It was OK for UK Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie to call Islam a “violent religion” and criticize UK Channel 4 for having its reporter, Fatima Manji, wearing a hijab during a breaking news broadcast about the Nice, France truck attack on Bastille Day.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the UK’s press regulator, acknowledged the column was “deeply offensive” to Manji and “caused widespread concern and distress to others.”
Ben de Pear, Channel 4 News Editor, said in a statement sent to iMediaEthics that Channel 4 is “dismayed” by the ruling but “grateful for all the support shown to Fatima.”
de Pear said in part:
“Whilst we agree that freedom of expression is a fundamental right, we do not believe that it should be used as a licence to incite or discriminate.
“His inflammatory comments on Fatima Manji’s professional status, which were widely condemned, and his attempts to equate the wearing of a hijab with support for terrorism, have no place in a properly informed and tolerant society.
“At Channel 4 News we employ reporters based on their journalistic skills, not their ethnicity. We see no reason why a Muslim journalist should be prevented from covering any story and Fatima will continue to report and present the news on the issues of the day with impartiality and depth.”
The Sun declined to comment to iMediaEthics on the ruling.
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Manji complained to IPSO about the column’s accuracy, harassment and discrimination. She argued that the column discriminated against her religion, suggested she and all Muslims sympathize with terrorists and argued Islam was a “violent religion.” In addition to Manji’s complaint, more than 1,400 others complained.
In response, the Sun told IPSO MacKenzie wasn’t trying to single out Manji but instead raise questions “about the propriety of public figures wearing outwardly religious garments, in the context of a story with an unavoidable religious angle.” The Sun also denied MacKenzie’s column used “inflammatory language” about Islam, called it “violent,” or suggested she was a terrorist sympathizer.
“The column, read as a whole, questioned whether it was appropriate that Channel 4 had permitted news of the atrocity in Nice to be read by a newsreader wearing the outward manifestation of the religion which the columnist associated with that attack,” IPSO wrote. “It set out the columnist’s opinion on the hijab, Islam in general and Channel 4’s choice of interviewee.”
IPSO said it found the article “highly critical of Channel 4” with
“pejorative references” toward Islam.
However, IPSO said that its code guidelines toward discrimination only “prohibits prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual on account of, amongst other things, that individual’s religion.”
“It does not, on the other hand, prohibit prejudicial or pejorative references to a particular religion, even though such disparaging criticisms may cause distress and offence. It should not be interpreted as preventing such criticism merely because, as is inescapable, many individuals subscribe to that particular faith,” IPSO explained.
IPSO said it was fair for MacKenzie to “express his view” that it was “inappropriate” for Manji to report on the news in a hijab. Likewise, IPSO found it was fine for MacKenzie to say Islam is “clearly a violent religion” since it was his opinion.