Newspaper apologises to student for wrongly dubbing her a “cheerleader for terrorist groups”
Categories: Latest News
Monday July 15 2019
On the 27th June 2019, The Daily Mail issued an apology and agreed to pay damages to Farah Koutteineh, a student they wrongly called a “cheerleader for terrorist groups” in an article dating back over a year, to the 19th April 2018.
That such a prominent media outlet published an unfounded allegation against an individual, and let it remain live on their website for over a year, represents a wider willingness amongst some sections of the media to propagate misleading stories centring on threat themes that contribute towards a toxic atmosphere of divisiveness, xenophobia, and fear. This is particularly visible in stories that advocate Islamophobic narratives. This case is, therefore, just one example of the necessity for the government to immediately trigger the full implementation of the Royal Charter on press regulation and a commencement of the second part of the Leveson inquiry, including an investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia within the media.
The treatment of Farah Koutteineh is not an isolated incident. In April 2019, The Daily Mail, the Daily Star, and The Times issued apologies and corrections after publishing false claims against Lewisham Islamic Centre and its Imam, Shakeel Begg. They reported that the mosque’s scouts’ group was being suspended by The Scouts Association pending an investigation by the police for “extremism” and segregation – allegations found to be without basis. The repeated nature of such instances suggests that there is currently insufficient deterrents within newspaper regulation to dissuade sections of the media from reproducing factually inaccurate stories.
In 2016 alone, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) found the national media to have corrected at least 20 “significant inaccuracies” about Muslims in news stories. Some of those which have been corrected include:
- The (now infamous) Sun article which wrongly reported that 1 in 5 British Muslims had sympathy for and with jihadis.
- The Mail online article falsely linking a Muslim family to extremism.
- The false report by The Sunday Times that enclaves of Islam see Britain as 75% Islamic.
- The Express article that falsely reported new £5 notes could be banned because the bank can’t promise they’re Halal.
- The Times labelling a school “Islamist” instead of “Islamic”.
- The Sun falsely reporting an act of terror as a gunman screamed “Allahu Akbar” in a Spanish supermarket, when in fact the individual (who had psychological problems) spoke Basque, and neither opened fire or screamed “Allahu Akbar”.
The sheer number of inaccuracies found in media coverage in this area suggests a propensity for media outlets to publish stories without fully grasping the intricacies (or in some cases even the basic facts) of cases. In our work, this pattern is particularly apparent when it comes to negative stories about Muslims and/or Islam. Moreover, the fact that far-right organisations with a history of attacking and victimising Muslim communities, such as Britain First and the English Defence League, have a history of sharing distorted and misleading media stories on their (now-defunct) Twitter profiles highlights how these inaccurate stories can reinforce and perpetuate dangerous and hate-filled narratives.
While the apology and settlement should be welcomed, the current regulator IPSO fails to be Leveson-compliant and routinely fails to investigate breaches, fails to demonstrate adequate professionalism in dealing with complaints, and fails to impose punishments that are proportionate to the significance of the story contested. Dr Martin Moore, Director the Media Standards Trust, giving evidence to the Lords Select Committee that held an inquiry into press regulation in 2015, highlighted that IPSO failed the majority of the recommendations put forward by the Leveson report and that “the [recommendations] IPSO failed on were really fundamental, with regard to independence, arbitration and complaints”.
Therefore, MEND calls on policy makers to commit to the full implementation of the Royal Charter on press regulation and the commencement of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, including an investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia within the media.