IPSO: Kelvin MacKenzie hijab newsreader column was 'deeply offensive' but not in breach of Editors' Code

Channel 4 News presenter Fatima Manji

Press regulator IPSO has rejected a complaint from Channel 4 News presenter Fatima Manji over a Sun column which questioned whether it was right for her to wear the hijab on screen.

The column was headlined: “KELVIN MACKENZIE: why did Channel 4 have a presenter in a hijab fronting coverage of Muslim terror in Nice” and was published on 18 July 2016.

MacKenzie said he “could hardly believe his eyes” that the presenter during coverage of the Nice terror attack “was not one of the regulars…but a young lady in a hijab”.

He questioned whether it was “appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim”.

Manji said that the article discriminated against her on the basis of her religion.

She also claimed:

  • it suggested that her appearance on screen wearing a hijab was as distressing as witnessing a terrorist attack
  • that her sympathies would lie with the terrorists because she is Muslim
  • that Muslims in general are terrorist sympathisers
  • And that she should be prevented from enjoying a career as a television news presenter on the basis of her adoption of a religious item of dress.

She was particularly concerned by the words: “With all the major terrorist outrages in the world currently being carried out by Muslims, I think the rest of us are reasonably entitled to have concerns about what is beating in their religious hearts. Who was in the studio representing our fears?”

She said this suggested she was a terrorist sympathiser.

Manji said it was inaccurate to describe Islam as “a violent religion” and to suggest she had been chosen to present the news that evening as part of a “TV news game”.

She said she had been rostered on ten days before the attack.

Manji said the article had caused her intimidation and distress, whipping up hatred against her and Muslims generally.

She claimed breach of the following clauses of the Editors’ Code: 1 (accuracy), 3 (harassment) and 12 (discrimination).

The Sun said the column did not criticise Manji personally, but discussed the propriety of public figures wearing outwardly religious garments.

It said that using clause 12 to prevent criticism of religion would place “an extraordinary limitation on free speech”.

Rejecting the complaint, IPSO said: “There can be no doubt that this was deeply offensive to the complainant and caused widespread concern and distress to others. This was demonstrated by the number of complaints IPSO received.

“The article was highly critical of Channel 4 for permitting a newsreader to wear the hijab. It also contained pejorative references to Islam. But the essential question for the committee was whether those references were directed at the complainant.

“Clause 12 seeks to protect individuals while respecting the fundamental right to freedom of expression enshrined in the preamble to the code.

“The article did refer to the complainant. But it did so to explain what triggered the discussion about a subject of legitimate debate: whether newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols.

“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.

“Clause 3 seeks to protect individuals from harassment. In the light of its findings under Clause 12, and given that the course of conduct complained of was the publication of a single article on a matter which, while sensitive, was the subject of legitimate public debate, the Committee took the view that it did not amount to harassment under Clause 3.

“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. There was no breach of Clause 1.”

Channel 4 News editor ‘dismayed’ by ruling

Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said: “We are dismayed by today’s IPSO ruling, which has cleared Kelvin MacKenzie of any wrongdoing, on all grounds.

“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.

“We are grateful for all the support shown to Fatima during this difficult time.”

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