s enquiry is ongoing and MEND will continue to report on the findings.