The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has decided that Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn did not breach its code over an article in which he criticised amusement park Legoland for agreeing to host Shaikh Haitham al Haddad on a family fun day.
The article led to a storm of protest on social media with many complaining directly to the Daily Mail, the Press Complaints Commission and even the police. The PCC itself received over 800 complaints and Legoland cancelled the event because of potential policing costs in the event of protests.
In the piece titled “Jolly Jihadi’s Outing to Legoland” Littlejohn called Haddad a “hate preacher” and linked him and other Muslims to terrorism, violence, anti-semitism and gender discrimination.
Littlejohn wrote: “Al-Haddad is an enthusiastic supporter of Taliban policies, believes that Jews are ‘descended from apes and pigs’, homosexuals are criminals and those who leave Islam should be killed… So what can the lucky revellers expect when they arrive? Rehearsals are already under way and this column has been sent a copy of the itinerary:
“9am Coaches leave for Legoland. Males and females to travel on separate coaches. Strictly no fraternisation, no iPods and no transistor radios. Anyone found with a bacon sandwich will have their hands chopped off.
“9.50am Rear coach packed with explosives stops in Parliament Square. As Big Ben strikes ten, driver will blow himself up, en route to Paradise, where 72 virgins await. In the event of heavy traffic, he will detonate in the Blackfriars underpass.
“10.30am Arrive Legoland, Windsor. Coaches containing women and girls to use segregated car park and entrance at rear. Guests are reminded that music and dancing are punishable by death. Mobile phones are also prohibited, because they may inadvertently set off the hi-viz suicide vests being worn by our own security personnel.
“11am Mid-morning prayers, conducted by the former Ayatollah of Finsbury Park, Abu Hamza, live from his maximum security prison cell in Arizona. Today, he calls for all homosexuals and female adulterers living in Britain to be stoned to death, with Lego…
“Midday Lunch in the Legoland family halal restaurant. Unfortunately, all meals have been cancelled because this is a fast day. Anyone caught attempting to smuggle in a Mars Bar or kofti kebab under their burka will be executed.
“1pm Community chanting. Ram Jam Choudary leads the family funsters in a popular chorus of ‘Death to America, Death to the Jews!’ The quartermaster of the Hounslow branch of Al Muhajiroun will be handing out leaflets showing how to disguise Semtex as bricks of Lego. If wet, in bedouin tent behind Knights’ Kingdom.
“2pm Members of the Tower Hamlets Martyrs Brigade stage a Mumbai-style attack on the Windsor Legoland Resort Hotel. Includes instruction in how to build a grenade-launcher out of Lego.
“4pm Afternoon prayers, conducted by Ayman al-Zawahiri, live via internet from his compound in the tribal regions of Waziristan. Followed by a seminar on how Lego can be used to build weapons which can be smuggled undetected through airport security.
“5pm Practical demonstration on how to make an execution block out of Lego, for use when making internet videos showing beheading of infidels and apostates. Younger children will be taught how to build an Osama bin Laden doll out of Lego.
It wasn’t long before the article sparked a storm of protest. On Twitter fellow Daily Mail journalist Peter Oborne called Littlejohn’s article a “revolting piece of Islamophobic bigotry.”
Taji Mustafa of Hizb ut Tahrir said: “Imagine if Littlejohn’s outrageous hate-spew was against Jews.” Journalist Assed Baig called Littlejohn’s piece “the most Islamophobic article of the year” and added: “What would be a fun day out for Littlejohn? Stringing up Muslims and shooting them?”
But the Press Complaints Commission said it was clear that the article was meant to be satirical.
The PCC said: “The content of the itinerary was so overstated and extreme that readers generally would recognise that it was mocking the views allegedly held by Mr al-Haddad, rather than amounting to an accurate description of the actual itinerary for the day out or, indeed, an accurate reflection of Islamic law, beliefs or practice.
“While the Commission could understand that some readers might find the article offensive, on the grounds that they considered it to amount to a mockery and unfair portrayal of Islam, the terms of the Editors’ Code do not address issues of taste and offence. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate, provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code, which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not compromised.
“In all the circumstances, the Commission did not consider that readers would be misled into understanding that the itinerary was a true reflection of the proposed outing to Legoland. Furthermore, it was clear that the article was a satirical take on the extreme views allegedly held by Mr Haitham al-Haddad. There was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code on these grounds.”
The PCC added: “The complainants also considered the article discriminated against Muslims in general. Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code states that: ‘the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.’ It does not, however, cover references to the religion of a group of people, such as Muslims in general.”