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Outgoing IPSO chief admits anti-Muslim biases within the Press

Outgoing IPSO chief admits anti-Muslim biases within the Press

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday January 15 2020

Outgoing chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, Alan Moses has acknowledged the disparity in reporting and biases against Muslims within media, stating; “I speak for myself, but I have a suspicion that [Muslims] are from time to time written about in a way that would simply not write about Jews or Roman Catholics.”

His comments point to the normalisation of Islamophobic rhetoric within mainstream media. A recent study published by Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring investigated 31 online media platforms and five broadcasters. The report analysed 10,931 articles and found that 59% of all articles analysed associated Muslims with negative behaviours.

Considering the overly negative representation of minorities and British Muslims within the British press, the media’s significant role in forming public understanding has detrimental impacts which are acutely felt by minority social, ethnic, and religious communities, and Muslims in particular. What should perhaps be even more concerning is that negative perceptions are arguably often being fed to the public in a calculated method to drive profit. This was noted by the Chair of the Ethics Council at the National Union of Journalists, Professor Chris Frost, who highlighted to the Home Affairs Select Committee during an evidence session in 2018 that “one of the best ways to sell newspapers…is to raise issues of fear…pick a group which an ‘other’ group…at the moment a good one is Muslims”.

Thus, there is evidence that anti-Muslim prejudice has become an engrained element of media practicee, to the point where sensationalism presides over journalistic ethics. While freedom of the press is a critical hallmark of democracy, this freedom is accompanied by a responsibility to accurately and honestly report. A free and accountable press is necessary to ensure that market pressures, political agendas, and financial motivations do not permit the stigmatisation of vulnerable communities. Therefore, with the current regulator either powerless (or perhaps unwilling) to hold the press to account, it is imperative that policymakers 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.

Research by the University of Cambridge has shown that mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility toward Muslims in Britain. At the same time, the Home Affairs Select Committee on Hate Crime and its Violent Consequences has specifically looked into the impact of media representation of minority communities and hate crime levels, recognising the unambiguous link. Rt Hon Baroness Warsi Of Dewsbury, giving evidence on the impact of media representation on hate crime, noted that “There is evidence to show that this does play into the way people react on the street, the kind of things people quote back when they engage in hate crime”.

Considering the tangible consequences of media manipulation on the lived experiences of Muslim communities, it is important to recognise distorted reporting that has informed public perceptions of major issues.

Examples of this can be found in the supposed “scandals” that were exposed by Andrew Norfolk and detailed in a comprehensive report published by esteemed academics, Brian Cathcart and Paddy French. The report, “Andrew Norfolk, The Times Newspaper and Anti-Muslim Reporting – A case to answer”, highlights potentially unethical and anti-Muslim editorial practices at the Times. The report concluded 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. The primary findings of the report was 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”.

IPSO currently plan to publish voluntary guidance for journalists when writing about Muslims in light of continuing accusations that it is failing to curb inflammatory and inaccurate writing within the press. Between October 2014 and September 2018, IPSO received 22,652 complaints under clause 1 (accuracy) and 16,310 complaints under clause 12 (discrimination). Of these, only 5.61% (1,269) of complaints under clause 1 have been resolved or a breach determined, and 0.45% (73) of complaints under clause 12. In particular, of the 0.45% complaints resolved for clause 12, only two complaints (0.012%) have resulted in the publication of an adjudication, none have resulted in the publication of a correction. Moreover, 92.13% of complaints under clause 1 and 99.17% of complaints under clause 12 have been rejected, not pursued or considered to be outside the remit of the clause.

Action Clause 1 Clause 12
Breach – action offered by publication 121 1
Breach – publication of adjudication 46 2
Breach – sanction: publication of correction 32 0
No breach – after investigation 520 65
Resolved – IPSO mediation 329 25
Resolved – directly with publication 747 46
Rejection 12,191 6,794
Not pursued 2,852 770
Outside remit 5,814 8,607
Total complaints 22,652 16,310

Considering IPSO’s unsuitability an ineffectiveness as a regulator, MEND calls upon policymakers 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.

Furthermore, in order to stem a culture of journalism underpinned by misreporting and unconscious bias, it is imperative to close the gulf between editors, journalists, and the communities being reported on. According to research from City University in London less than 0.5 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, compared to almost 5 per cent of the national population, thus highlighting the extent of under-representation of Muslims in the media. A more diverse workforce, arguably more familiar with issues pertaining to Muslims, would offer invaluable perspectives that would improve coverage and provide nuanced understandings to the issues being reported. To foster diversity, the British press must make a concerted effort to recruit talent from Muslim and ethnic minority communities into journalism and broadcasting.


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