A new study has found that the chief investigative reporter of The Times, Andrew Norfolk, published a sensational series of unfounded front-page articles portraying Muslims as threatening.
The study, written by investigative journalists Brian Cathcart and Paddy French and supported by the Media Reform Coalition, says it has identified a pattern in which significant information was either omitted or buried by Norfolk.
The authors assert that a responsible, conscientious reporter could have found this information and would have given it prominence.
The report says The Times repeatedly failed to do basic fact checking in a number of stories targeting Muslims and routinely omitted essential context. This resulted “not just in a litany of falsehoods about Muslims, but served to amplify an increasingly prevalent Islamophobia and fuel an emboldened racist agenda in the context of a higher level of hate crimes.”
The report examines three stories Norfolk wrote about Muslims over the past few years.
In August 2017 Norfolk alleged that Tower Hamlets council placed a white, five-year-old Christian girl with Muslim foster carers alleged to have behaved like bullies and bigots, presenting this as a breach of the council’s duty to find appropriate placements. The claims against the carers were later proved to be unfounded and they treated the girl well.
In July 2018 Norfolk accused a human rights charity, Just Yorkshire, of publishing a report about the Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, that was so scathing it provoked death threats against her. The Times has since admitted there was no evidence that the report led to death threats. The charity — most of whose trustees were Muslims — was forced to close.
And in November 2018 Norfolk accused Rotherham Council of seeking to place a vulnerable boy at the mercy of a convicted rapist by encouraging the rapist, a British Pakistani who was the boy’s biological father, to seek a legal right to visits and a role in his upbringing. All official bodies now agree that the council followed court rules that apply to all local authorities requiring it to notify the father of care proceedings but that it provided no encouragement to participate.
The Media Reform Coalition said: “This kind of reporting would be unacceptable in any publication, but it is particularly egregious given The Times’ claim to be Britain’s ‘newspaper of record’.
“That the newspaper then failed to respond to the allegations serves as a chilling reminder of press unaccountability. That is why the Media Reform Coalition is today backing calls for The Times to refer to itself to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for an urgent, independent and credible investigation into its reporting on Muslims.
“The scandal implicates the Times’ editorial management under editor John Witherow, which not only gave flawed articles prominence but promoted them aggressively in editorials and defended them when the facts were obvious. To make matters worse, all of this occurred when hate crimes against Muslims were at peak levels. To this day there have been no substantive corrections or apologies.”
The Times response
The Times responded to the claims today in a leading article.
The newspaper said that politically motivated campaigners are trying to smear and suppress fine reporting and that Andrew Norfolk has become the target of an extraordinary personal attack.
“This is a mischievous and ideologically motivated attempt to smear a reporter long recognised as one of the bravest and most scrupulous in his field,” The Times said. “The attackers have form. When Norfolk revealed for the first time the systematic sexual abuse of white teenagers by men of mainly Pakistani background in Rotherham and other northern towns, he also revealed the complicity of social workers, police and local councillors who failed to stop the grooming. They failed for fear of being accused of racism. That fear proved deeply entrenched.
“Norfolk’s work was eventually honoured with the Orwell Prize, the Paul Foot Award and with journalist of the year awards, but not before it had been fiercely disparaged by groups determined to recast the story in terms of Islamophobia. Norfolk’s critics fell silent only when overwhelming evidence emerged in the press, courts and public inquiries that forced the country to confront a deeply rooted pattern of criminal behaviour with a clear ethnic component.”
The Times went onto say that two of Norfolk’s articles were the subject of complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the regulatory body to which The Times belongs. The Times was found to have breached the Editors’ Code on one point in each case; other points of complaint were dismissed. The Times said it accepted the regulator’s decisions and took the remedial action required.
The Times concluded that the intention of the authors of the report was to “to deter and hamstring journalists from investigating controversial stories. In an era when news risks being obscured by propaganda, it is vital that sensitive issues be debated rather than suppressed. Above all, honest reporting needs defending. We unhesitatingly defend it in the case of our own reporters, on whom our readers are entitled to rely.