Senior politicians have accused the UK’s largest press regulator of failing to take action against racism and Islamophobia in the press and “turning a blind eye” to the incitement of hatred.
Labour MP David Lammy, ex-Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi and former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas are among 26 politicians to call for action in an open letter, published today.
Campaign groups Hacked Off and the Media Diversity Institute organised the letter, which has been sent to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
IPSO regulates the majority of UK national newspapers and magazines. It has rejected the accusation that it condones religious or racial hatred.
Other signatories include more than 20 civil society groups, individual campaigners and academics, including Stand Up to Racism, NUJ ethics council chairman Chris Frost and ex-Liverpool footballer John Barnes.
The open letter to IPSO reads: “Racist and faith-based attacks against communities are so common in parts of the press that they have become a dangerous normality.
“It is clear that these attacks encourage the discrimination, harassment and violence suffered by members of minority communities every day. Yet you have taken no action.”
It went on: “By allowing these abuses to go on without sanction you are turning a blind eye to the continuing incitement of hatred.
“We write to express our deep dismay and to ask you to address this problem urgently and publicly. While the press must be free to do its job, your implicit condoning of religious and race-based hate must stop.”
Hacked Off executive director Kyle Taylor said racism and Islamophobia in the media had reached “fever pitch” and had done “boundless harm” to marginalised communities.
He added: “While much of the racism we see in the press is subtle and pernicious, even the most striking cases of racial prejudice are not seen as code breaches by IPSO and in many cases there exists no grounds on which to make a complaint.
“IPSO must recognise that racist portrayals of groups in the press can harm all who come from that community and risk inciting violence against these groups.
“For the sake of minority communities across the UK, IPSO must reform and stand on the side of truth.”
The open letter refers to columns by Rod Liddle and Katie Hopkins among others.
Signatories of the open letter have shared it on social media using the hashtag #RacismInThePress.
In a response to the open letter, IPSO chairman Sir Alan Moses said: “IPSO rejects the accusation that it condones religious and race-based hate or in any way approves of offensive attacks on groups on the grounds of their beliefs or identity.
“Our decisions on discrimination and accuracy make it clear that a finding that there has been no breach of the Editors’ Code does not in any way imply that IPSO approves of what has been written.
“The real issue, with which the letter fails to grapple, is how to strike a balance between the freedom of a journalist or newspaper to offend a group while protecting individuals.”
“We work every day to make these difficult judgments; we seek to maintain the balance between freedom of expression and protecting the public.
“A solution to the important problems of where and how the line is to be drawn is not going to be found by the misleading and distorted picture of IPSO’s work, particularly in the misuse of statistics.”
Sir Alan added that IPSO was “not complacent” about editorial standards on discrimination and that it had written to signatories of the open letter inviting them to “engage directly” with the regulator.