Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has condemned the right-wing media for “preaching hate” against Muslims, calling Islamophobia “Britain’s latest bigotry blind spot.”
In a speech organised at the Hacked Off organisation in London on Tuesday evening, the ex Conservative cabinet minister singled out the Daily Mail, The Express, The Sun and The Times for “targeting Muslims” and “poisoning the national discourse.”
Hacked Off seeks greater regulation of the press and is backed by celebrities including Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant.
During the speech, Warsi said that editors and journalists are deliberately vilifying a minority and are creating hatred.
“In sections of our press, it is relentless and deliberate. Steadily and methodically using paper inches and columns to create, feed and ratchet up suspicions and hostilities in our society, driving communities apart and creating untold – and unnecessary – fear and distress,” she said.
“Poisoning our public discourse, making it almost impossible to have sensible discussions about real challenges, crowding out tolerance, reason and understanding. And this drip-drip approach has created a toxic environment where hate crime is the highest it has been since records began.”
She continued: “Hate speech in the press has become a plague, an epidemic. Ways of expression that I thought we had left behind with Enoch Powell in the 1960s are now the new normal. This is true not just of two or three notorious dailies, but also of papers some still regard as responsible and ethical.
“Anti-Muslim hate speech is becoming a regular feature even in the more ‘respectable’ parts of the press and that’s why it is becoming more dangerous. Islamophobia is Britain latest bigotry blind spot. It’s where the respectable rationalise bigotry, couch it in intellectual argument and present it as public interest or honest opinion that allows the rot of xenophobia to set in.”
Baroness Warsi criticised Theresa May for attending Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre’s 25th anniversary celebrations last week, calling the newspaper “disgusting.”
She criticised The Sun for incorrectly reporting that one in five Muslims supported jihadis, and for attacking Channel 4 News presenter Fatima Manji.
And she criticised The Times for a story about a Muslim family fostering a Christian child. Warsi said the newspaper was “wilfully sending a message to its readers that Muslims are frightening people with whom Christian children are not safe.”
She also said that 94% of British journalists are white and this needed to change so that they are more reflective of the communities they write about. She added that the press regulator Ipso was ineffective and that libel laws only protect the rich.