A claim in The Spectator that “there are an estimated 32,000 Muslims eager to commit the next terror atrocity” constituted a significant inaccuracy, the UK’s largest press watchdog has ruled.
The comment piece by James Delingpole, published on 23 September shortly after the Parsons Green Tube bombing, carried the online headline: “We can never accept terrorism as the new normal.”
It shared the author’s belief that we should not “keep calm and carry on” in response to terror attacks. It also claimed another 100,000 Muslims were prepared to give “moral support” to the would-be terrorists.
Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the article breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Versi has previously complained to the press regulator on a number of occasions about inaccurate reporting around the Islamic faith in the UK press.
He said the claim that 32,000 Muslims were eager to commit the next terror atrocity had no basis in fact, referring to figures from MI5 and the Metropolitan Police regarding individuals who pose a terror threat.
He said these figures indicated that 3,000 individuals posed the biggest threat, while the authorities “continue to be concerned about” another 20,000.
He said there was no basis for claiming that all of these 23,000 individuals were Muslims, or for claiming that 100,000 were willing to give “moral support” to terrorists.
Versi speculated that polling data had been “used erroneously to make assumptions about Muslims’ support for terrorism” and said it represented a “misinterpretation of this data”, according to the IPSO.
The Spectator admitted the 32,000 figure was incorrect. It said it had been included in error and represented a significant inaccuracy.
The online article was amended to read: “Meanwhile, there are an estimated 3, 000 Muslims who pose an ‘active’ terror threat, and security services reckon another 20,000 pose a ‘residual risk’.”
The publication said the claim that these individuals were Muslims was based on comments made by the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator.
During a discussion on “jihadis” in Europe, he said the UK had identified 20,000 to 25,000 radicals and that “of these 3,000 are worrisome for MI5, and 500 of them are under special and constant attention”.
The Spectator admitted the claim that this number of individuals were “eager to commit” terrorist acts was not supported, and added a clarification to the original article.
Delingpole also included a correction in his column on 6 January, which appears as a footnote to the original online article.
It read: “My main resolution in 2018 is to avoid again upsetting Miqdaad Versi, ever-vigilant assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
“Versi quite rightly wishes to draw attention to an egregious error in one of my 2017 Spectator pieces.
“After a careless misreading, I claimed that ‘there are an estimated 32,000 Muslims eager to commit the next terror atrocity, with another 100,000 prepared to give them moral support’. I would like to apologise unreservedly.
“The current figure, according to EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, is that there are only up to 25,000 Islamist extremists in Britain, 3,000 of whom are worrying to MI5 – 500 of them so worrying that they are under constant and special attention.”
Versi argued that this correction was “sarcastic”, and therefore not adequate to address the inadequacy, and also believed it should have been placed on a corrections page.
The IPSO ruling released this week found that The Spectator was entitled to report that the individuals concerned were Muslims, because of the context of de Kerchove’s comments surrounding “jihadis”.
IPSO also found the publication was not in breach of the code to suggest these individuals were “eager to commit the next terror atrocity” as it was a comment piece speaking about “radicals”.
However IPSO said: “Where the correct number of individuals was freely available in the sources the publication relied on, reporting this figure as 32,000 represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i).
“This inaccuracy was significant, in that it over-stated the potential threat posed by the group.”
IPSO said the placement of the correction in the author’s own column “gave it considerable prominence and ensured that it would be widely read”.
The regulator found there was no accuracy breach of the code over the claim that 100,000 Muslims were willing to offer “moral support” to terrorists after The Spectator provided a range of polling data showing the number of Muslims in the UK who had expressed “sympathy” for such actions.