Tabloid newspapers including The Sun and Daily Mail have come under fire for “hate speech” headlines that “encourage prejudice” in a report by a European human rights body that also calls for a change to the editors’ code.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), part of the Council of Europe, has raised concerns that “hate speech in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continues to be a problem”.
Its latest report, published this week, was prepared following a visit to the UK in November 2015 and takes account of developments between 2009 and March this year.
In it the ECRI said “biased or ill-founded information” that “may contribute to perpetuating stereotypes” was still being disseminated by some sections of the British media.
It added tabloid newspapers were “responsible for most of the offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”.
In highlighting this, the body pointed to Katie Hopkin’s opinion piece published in The Sun in April 2015, titled “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, in which the columnist likened migrants to “cockroaches”.
It also accused The Sun of publishing “inflammatory anti-Mulsim headlines”, such as its front page (pictured) “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” in November 2015 that featured the image of a masked terrorist with a knife.
The ECRI said “unscrupulous press reporting targeting LGBT” was also a concern and pointed to an article in the Daily Mail in March 2013 that outed a trans schoolteacher who later committed suicide as a result.
In its report, the body recommended clause 12 of the editors’ code, on discrimination, be amended to allow groups to submit complaints against biased or prejudicial reporting concerning their community.
Currently the code is restricted to individuals.
The body also called for British authorities to find a way to establish an independent press regulator according to the recommendations set out in the Leveson Report and recommended more “rigorous training” for journalists to ensure better compliance with ethical standards.
It said the Independent Press Standards Organisation, while supported by large sections of the press, “has been criticised for not meeting the standards of independence and effectiveness recommended in the Leveson Report”.
It said IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee was “made up predominantly of serving editors”, adding: “IPSO makes provision for investigations but the procedure is cumbersome with many opportunities for the target newspaper to obstruct and delay.”
The report added: “ECRI regrets that a way has not been found to establish an independent press regulator and that, as a result, certain tabloids continue to publish offensive material, as indicated above.
“ECRI urges the media to take stock of the importance of responsible reporting, not only to avoid perpetuating prejudice and biased information, but also to avoid harm to targeted persons or vulnerable groups.
“ECRI considers that, in light of the fact that Muslims are increasingly under the spotlight as a result of recent ISIS-related terrorist acts around the world, fuelling prejudice against Muslims shows a reckless disregard, not only for the dignity of the great majority of Muslims in the United Kingdom, but also for their safety.”
The Council of Europe, which has 47 European member states, is separate from the European Union; however no country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the council.