More than 100 MPs have signed a letter to Sun editor Tony Gallagher accusing the paper of “hatred and bigotry” after publishing a comment piece by Trevor Kavanagh which asked readers: “What will we do about The Muslim Problem?”
The paper has responded by saying this is a “deliberate misreading of a very serious subject”.
Press Gazette understands that Sun insiders see the row as being “manufactured” by those who would like to see Kavanagh removed from the board of IPSO and who want to shut down the debate over Muslim men involved in sex grooming gangs.
The MPs said: “There is little doubt (especially with the capitalisation of the three words) that Kavanagh was intentionally comparing Muslims to ‘The Jewish Problem’: a phrase used in the last century, to which Nazis responded with ‘The Final Solution’ – the Holocaust, as outlined by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in their complaint letter to press regulator IPSO.
“It is shocking that in the 21st centurry a columnist is using such Nazi-like terminology about a minority community.
“We are sure you are aware how media reporting about Islam and Muslims has created an atmosphere of hostility against Muslims and that hate crime against Muslims is on the rise.”
The Sun has since put the words “The Muslim Problem” in lower case in the online version of the article.
The MPs said that Gallagher has “overseen a number of misleading, inaccurate and hugely prejudicial articles about minority communities”.
They made reference to the 23 November 2015 front page “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis” which was found by press regulator IPSO to be misleading and in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
They asked for the article to be retracted and to “consider whether Mr Kavanagh’s brand of bigotry fits with your vision for the paper”.
The Independent has published the letter in full, complete with the list of signatories.
A spokesperson for The Sun said: “We strongly reject the allegation that Trevor Kavanagh is inciting Islamophobia.
“He is reflecting the links between immigration, religion and crime in the context of a trial of largely Pakistani sex gangs.
“Indeed he quotes Trevor Phillips, former head of the EHRC: ‘What the perpetrators have in common is their proclaimed faith’.
“They are Muslims and many of them would claim to be practising.
“It is not Islamaphobic to point this out.’ Any suggestion that this article is promoting Islamophobia is a deliberate misreading of a very serious subject.
“Furthermore, it was never the intention that other elements of the column would be equated to Nazi-like terminology.”
Press regulator IPSO has received 200 complaints about the Kavanagh column.
This compares with 3,000 who complained the “1 in 5 Muslims…” front page and 2,000 who complained about a Kelvin MacKenzie Sun column questioning the appropriateness of Channel 4 newsreader Fatima Manji wearing a hijab on screen. The MacKenzie column was cleared by IPSO of breaching the code.
The Kavanagh column looks less likely to be in breach because the Editors’ Code because it only protects individuals from discrimination, not groups.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called on press watchdog the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to carry out an “immediate investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia, racism and hatred espoused in the British press”.
Chris Frost, NUJ ethics council chairman, said: “Trevor Kavanagh’s comments are an abuse of free speech and the press standards watchdog should accept complaints that traduce social groups in our society. Kavanagh is using the actions of a small group of individuals to place blame on a whole religion of 1.8bn people.
“IPSO should launch an immediate investigation into the prevalence of Islamophobia, racism and hatred espoused in the press. IPSO claim to be set apart from their predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission, because they can run investigations and do monitoring – now is the time to prove it.”