Inayat Bunglawala wrote an article on 30 January, in which he argued:
If the scenario had been reversed and the proprietor of the Daily Express – instead of being Jewish – happened to be a Muslim, whose regular targets for front-page opprobrium included the Jewish people, he should rightly have been criticised. Would the proprietor have remained unchallenged by others in society? Would our government have remained quite so utterly silent? I doubt it.
A complaint was received, which referenced Article 12 of the PCC Code:
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
The Guardian Readers Editor has ruled as follows:
On February 1 the readers’ editor’s office received a complaint about a blog, Base instinct, which was posted on the Guardian’s Comment is free site (Cif) on January 30.
The blog discussed the Daily Express’s coverage of certain stories about ethnic minorities and immigrants. Referring to six of its front-page articles in the preceding week, the author said, “Every single headline seems designed to stir up prejudice against minorities and the stories appear to have been given prominence precisely to serve this purpose.” He said that many of the stories didn’t add up and provided evidence in support of that comment. He was critical of Richard Desmond, the Daily Express’s proprietor, for the “diet of hatred that the paper feeds to its readers,” commenting that this “cannot be helpful to promoting better ties between different communities in the UK”. The complainant does not take issue with the blog up to that point.
The complaint concerned the final paragraph of the blog, which said: “If the scenario had been reversed and the proprietor of the Daily Express – instead of being Jewish – happened to be a Muslim, whose regular targets for front-page opprobrium included the Jewish people, he should rightly have been criticised. Would the proprietor have remained unchallenged by others in society? Would our government have remained quite so utterly silent? I doubt it.” The complainant objected to the inclusion of the information that Richard Desmond is Jewish on the basis that it is not relevant to the issues discussed in the blog. Many people who posted comments to the blog made the same objection.
I read the author’s responses to the postings criticising his final paragraph and invited his further comments. He told me: “The final paragraph of my blog sought to address what I thought was a rather important question. Would the government and important segments of society have been quite so silent had a different scenario been in place ie a Muslim proprietor stirring up anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities (but not against British Muslims) ie it would appear that stirring up anti-Muslim prejudice seems to be far more socially acceptable than anti-Semitism.” He doesn’t believe he could have made this point without “making the comparison with Desmond’s Jewish background”. I disagree with him about that.
The editor in charge of comment across the paper and website read the blog before it was published. She told me that she understood the author to be saying that Islamophobia is so bad in our society that if a Muslim proprietor of a newspaper published similar sorts of articles attacking Jewish people then, rightly or wrongly, the fact that he was Muslim would be brought into criticisms of the paper’s coverage. She felt that in the context of the very diverse views published on Cif, and the facility given to users to disagree with those opinions (by posting comments) he should be entitled to make that point. With hindsight she believes it could have been made more clearly and that, from an editorial point of view, the author should have been asked to clarify his argument in the final paragraph.
I’m persuaded that this is not a clear-cut case but, on balance, I consider that the fact that Richard Desmond is Jewish is not relevant to the issues discussed in the blog, or to the primary argument made in the final paragraph – that Islamophobia is tolerated by society in a way that anti-Semitism wouldn’t be.
The author does not agree with my decision. He says: “I am aware that the PCC’s code of practice states that a person’s faith or race should not be mentioned unless it is directly relevant to the story and believe that it is a sensible point. My contention in this case is that it was very relevant to my blog.”
In this particular case I’m not persuaded that the blog should be amended or deleted. The ability of users to dispute statements made in opinion pieces published on the site, by posting comments on a discussion thread, distinguishes Cif (and several other areas of the Guardian’s website) from the printed newspaper. The context in which blogs are published should be taken into account when considering their overall meaning and effect. I’m reluctant to erase history here when so many people posted comments objecting to the final paragraph – there were more than 40 postings disagreeing with the inclusion of the detail and there was little support for the author on this issue. The position might be different in another set of circumstances; complaints about blogs need to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
What do you think?
That’s John Cooper Clarke, that is.