The press regulator has said a columnist is not guilty of “harassment” and “discrimination” for writing an “offensive” article criticising Channel 4 News for using an anchor in a Muslim headscarf on the night of an Islamic terror attack.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) ruled that former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie was “entitled” to give his opinion and newspapers may “engage in discussion, criticism and debate about religious ideas and practices”.
However, “victim” and Channel 4 journalist Fatima Manji said that the ruling was “frightening” and signals it is now “open season on minorities and Muslims in particular”, adding there should be “limits” to free speech.
Her colleagues at Channel 4 agreed.
IPSO proves itself as toothless a press regulator as its forbear the PCC. Its ruling on Fatima Manji sanctions religious and racial abuse.
— Jon Snow (@jonsnowC4) October 20, 2016
Mr. MacKenzie’s column had argued that it was not “appropriate” for “a young lady in a hijab” to be “on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim” – the Islamic State truck attack in France that killed 80 people.
“Would the station have used an Orthodox Jew to cover the Israeli-Palestine conflict? Of course not,” he added.
He was careful not to blame Ms. Manji personally, but accuses Channel 4 of playing “TV games” and said that, in his view, Islam is “clearly [a] violent religion”.
The columnist later insisted his criticism was “reasonable”, described the hijab as a “religious statement”, and said it would be unlikely a Christian would be allowed to wear a cross prominently on television.
Speaking on Radio 4 this morning, Ms. Manji said she does indeed “wear the headscarf as a symbol of [her] religious faith” but dismissed questions about such symbols in public life as a “manufactured debate”.
In relation to the wearing of a Christian cross on TV, she said: “I respect individuals’ choices, and in particular respect individual women’s choices.”
“I respected people’s journalism when they’re interested in telling the truth – something Kelvin MacKenzie has not been interested in,” she added, continuing:
“Freedom of speech is my bread and butter, and I exercise it every day and I fought for other journalists who are silenced around the world to have that same right.
“I am happy for people to ridicule me or offend me. I am not happy for people to incite hatred against me and that is what happened here,” she said.
The journalist claimed she was “worried for [her] safety” after the article was published, that “measures” had to be “put in place”, and someone on a BBC debate had said she should be “lynched”.
However, Ms. Manji also found huge support after the controversy blew up in July of this year, with around 1,700 people complaining to the regulator about the column.
In its ruling on Wednesday, IPSO wrote: “While the columnist’s opinions were undoubtedly offensive to the complainant, and to others, these were views he had been entitled to express. The article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of her religion.”
The regulator also ruled the article was not in breach of the harassment or accuracy clauses of the code. They recognised the matter was sensitive, they said, but was a subject of a legitimate public debate.
The finding continued: “The columnist’s view that Islam is ‘clearly a violent religion’ was a statement of his opinion. This view, however extreme or offensive to many, did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
“The suggestion that the complainant was a ‘pawn in this TV news game’ was clearly conjecture, and underlined that the author’s criticism was directed at Channel 4 and not at the individual newsreader.”
The ruling also insisted: “It should not be interpreted as preventing such criticism merely because, as is inescapable, many individuals subscribe to that particular faith.
“Were it otherwise, the freedom of the press to engage in discussion, criticism and debate about religious ideas and practices, including the wearing of religious symbols while reading the news, would be restricted.”