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The Times’ embarrassing defence to allegations of structural Islamophobia

The Times’ embarrassing defence to allegations of structural Islamophobia

Categories: Latest News

Friday July 19 2019

The 26th of June saw the publication of a damning academic report against senior journalist, Mr Andrew Norfolk, and The Times newspaper. The report examines three “scandals” covered by Andrew Norfolk, who is one of Britain’s leading journalists for one of Britain’s most respected newspapers.

The authors discovered that:

  • These “scandals” did not happen as reported,
  • Some of the allegations were simply untrue,
  • The author sacrificed “basic journalistic standards” in creating the stories.

The report concludes that the evidence indicating a potential Islamophobic editorial process within the Times necessitates an independent investigation.

In response, embarrassingly, The Times failed to address any of the allegations and instead claimed that it was but a “mischievous” and “ideologically motivated” attempt to smear a journalist.

The poor defence and the lack of a critical inquiry into the allegations demonstrates that there is much validity to concerns that the media industry is seriously lacking adequate regulation and accountability.

The report, entitled: “Unmasked: Andrew Norfolk, The Times Newspaper and Anti-Muslim Reporting – A Case to Answer”, provides ample evidence of unethical and agenda driven editorial processes within the cases examined. However, the paper fails to defend against any of the allegations instead seeking to attack the authors.

The Times claims that the report was a “mischievous and ideologically-motivated attempt to smear a reporter”, that the authors were “campaigners” who wished to suppress the paper, and the aim was to “deter and hamstring journalists from investigating controversial stories”. Attempting to undermine the reputation of the authors is curious approach considering that both authors have built a reputable professional and academic career in journalism over a period of decades and have been central figures in attempting to encourage accurate reporting and accountability within the press.

Brian Cathcart was a reporter at Reuters for eight years, a reporter and later senior editor at the Independent paper for 11 years and a writer and assistant editor at the New Statesman for five years. He has written books on journalism, including the award-winning, The Case of Stephen Lawrence (1999), and he has been professor of journalism at Kingston University London since 2006. He was a founder and the first director of Hacked Off and has served as specialist adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.

Paddy French was an award-winning current affairs producer at ITV Wales for ten years and has also made programmes for Channel 4 and the BBC. He edits the Press Gang website and gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry that former News of the World investigations editor Mazher Mahmood had lied to the inquiry. He also warned Rupert Murdoch and Scotland Yard that Mahmood was a serial perjurer four years before he was jailed for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The fact that the paper sought to attack the authors rather than address the criticisms made of it is an indication both of a lack of defence for the actual allegations, and of an attitude that the paper considers itself beyond criticism. The approach of the paper in responding to an academic report by highly reputable authors does not bode well for the lay public who can only exasperatedly note how broken the current system of holding the press to account is.

The primary conclusion of the report is that, over a period of “15 months”, Andrew Norfolk had published three stories “purporting to expose scandals”, however, the authors argue that “examination of the facts leads [the authors] to conclude that the scandals Norfolk described did not occur”. The three cases used as evidence include a story from August 2017, “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care”; a story from July 2018, “Terror police boost MP’s security over criticism of Asian sex gangs”; and, a story from November 2018, “Jailed rapist given chance to see his victim’s child”.

The first relates to story in which Mr Norfolk claimed that the failure of Tower Hamlets Council resulted in a “white Christian child” being “forced into Muslim foster care”. The authors of the report note that “every relevant, credible authority now agrees that the claims against the carers were unfounded and that they treated the girl well, while it is clear that the child in question was actually far more familiar with a Muslim home environment than a Christian one”.

In the second story, Mr Norfolk targeted a human rights charity, ‘Just Yorkshire’, and claimed that a report by them had resulted in Labour MP for Rotherham, Ms Sarah Champion, receiving death threats. The charity – most of whose trustees were Muslims – was forced to close because of the allegations. It has since been found that The Times had no evidence to substantiate their claim that the report had led to death threats being invoked.

In the third story, Mr Norfolk accused Rotherham Council of transgressing its safeguard duties by seeking to allow a rapist the “chance to see his victim’s child”. The authors of the new report note that “all official bodies now agree that the council followed court rules that apply to all local authorities”. This meant that the council had to notify the father of the child of care proceedings, the council did not encourage the father to participate in the process.

It is notable that The Times’ response failed to address any of the allegations, only briefly mentioning the idea of standards of professional conduct and ethics being breached in the first paragraph. Moreover, when the paper was contacted by the authors to discuss the allegations prior to the publication of the report, they failed to respond. The implication is clear. The paper never intended, nor saw any reason, to investigate the robust and evidence-laden complaints brought to them.

In response to the publication of the report, MEND’s CEO, Dr Shazad Amin noted that: “We need an urgent independent inquiry to ascertain whether this is part of a wider problem of systematic anti-Muslim bias at this paper and whether journalistic standards are being compromised in the pursuit of sensationalist and negative stories about Muslims”.

In July 2011, following revelations about phone hacking and other illegal practices committed by the News of The World, the Leveson Inquiry was established to look into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. Amongst his findings, Sir Brian Leveson concluded that the existing Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was unfit for purpose. As such, Leveson recommended the establishment of a new regulatory body to hold the media to account which was independent and free from both government and press influence. However, not only were the Leveson recommendations never fully implemented, but in 2018 the Government announced that it would be scrapping the second part of the Leveson inquiry into the relationship between journalists and the police. The Royal Charter was signed in a cross-party agreement and, therefore, the Government should not unilaterally change a policy that was the product of cross-party and cross-house agreement involving compromises from their opponents. Furthermore, the provisions underpinning the Charter in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (some of which – including Section 40 – have not been triggered) were passed overwhelmingly by a vote in the Commons and approved in the House of Lords without division. As such, it is an abuse of Parliament to change policy through non-commencement of legislation, rather than by seeking its repeal.

MEND urgently calls on parliamentarians to commit to the full implementation of the Royal Charter on press regulation and commit to the commencement of the second part of the Leveson Inquiry, including an investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia within the media.

 

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