A UK Sun columnist asked in August, “What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?” Hundreds of readers, including Rachel Elgy, complained to the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation, that the column by Trevor Kavanagh was inaccurate and discriminatory. However, IPSO rejected the complaint outright.
Although Kavanagh is an IPSO board member, the press regulator insisted that board members have “no role in consideration of individual complaints” and Kavanagh wasn’t involved “in the consideration of this complaint.” After the complaint was rejected, Elgy appealed her ruling to the Independent Complaints Reviewer, but that body “decided that the process was not flawed.” An IPSO spokesperson told iMediaEthics that it was not the first time a complaint has been reviewed, and that 269 people complained over Kavanagh’s article.
The column alleged that Islam is the “one unspoken fear, gagged by political correctness, which links Britain and the rest of Europe.” Further, the column claimed authorities “long deliberately disregarded Muslim sex crimes – soon likely to be a racist offence in itself – including outrages such as female genital mutilation and ‘honour’ killings.”
A Sun spokesperson told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “This ruling is a welcome reminder – this week of all weeks – that the vitality of newspapers comes from the free exchange of ideas and opinions, perhaps particularly those with which some might disagree.” The spokesperson also noted that IPSO highlighted Kavanagh’s lack of involvement in the complaint handling as a board member.
Elgy, the reader who complained to IPSO, said the column’s reference to a “Muslim Problem” evoked Nazism and the Holocaust, and that the other claims, like that Muslims are a “specific rather than a cultural problem” are inaccurate. The Sun, however, argued the column was freedom of speech and opinion. Further, the Sun denied that using the phrase “The Muslim Problem” was a reference to Nazism and “the Jewish Problem” phrase used before the Holocaust.
The Sun also pointed to Kavanagh’s follow-up column in response to complaints, in which he claimed the group of complainants “was largely confined to a small circulation” of coordinated readers and denied being Islamophobic. “My mistake, apparently, was to describe this as ‘the Muslim Problem,'” he wrote. “I can honestly say it never occurred to me that this could be interpreted as a play on ‘the Jewish Problem’ and I will happily apologise to anyone who is thus offended.”
While IPSO “acknowledged that the opinion was contentious, and capable of causing offence,” IPSO found Kavanagh’s column wasn’t inaccurate or misleading because it was an opinion based on “his reasons for his view.” Regarding the discrimination complaint, IPSO noted that the IPSO code for journalists only says it’s a breach of the code to discriminate against specific “identifiable individuals” not “groups or categories of people.” Therefore, IPSO rejected that complaint because the column was about “Muslims in general.”
Finally, IPSO looked at the “Muslim Problem” phrase, which it said “was capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust.” While readers found that phrase offensive, IPSO said it was suitable for publication because IPSO’s code doesn’t ban “publication of offensive content.”
Hat Tip: Press Gazette