A British television presenter, who was criticised by a columnist in a tabloid for wearing a hijab while reporting the July terror attack in Nice, has flayed a media watchdog for clearing the writer of the controversial column.
The Independent Press Standards organisation (IPSO) ruled the column on Fatima Manji by the former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, “did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of religion”.
In the column, which attracted many complaints to IPSO and communications regulator Ofcom, MacKenzie wrote that he could “hardly believe (his) eyes” when he saw Manji on Channel 4 News and added: “Was it appropriate for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?”
He added, “Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male-dominated and clearly violent religion?”
Calling the ruling “frightening”, Manji told BBC that IPSO had condoned abuse.
“I am happy for people to ridicule me or offend me. I’m not happy for people to incite hatred against me, and that’s what happened here. What IPSO has done is effectively send out the green light for newspapers to attack minorities and Muslims in particular. To know…that it is effectively open season on Muslims and minorities in particular is frightening,” she said.
“The fact that Kelvin MacKenzie can write a column and suggest that I am somehow sympathetic to a perpetrator of a terrorist attack, and that somehow I am not ‘like the rest of us’, that I’m the other, means that other people are open to attack.”
IPSO ruled that in the context of the attack, MacKenzie had a right to question Manji’s head dress under free speech, and added: “While the columnist’s opinion was undoubtedly offensive to the complainant, and to others, these were views he had been entitled to express.”
It added: “The article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of religion. The article did refer to the complainant but it did so to explain what triggered the discussion about a legitimate subject of debate: whether newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols. In the committee’s view, the columnist was permitted to identify what prompted his discussion, rather than merely raising it in the abstract.
“Furthermore, he was entitled to express his view that, in the context of a terrorist act which had been carried out ostensibly in the name of Islam, it was inappropriate for a person wearing Islamic dress to present coverage of the story.”
A total of 84 people were killed when a lorry ploughed into crowds watching a fireworks display in Nice to mark the Bastille Day holiday. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State.