A column in the mass circulation The Sun suggesting it is not right for a Muslim presenter wearing a hijab to front reporting on Channel 4 on the Bastille Day massacre in the French city of Nice has set off a storm in Britain and prompted hundreds of complaints.
News about the attack was presented by award-winning journalist Fatima Manji, who responded to the column by the tabloid’s former editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, by tweeting that her appearance was scheduled and she “thought it might be a quiet Friday, instead very tragic”.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, set up to regulate the industry following the Leveson Inquiry, said it received more than 800 complaints by Tuesday, mostly related to the accuracy of the article, harassment and discrimination.
MacKenzie wrote “I could hardly believe my eyes” when he saw Manji on the screen: “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?”
Channel 4 News said MacKenzie’s comments in the column were “offensive, completely unacceptable”, which were “arguably tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred”.
It said in a statement: “It is wrong to suggest that a qualified journalist should be barred from reporting on a particular story or present on a specific day because of their faith. Fatima Manji is an award-winning journalist. We are proud that she is part of our team and will receive, as ever, our full support in the wake of his comments.”
Senior Conservative Party leader Sayeeda Warsi was among many critics who came down heavily on the column. Journalist Mehdi Hasan countered that Manji presenting news of the Nice attack undermined the narrative of the IS, while MacKenzie’s column allegedly promoted it.
Michelle Stanistreet of the National Union of Journalists said, “To suggest that a journalist is incapable of reporting on a terrorist outrage because of the colour of her skin, her religion or the clothes that she wears says all you need to know about the contemptible views of Kelvin MacKenzie.”
She added, “His feigned moral outrage is the language of racial hatred and bigotry, and sadly just the latest incoherent ramblings of a pundit who should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. Journalism in the UK needs more diversity, not less."
Manji, who earlier worked for BBC, recently became the first woman journalist in hijab to present a TV news bulletin on one of Britain’s major channels.