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The Trojan Horse Affair: Failings of the British Media

The Trojan Horse Affair: Failings of the British Media

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday March 09 2022

The recently published podcast series, The Trojan Horse Affair, has come to generate interest. The eight-part series revisits and investigates the infamous hoax letter, which purported an ‘Islamist’ plot to take over schools in Birmingham, causing widespread panic and Islamophobia. The podcast follows the reporting of two journalists, Humza Syed and Brian Reed, who set to uncover the truth behind the anonymous letter by finding its author and their motive in writing the letter. In doing so, the journalists sought to understand to what extent the claims made in the letter were factual and why the government sanctioned the Birmingham schools and their teachers even though the letter was proven to be fake. Whilst the series has been received with mixed reactions and despite its enormous popularity, it reveals the deep-rooted nature of Islamophobia in the UK. It undoubtedly reaffirms the persisting failures of the British media, evidently, starting with the fact that the podcast was published by US publication The New York Times.

The series highlights the disparity and Islamophobia in media coverage of Muslims. A study conducted by the Centre for Media Monitoring (CFMM), which analysed 10,000 articles, showed that 59% of all articles associated Muslims with negative behaviours, and terrorism was the most recurring theme in the media relating to Muslims and Islam. Such coverage shapes a depiction of Muslims negatively, which contributes to an atmosphere in which Islamophobic hate crimes are more likely to occur.  It also contributes to national debates and shifts in structural policies damaging to Muslims, as was done at the height of the Trojan Horse hoax. Crucially, the media needs to restore its credibility through diligence in reporting and adherence to media ethics.

The Trojan Horse hoax sparked hundreds of articles and several investigations, but no concern was given in finding the author behind the fake letter. Instead, the media exploited the situation and synonymised terms such as ‘jihadi’ and ‘extremism’ with Islam which inevitably weaponised the identity of Muslims in the media. Indeed, during the height of the scandal in 2014, the media dubbed the alleged take-over of schools as a ‘jihadist’ attempt. Similarly, in 2017, newspapers used the Trojan Horse affair to further the theory that Islamists are set to seize British schools beyond Birmingham. As such, multiple newspapers including The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, and The Times reported a conspiracy to Islamise schools in Oldham. However, these claims were later retracted as the allegations were unfounded. Furthermore, apologies were issued after a Muslim couple, accused of running the Islamist ‘Trojan Horse’ plot in Oldham, brought forward defamation cases against the publications.   

In light of the stark revelations made in the podcast – how the government and media agendas promoted division and discord through the narrative of ‘War on Terror – there has only been silence, dismissal and denial in the British press. Evidently, some opted to discredit the series and questioned the integrity of the journalism by Humza Syed and Brian Reed. Sonia Sodha wrote an opinion piece in The Observercriticising the serial podcast as a ”one-sided account” that minimises child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia. Birmingham politician Khalid Mahmood, who at the time insisted that Trojan Horse was real, argued against the podcast on The Spectator and said, ”without proof, the letter is genuine”. Elsewhere, The Times questioned both the standard of journalism and its integrity and suggested the podcast may have broken the law and must be deemed an unreliable source. However, none of these articles reflected on the Trojan Horse affair’s impacts on Muslims in the UK – from being viewed as a “suspect community” to expanding counter-terrorism policy through the Prevent duty, which has continued to reinforce Islamophobia till this day. It is concerning that the nature of anti-Muslim journalism has not shifted much in the past decade and continues to target the Muslim community in the UK persistently.

Ultimately, Islamophobia in the British media must be tackled head-on. As such, MEND urges that the Media and Broadcasting industry commit to fully implementing the Royal Charter on media regulation. MEND also calls on the broadcasting and media industry to promote positive portrayals of Muslims and widen Muslim participation in the media industry. Lastly, MEND calls for an independent public inquiry into the lasting impacts of the Birmingham ‘Trojan Horse’ affair and urges that the Government scrap Prevent, which has proven inherently flawed and Islamophobic in its activities, particularly in the aftermath of the Trojan Horse affair.


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