Labour MPs have demanded a meeting with the editor of the Sun newspaper for publishing a controversial front-page story that falsely claimed one in five British Muslims had sympathy with those who have left to fight for ISIS.
The 10 MPs said in a letter to the Sun on Thursday: “We are writing to request a meeting with you regarding your recent story ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadists’ from Monday 23 November.”
Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, led the Labour backbench call for an explanation from Tony Gallagher, the tabloid’s editor. The MPs said they were worried about the impact “flawed” and “misleading” stories have in stoking hate crimes.
They said editorial decisions “have consequences on attitudes to Muslims in the UK”, adding that this week there had been an “alarming increase” in attacks on British Muslims.
“Figures this week show that in one week since the barbaric Paris attacks hate crimes against Muslims have increased by 300% in the UK,” said the parliamentarians, who included Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, and Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill.
The letter comes after the Sun published a misleading story based on a study by pollsters Survation, who questioned 1,003 British Muslims by phone on behalf of the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid.
The survey found that 20% agreed that they had “some” or “a lot” of “sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”.
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It did not however specify which warring group the the young Muslims in question might be joining in the complex civil war, which has killed over 250,000 people and displaced millions over more than four years.
The result was similar to levels of sympathy among non-Muslims when polled, and the Sun caused a widespread social media outcry when it reported the poll on Monday with the “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” headline.
The MPs’ letter highlighted specific points of concern, such as the Sun only using data from November in the story, rather than explaining the significant fall in sympathy from March, when a similar survey was conducted.
They also criticised the editorial decision to focus solely on the answers of Muslim Britons to the question of sympathies with foreign fighters, with Mahmood pointing out: “This data suggests that the views of Muslims and non-Muslims are not that different.” The politicians also pointed out out that any mention of Isis had been omitted from the question put to surveyed Muslims.
The charges from the Labour MPs, however, may cause some tension with their colleague Sadiq Khan, the party’s London mayoral candidate, who had provided a quote to the Sun for the original story as well as an accompanying comment piece. He said in his piece: “As the Sun’s poll shows, most British Muslims have come across someone with radical views – and I am no different.”
The intervention by the MPs adds to the extensive criticism the Sun has received this week, following a statement from Survation, which distanced itself from the headlines and said: “Survation categorically objects to the use of our findings by any group, as has happened on social networks, to incite racial or religious tensions.” Survation told the Guardian that it arrived at a list of people to question after filtering its database of 42m profiles against a list of what it described as “1,500 Muslim surnames”.
Members of the public also complained, and press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) said it had received more than 1,200 complaints about the front page by 1pm on Tuesday.
Over 30,000 people signed a petition demanding the Sun apologise. “This headline and article is not only an inaccurate lie but is also inflammatory and extremely damaging to our community cohesion,” the petition on change.org said.
The petition said the report “amounts to inciting religious and racial hatred and promotes Islamophobia”.
The Times, also Murdoch-owned, was forced to publish on Thursday a correction to a “misleading” headline that claimed a fifth of British Muslims had sympathy for Isis. However, the Sun defended its reporting. “People are angry because we dared to tell the truth. Bizarre, no?” columnist Rod Liddle wrote on Thursday.