The main UK press regulator has issued guidelines on the reporting of Muslims which say publications “are free to publish what editors think is appropriate… so long as the rights of individuals are not infringed.”
The IPSO guidelines were published following a string of controversial stories in the mainstream media which the Muslim community strongly objected to.
But IPSO, which is funded by the mass market newspapers themselves, seems to have put the emphasis on the need to uphold free speech. So for example, it says that its code does not prohibit prejudicial or pejorative references to a particular religion, even though criticisms may cause distress and offence.
In its guidelines IPSO encourages journalists to:
- Not to publish inaccurate, misleading and distorted information
or discriminate against an individual
- Speak to a diverse range of voices within communities
- Take care that stereotypes do not feature in factual coverage
- Take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted images
- Consider whether the fact that an individual is Muslim is relevant to the article
IPSO explained why it did not uphold a complaint by Channel 4 News journalist Fatima Manji over an article in The Sun which questioned why a hijabi was presenting Channel 4 News on the night of the Nice attack. IPSO said The Sun columnist Kelvin McKenzie was entitled to express his views, despite many people finding them offensive.
Another complaint was dismissed concerning an article in the Metro, which reported comments by the deputy leader of Rotherham Council on child sexual exploitation under an irrelevant picture of a local mosque. IPSO concluded the image did not imply a connection between Islam and child sexual exploitation.
On the other hand, IPSO has upheld complaints by Muslims over articles which were clearly inaccurate, such as The Sun printing a piece saying that nearly one in five British Muslims had sympathy for those who went to fight for ISIS.
Commenting on the IPSO guidelines, 5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih said: “There has been little or no scrutiny of the recent IPSO guidelines but this is a mistake because this organisation regulates the mass UK press which is accused of targeting Muslims. And these lame guidelines effectively give the press the green light to continue doing so.
“IPSO is financed by these papers so it’s no surprise that they’ve done this. Muslims are under attack by the press in this country and we are getting no protection under the excuse of upholding freedom of speech.”
On the other hand, Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Faith Matters and Tell Mama, said: “I welcome this guidance document, which is an excellent balance after much deliberation and engagement by IPSO, its regulated publishers and diverse community activists and organisations where there is not always pluralism of thought or opinion.
“I strongly believe that any faith or ideology must be open to critique and that opinions by writers in publications should be protected. This means negative or derogatory opinions around faiths must be protected for publication, however much those views are disagreed with.
“However, on issues of fact that do not have anything to do with Muslims and Islam and which are woven into stories and conjecture that maligns whole communities so that it promotes discriminatory views about them, this document makes clear that there are important guidelines that should be followed.”
And Gary Jones, Editor-in-Chief, Daily and Sunday Express, said: “With fake news in abundance, accuracy is undoubtedly the key to preserving the integrity, reputation and future of the mainstream press. This voluntary advice which has been extensively debated isn’t about censorship or control but providing information useful in terms of accuracy and the avoidance of prejudicial language.
“A free press has the right to challenge, offend and shock. That’s an inalienable right in a democracy. Though with that freedom comes responsibilities. In my lifetime reporting on race, colour, religion, sexual orientation and disability has changed dramatically, positively and for the betterment of society. This guidance lays out the standards. I, for one, am comfortable for those standards to be set.”