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Parliamentarians write to Ipso over Fatima Manji attack in The Sun

Parliamentarians write to Ipso over Fatima Manji attack in The Sun

Categories: Latest News

Thursday October 27 2016

The Guardian today reports on a letter sent to the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), Sir Alan Moses, by a group of MPs and peers in relation to the column by The Sun’s political editor and Ipso board member, Trevor Kavanagh, earlier this week rebuking Channel 4 News presenter Fatima Manji for her complaint against fellow Sun columnist, Kelvin MacKenzie.

The group of parliamentarians, numbering around forty, have written to Ipso seeking “urgent clarification on whether you believe that Mr Kavanagh’s public attack on a complainant to Ipso is in breach of the expectations of an independent press regulator, and whether his position on the board remains tenable.”

The letter expresses concern about Mr Kavanagh’s “public attack” on a complainant “which could potentially deter future complainants” and observes his continued presence on the press regulator’s board could jeopardise the regulator’s ability to perform its role “investigat[ing] complaints about printed and online material that may breach the editors’ code.”

While the intervention by the group of MPs and peers is to be lauded for positive action in the face of an awful piece of commentary by Kelvin MacKenzie denigrating a Muslim journalist for merely doing her job, and an equally derisory piece by Kavanagh where he labelled Manji’s performance “provocative” because she wears a headscarf, one has to wonder at the antecedents to the intervention.

For example, while the letter makes reference to Mr Kavanagh’s most recent comment piece and questions his suitability as a board member of the press regulator, Kavanagh’s past record is just as illustrative of incompatibility with Ipso’s role in “investigat[ing] complaints about printed and online material that may breach the editors’ code.”

Take an article published in January 2013 about the Algerian hostage crisis in which Kavanagh wrote about “hundreds of thousands of Malians, Iraqis, Syrians, Somalis, Kenyans, Nigerians, Yemenis and Pakistanis” all living in the UK, not all of whom are “grateful” and many of whom “are becoming outspokenly defiant”.

He went on to state: “Some have colonised suburbs in major cities. One London borough is so staunchly Muslim it has become known as the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets.

“Last week, hooded gangs of self-appointed religious police roamed Muslim populated suburbs ordering women to cover up and confiscating liquor.”

Kavanagh’s dreadful hyperbole and blatant inaccuracies were challenged by Professor Rob Ford of Manchester University who, in a blog on the New Statesman, described it as “irresponsible rabble-rousing of the worst kind”.

Ford wrote: “This kind of evidence-free, stereotype-laden assault on the British Muslim community has got to stop. In an era when all the relevant evidence is available at the click of a mouse, it is not acceptable for a senior journalist at the nation’s most read paper to make demonstrably false claims about one of its largest minority communities.”

So a senior journalist known for getting away with writing “demonstrably false claims” sits on the board of the press regulator that is tasked with “investigat[ing] complaints about printed and online material that may breach the editors’ code”, primary among them being Clause 1: Accuracy?

The letter from the MPs and peers is certainly welcome but might we have a little more rigour and consistency about the quality of print media regulation we currently have, openness about its limitations, and more robust interventions from parliamentarians to push for a Leveson-compliant regulator?

This week The Times reported the Government is to backtrack on its commitment to enforce Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would invoke one of Lord Leveson’s chief recommendations, that an incentive be provided to publishers to join the approved regulator. Lord Justice Leveson affirmed the need for self regulation stating the regulatory system should disincentivise remaining outside the approved regulator by placing a burden of punitive costs in the event of an adverse ruling on a breach of the code of practice. With Section 40 looking like it will be put on the back burner, political pressure to bring into being a proper system of press self-regulation is more urgent than ever.

We hope the group of forty will stay on the case.


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