5Pillars journalism vindicated: Press watchdog dismisses complaint by Luqman Ali

The independent press watchdog IMPRESS, which regulates 5Pillars, has dismissed a complaint by Luqman Ali who complained about one of our articles which questioned his suitability to receive Zakat money given his history of working with Prevent counter extremism authorities.

Ali, who is the managing director of Al Khayaal Theatre Company, complained that the 5Pillars article from last May, “NZF funded individuals linked to Israel and counter extremism,” breached IMPRESS’s code on accuracy and discrimination.

The article was based on a leaked document which showed that in 2017 National Zakat Foundation funded Julie Siddiqi, who is linked to several pro Israel organisations and individuals, and Luqman Ali, who has carried out counter extremism work.

Siddiqi was given nearly £29,500 by NZF out of Zakat funds and Ali was given over £38,500.

After the article was published NZF changed its Zakat policy to make it more transparent.

Among other things, Ali complained that:

  • The headline was not substantiated by the article.
  • The article did not substantiate any “link” to Israel.
  • The article’s characterisation of Al Khayaal’s work with Prevent omitted crucial facts, which meant a misleading impression was created.
  • A transcript of their conversation clearly showed that Mr Ali made various statements to 5Pillars that were not included in the article, and that Mr Ali wanted the whole story to be told.
  • The article discriminated against Mr Ali as a Muslim and against Jewish people and those who associate with them for the purpose of interfaith work.

“No breach”

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But after an investigation lasting several months IMPRESS, which has the power to sanction 5Pillars, considered that the article did not breach either its accuracy or discrimination clauses.

In its judgment IMPRESS said: “While the article’s headline alleged that individuals linked to Israel and counter extremism were funded by NZF, the article went on to clearly explain which allegation applied to which of the two named individuals. An ordinary and reasonable reader would not necessarily have drawn the conclusion that the headline statements necessarily applied to those individuals. The Committee did not consider that the article misrepresented or distorted the facts.

“The article factually republished information that had originally been put in the public domain in the Coolness of Hind blog. The Publisher sought comment from Mr Ali before the article was published; Mr Ali requested that he not be quoted in the article and the Publisher was entitled to make an editorial decision as to how to best summarise Mr Ali’s position.

“The evidence provided did not show that that summary was inaccurate. Mr Ali did not take up the Publisher’s offer to correct or clarify the article post-publication. The Committee was not provided with any particular evidence to support the allegation that Mr Ali had faced harassment.”

IMPRESS also vindicated the article over accusations of discrimination.

“The article was written in a critical tone and questioned whether the two individuals were appropriate recipients of Zakat funds. However, in making its criticisms, the article did not include any expressions of malice or hostility towards any religious group, their beliefs or practices,” IMPRESS said.

“The Publisher’s decision to include a link to the Coolness of Hind blog, which was clearly expressing opinion, was a legitimate editorial decision the Publisher was entitled to make. That decision did not incite hatred. The Committee therefore concluded that the article did not incite hatred against any group on the basis of its religion.”

Reacting to IMPRESS’s decision 5Pillars said the verdict was a complete vindication of its journalism.

Editor Roshan Muhammed Salih said: “Over the years we have had to put up with a lot of false accusations by those who claim that we do ‘fake news’ or ‘trash Daily Mail type journalism.’ So I really hope that those accusers take notice of this decision.

“5Pillars did not have to sign up to to an independent regulator which could potentially do us a lot of damage, but we did so because we are completely committed to accurate and fair journalism and to uphold the highest standards of professionalism.

“When we publish an investigative story it is only after often weeks or months of exhaustive research and fact-checking. So I hope this decision will give our readers yet another reason to trust us.”

Deputy editor Dilly Hussain added: “Let this independent decision by IMPRESS be a testimony to our journalistic integrity – we aren’t cowboys and nor do we thrive on covering whistleblowing stories. We don’t make friends as a result, we actually risk losing them.

“Those who questioned and unfairly criticised 5Pillars for the way we reported the story, we don’t expect an apology from you – we forgive you for the sake of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) for your baseless slander.

“As for the UK Muslim charity sector, in 5Pillars you will find an ally when holding the Charity Commission to account, providing positive coverage and discounted advertising rates. But at the same time, you will also find in us a watchdog who will hold you to account when the Ummah’s wealth is being misappropriated and/or handled unethically.”

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