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Action Alert – The Times stokes Islamophobia with inaccurate and misleading reporting of foster carer story

Monday September 04 2017

In the Times’ article headlined “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care”, published online and in print on 28 August 2017, Andrew Norfolk made a number of misleading and distorted statements providing a biased and inaccurate account of the situation, involving a five-year-old girl being fostered by a family in Tower Hamlets.

Norfolk included a number of unverified claims in his article including that the child was fostered by a family who “don’t speak English”. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has said in a statement that the Times’ article contained “inaccuracies”, and that the child was fostered by an “English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement”.

In providing a distorted account of the story, Norfolk failed to mention:

  • The girl was removed from her mother on an emergency basis after the police exercised their powers of protection
  • The girl’s mother is being required to undergo testing for drug and alcohol misuse
  • The children’s guardian visited the child and spoke to the child alone and had “no concerns as to the child’s welfare”
  • The girl’s mother at no stage applied to the court for a change in foster carer
  • The girl’s maternal grandparents are of Muslim background

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  1. Copy the text from the fields at this link (or from the orange box below)
  2. Paste them in to IPSO’s complaints’ form here

Action Alert - The Times stokes Islamophobia with inaccurate and misleading reporting of foster carer story

Please urgently action the alert by completing the online IPSO complaint form using the details in the box below.

Section (1)

Why are you complaining?: Material published in print and/or online

Both

Name of publication(s): The Times (News UK)

Section (2)

Add each headline or photograph from this publication related to the complaint.

Headline: Christian child forced into Muslim foster care

Date: 28/08/2017

Link to article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/christian-child-forced-into-muslim-foster-care-by-tower-hamlets-council-3gcp6l8cs

Section (3)

Clauses breached

1 Accuracy

2 Privacy

6 Children

Reasons for breaching clause 1:

It is my view that The Times’ story clearly breaches Clause 1, Article (i) of the Editors’ Code of Practice which states:

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
The Times’ article appears misleading and inaccurate in many ways.

The article states that the child was forced to live with a “niqab-wearing foster carer” where she was allegedly “encouraged to learn Arabic”. The article also states that “they don’t speak English”, in reference to the foster family.

The Times further goes on to state that “Tower Hamlets refused to respond to requests to explain why it had chosen to place a white, English-speaking Christian child with Muslim foster carers, including one household where she was unable to understand the language spoken by the family.”

Firstly, there is no evidence to the claim that the foster family did not speak English or that the child did not “understand the language spoken by the family”. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets has stated that the claims published in the Times contained “inaccuracies” and that the child was fostered by an “English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement”.

Additionally, information presented at the Family Court hearing shows that after the child’s Guardian visited the child in the foster carer’s home and spoke to the child alone, she had “no concerns as to the child’s welfare and reported that the child was settled and well cared for by the foster carer”.

The Times reports a claim that the child’s biological mother was “horrified” at the environment her daughter was placed in but fails to mention that the “mother has at no stage applied to the court for a change of foster carer”.

Further to this, The Times provides a misleading representation of the case by omitting the reasons the child was placed in local authority care. According to court documents, the child was removed from the mother’s care and placed by social services with foster carers on an emergency basis in March 2017 as a result of the police exercising their powers of protection. There was no culturally matched foster placement available at the time. Alongside this, the Times fails to mention in its coverage that the girl’s biological mother is required to undergo testing for drug and alcohol misuse, which would be significant in explaining why the child is not in the care of her biological mother.

Finally, and arguably most distortedly, the paper states that the child was “forced into Muslim foster care” while failing to mention that the child’s maternal grandmother, whom the court has now temporarily entrusted the welfare of the girl to, is actually of Muslim background. This omission means the Times fails to inform readers of the full facts of the case, rendering its coverage woefully biased, inaccurate and misleading.

Given that the Editors’ Code of Practice requires the Code not just to be honoured to the letter but also in the full spirit, it would seem perverse if such biased and unbalanced coverage is allowed to be published without consequence.

Reasons for breaching clause 2:

The Times has also used in its online coverage of the story two images of the girl accompanied by her foster carers.

It is of my view that publication of these images clearly violates elements of section 2 (privacy) and section 6 (children) of the Editors’ Code. Article 2 of the Code states:

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy

while Article 6 states

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.
The use of the two images of the girl with her foster mother is clearly incendiary and appears to be taken without either responsible adult’s consent. Despite claiming to be protecting the child’s identity, the paper’s coverage has the effect of placing the child and foster mother under unnecessary risk and exposure.

The family court has since expressed its concern that photographs of the child and foster carer have been published in the press, and said that it is imperative that no information be published which may even by way of “jigsaw” information lead to the identity of the child being disclosed. It is clear that publishing the image of the girl, albeit from the back, along with the other information given, may lead to the girl’s identity being disclosed.

The family court has ordered the media not to publish any images of the child or any image of the foster carers, yet the images are still available online on the Times website.

Reasons for breaching clause 6:

The Times has also used in its online coverage of the story two images of the girl accompanied by her foster carers.

It is of my view that publication of these images clearly violates elements of section 2 (privacy) and section 6 (children) of the Editors’ Code. Article 2 of the Code states:

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy

while Article 6 states

iii) Children under 16 must not be interviewed or photographed on issues involving their own or another child’s welfare unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents.

v) Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.
The use of the two images of the girl with her foster mother is clearly incendiary and appears to be taken without either responsible adult’s consent. Despite claiming to be protecting the child’s identity, the paper’s coverage has the effect of placing the child and foster mother under unnecessary risk and exposure.

The family court has since expressed its concern that photographs of the child and foster carer have been published in the press, and said that it is imperative that no information be published which may even by way of “jigsaw” information lead to the identity of the child being disclosed. It is clear that publishing the image of the girl, albeit from the back, along with the other information given, may lead to the girl’s identity being disclosed.

The family court has ordered the media not to publish any images of the child or any image of the foster carers, yet the images are still available online on the Times website.

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