The standard of most newspaper reporting about Muslims has been high and, in most cases, sensitive to the feelings of minority groups, the Press Complaints Commission has said. But it rejected a complaint about an article in the Daily Express because it was comment, even though it had aroused genuinely strong feelings from a wide range of people.
The commission received a number of complaints about the reporting of Muslims in different publications but said: "The majority were about comment which the complainants understandably found distasteful but was not something that could be censured under the Code [of Practice]."
It took the opportunity to underline some of the central provisions of the code which needed to be applied when reporting such matters. Specifically, it said, editors must make sure that material is accurate and that comment is distinguished as such; that there is no discrimination on the grounds of race or religion against a named individual; and that when disputes of fact do arise a fair opportunity to reply is given.
It was therefore pleased to note that the Express had published with equal prominence a direct rebuttal to the original article by "a suitably informed party", a member of the Muslim Council of Britain.
A reader complained that the article by Carol Sarler, headlined ‘Why do I have to tolerate the rantings of bigots just because they are Moslems?’, published on 15 November, contained inaccurate and discriminatory information about the Islamic faith.
He expressed concerns about a number of inaccuracies and what he considered to be the discriminatory nature of the piece. He considered that Sarler had made remarks about the behaviour and attitude of Muslims that were incorrect in their generalisation and racist in their motivation.
Specifically, he said, not all Muslims supported Osama bin Laden, beat their wives or sent their children off to be married without their consent. In fact, he said, the vast majority of Muslims were moderate.
The newspaper pointed out that the article, headed as comment, was clearly distinguished as the opinion of the columnist. It also considered that, as no reference was made to a person’s race or religion, no breach of the code was possible.
Regarding the alleged inaccuracies, the commission noted that the reporter made no factual claims regarding every Muslim, but rather drew attention to certain situations that she believed happened within certain Islamic societies. The entire article was presented, in accordance with the code, as the opinion of one reporter, and did not purport to be a purely factual account of the complicated issue.
By Jean Morgan