The press regulator has rejected a complaint by the journalist Fatima Manji about a column in The Sun which called Islam a “violent religion” and questioned whether it was appropriate for Channel 4 News to be presented by a hijab-wearing journalist on the day that Nice was “attacked by a Muslim.”
The article on July 18 by the right-wing columnist Kelvin MacKenzie caused outrage and prompted over 800 complaints to Ipso (The Independent Press Standards Organisation).
Subsequently Manji complained to Ipso that The Sun had breached the Accuracy, Harassment and Discrimination clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
But today Ipso concluded that the article was fine because it targeted Islam rather than Fatima Manji herself.
In its ruling Ipso said its discrimination clause does not prohibit prejudicial or pejorative references to a particular religion for freedom of speech reasons, even though such disparaging criticisms may cause distress and offence.
Ipso said MacKenzie was entitled to express his view that, in the context of a terrorist act which had been carried out ostensibly in the name of Islam, it was inappropriate for a person wearing Islamic dress to present coverage of the story.
The ruling added: “There can be no doubt that this was deeply offensive to the complainant and caused widespread concern and distress to others. This was demonstrated by the number of complaints IPSO received.
“The article was highly critical of Channel 4 for permitting a newsreader to wear the hijab. It also contained pejorative references to Islam. But the essential question for the Committee was whether those references were directed at the complainant…
“The article did refer to the complainant. But it did so to explain what triggered the discussion about a subject of legitimate debate: whether newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols. In the Committee’s view, the columnist was permitted to identify what prompted his discussion, rather than merely raising it in the abstract. Furthermore, he was entitled to express his view that, in the context of a terrorist act which had been carried out ostensibly in the name of Islam, it was inappropriate for a person wearing Islamic dress to present coverage of the story…
“While the columnist’s opinions were undoubtedly offensive to the complainant, and to others, these were views he had been entitled to express. The article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of her religion.”
In his article, Mackenzie wrote: “Anxious to know more about the Nice lorry massacre, I did something on Friday night I try to avoid: I watched Channel Four News.
“After Jon Snow had conducted a poor interview with a young man who had come perilously close to death the action switched back to the London studio, where I could hardly believe my eyes.
“The presenter was not one of the regulars — Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Matt Frei or Cathy Newman — but a young lady wearing a hijab. Her name is Fatima Manji and she has been with the station for four years.
“Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim? Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male- dominated and clearly violent religion?
“Would the C4 editor have used a Hindu to report on the carnage at the Golden Temple of Amritsar? Of course not. Would the station have used an Orthodox Jew to cover the Israeli-Palestine conflict? Of course not.”
He added: “With all the major terrorist outrages in the world currently being carried out by Muslims, I think the rest of us are reasonably entitled to have concerns about what is beating in their religious hearts. Who was in the studio representing our fears? Nobody.”
Mackenzie is the former editor of The Sun and has often been accused of xenophobia. He is most infamous for slandering Liverpool fans after he ran a falsified story claiming some fans urinated on police and had picked the pockets of the dead during the Hillsborough tragedy.
Channel 4 dismay
Meanwhile, Channel 4 News has said it is dismayed by the Ipso ruling.
Ben de Pear, Channel 4 News Editor, said: “Whilst we agree that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, we do not believe it should be used as a license to incite or discriminate.
“His inflammatory comments on Fatima Manji’s professional status, which were widely condemned, and his attempts to equate the wearing of the hijab with support for terrorism, have no place in a properly informed and tolerant society.
At Channel 4 News we employ reporters based on their journalistic skills, not their ethnicity. We see no reason why a Muslim journalist should be prevented from covering any story and Fatima will continue to report and present the news on the issues of the day with impartiality and depth.”