Fatima Manji, the UK Channel 4 host, called it “frightening” that the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation rejected her complaint against the Sun‘s column criticizing her for wearing a hijab to report on the news of a terror attack in France.
As iMediaEthics has written, IPSO rejected Manji’s complaint against the Sun and Kelvin MacKenzie for his column, ruling it was commentary and raising questions, not a specific criticism of Manji herself.
Manji told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today show, “I think the fact that Kelvin MacKenzie can write a column and suggest that I am somehow sympathetic to a perpetrator of a terrorist attack, that somehow I am not like the rest of us, that I am the other, means that other people are now open to attack.”
She went on,
“It was upsetting enough to find myself the latest victim to Kelvin Mackenzie’s tirade. But now to know that has been given the green light by the press regulator and that effectively it is open season on minorities, and Muslims in particular, is frightening.”
Manji argued MacKenzie wasn’t “a public philosopher” or “interested in religious symbols,” and noted that many of the Nice victims were Muslim.
Manji also complained to IPSO when she appealed its ruling (her appeal was rejected). According to the Guardian, Manji said the ruling was “fundamentally flawed” and MacKenzie’s column was “akin to hate speech and incitement.”
She wrote to IPSO, according to the Guardian:
“This report was a devastating personal attack on me, highly prejudicial and pejorative, designed to cause me significant distress by linking me to terror. It is clearly prejudicial and pejorative to link me to the murder of 84 people because I happen to be a Muslim and wear a hijab.
“Not only that, it prejudicially and inaccurately links me to a terrorist attack, which the vast majority of Muslims (including myself) believe to be absolutely abhorrent and against the teachings of Islamic principles. Indeed many of the victims of this attack were Muslims themselves, including a woman who like me was named Fatima and also wore a headscarf.”
“There is also no consideration that the publication of this column led to fears about my physical safety in general given the current climate of Islamophobia and the risk that my being depicted next to the words ‘terror’ could lead to unwarranted attention or even abuse on the streets. Indeed my family and employer took precautions to ensure my safety in the days following the publication of this column.”
MacKenzie defended his comments and concerns as “legitimate debate” about journalists wearing “prominent symbols of their faith on air, particularly when reporting on stories with a religious angle.” He added, “I agree 100% that no Muslim should be prevented from covering any story.”
A Channel 4 spokesperson told iMediaEthics by e-mail that it and Manji had no further comments.
Index on Censorship, which advocates free expression, issued a statement about the ruling, which reads:
“Index on Censorship believes that everyone has the right to express their opinion, no matter how vile or offensive those views, unless their words directly incite violence. For this reason, we believe that the Independent Press Standards Organisation was right to reject a complaint by Channel 4 News about comments made by Sun newspaper columnist Kelvin MacKenzie regarding Channel 4 journalist Fatima Manji.
“MacKenzie’s views are offensive. But they were his opinion and he should be entitled to express his opinion – just as are – thankfully – the vast majority of people who have come out publicly to criticise and dismantle his views in open debate.”
Likewise, English PEN’s director Jo Glanville said to legal news site Legal Cheek:
“It was the right decision. Kelvin Mackenzie was expressing his opinion. However offensive that may be, if the complaint had been upheld it would have introduced the scope for censorship of any opinion in future that might be perceived to cause offence. Freedom of expression includes the right to offend, shock or disturb.”
UPDATED: 10/24/2016 8:30 AM