The Times has condemned an “extraordinary personal attack” on its chief investigative reporter following the publication of a report which claimed articles written by him in 2017 and 2018 had “tended to encourage fear of Muslims”.
A 66-page report published yesterday condemned what it called “anti-Muslim reporting” and “serious inaccuracies” in three investigations by Andrew Norfolk (pictured) and called for the Times to commission an external investigation into its standards.
The Times quickly defended itself, saying the allegations were a “mischievous and ideologically-motivated attempt to smear a reporter long recognised as one of the bravest and most scrupulous in his field”.
It also raised concerns in its leader column today that the report was intended to deter investigative reporting of controversial topics.
The report, titled “Unmasked: Andrew Norfolk, the Times newspaper and anti-Muslim reporting – a case to answer”, was authored by Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University and co-founder of press reform campaign group Hacked Off, and Paddy French, editor of the Press Gang blog.
The Times said each of the stories concerned were about “matters of significant public interest”.
“Two examined possible failures of care by local authorities while the third considered the conduct of a charity,” it said.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates the Times, upheld one point of inaccuracy on two of the stories and dismissed other associated complaints.
The regulator ruled that aspects of Norfolk’s reporting of the case of a Christian girl placed with Muslim foster carers in east London had “distorted” the facts. The Times ran a front-page correction in April last year.
IPSO also ruled that the Times had inaccurately claimed a report by charity Just Yorkshire led to Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion receiving death threats. The newspaper corrected the online version of the story and offered to do the same in print before the ruling was made.
A Times spokesperson said today: “We abide by IPSO and the Editors’ Code of Practice that IPSO enforces.
“We are legally responsible for what we publish and therefore we take great care to report accurately.
“If we are found to have made errors we correct them swiftly and run any IPSO adjudications prominently in our editions.”
Norfolk uncovered the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal, work for which he won journalist of the year at Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards in 2014 t as well as the Orwell Prize and the Paul Foot Award.
The Times pointed out that this work was “fiercely disparaged by groups determined to recast the story in terms of Islamophobia”.
The newspaper today said in its leader column: “Though the authors [of the report] hedge their invective with caveats, the intent is clear. It is to deter and hamstring journalists from investigating controversial stories.
“In an era when news risks being obscured by propaganda, it is vital that sensitive issues be debated rather than suppressed. Above all, honest reporting needs defending.
“We unhesitatingly defend it in the case of our own reporters, on whom our readers are entitled to rely.”