The press regulator, Ipso, has received 178 complaints about an article in The Times newspaper which claimed a five-year-old white Christian girl had been inappropriately placed into foster care with two Muslim families.
The story, published on Monday last week and headlined: “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care,” was also picked up by the Daily Mail.
The two papers are facing an investigation by Ipso, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, after complaints were made about their coverage.
The story, which claimed that the child had been left distressed after being placed with a Muslim family, became the focus of a political and media storm.
The report included a pixelated photograph of the girl in the company of a woman – alleged to be her foster carer – wearing a black niqab or burka.
However as the week unfolded, it became clear that the initial portrayal of the case was one-sided, if not inaccurate and misleading.
IPSO said “the majority of complaints against the article fell under three clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice: accuracy, privacy and discrimination.”
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs told the BBC’s Today programme that some of the more “sensationalist” elements of the Times report – including claims the girl had her crucifix necklace removed and was banned from eating bacon – were “not based in fact.”
Claims that the families did not speak English were also rebuffed by Tower Hamlets Council, which said in a statement it was “disappointed with the tone of some of the media coverage.”
Later on Wednesday, a hearing was held at the east London family court to decide over the child foster care.
The judge ordered that the foster care placement should end and that the child should reside with her maternal grandmother.
The published document revealed that the grandmother is “non-practising Muslim” and does not speak English. The grandmother also expressed a desire to “return to her country of origin and care for the child there.”
At a time when studies have found media reporting about Muslim communities contributes to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards the Islamic faith, far-right groups seized on the story as a vindication for Islamophobia.