SHAFAQNA – Kelvin MacKenzie has been cleared by Ipso over his column on the Channel 4 News presenter. What message does that ruling send?
Here is what a few journalists had to say on the matter:
Joseph Harker: Bigotry is now officially sanctioned
The verdict handed down by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) is worse than the original column. Kelvin MacKenzie is a maverick writer who regularly spews out bigotry. It is bad enough that a national newspaper gives him an outlet for his most vile opinions. What is worse, though, is that this particular column clearly crosses a line – in calling into question an observant Muslim’s right to do her job – yet the regulator is refusing to rein him in.
This institutionalises the whole issue, and sends the message that Muslims – or, by implication, all racial minorities – can no longer expect fair treatment in the national press.
Of course, our media is long associated with spouting racism and intolerance. This case is different, though, because instead of vilifying “Muslims” in general, or black people or migrants for that matter, MacKenzie focused on one particular person doing the job she’s been doing for four years.
“Was it appropriate,” MacKenzie asked after the Nice attacks this summer, “for her to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim?” This clearly associated her with the killers for no other reason than her religion (and, one assumes, another 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide are also implicated).
Such crude and blatantly Islamophobic thinking should clearly go against any kind of press code. Yet the Ipso board (and, as you can see from its website, only one of its 25 board and staff members is non-white) has declared that this is OK. It says to all Muslims and minorities that bigotry is now officially sanctioned.
Remona Ali: Fatima Manji’s robust integrity must encourage us to reject propaganda
After Kelvin MacKenzie spewed his anti-Muslim tripe into a sorry excuse for a column in the Sun, after 1,700 complaints to Ipso, and after social media outrage from politicians, journalists and activists alike, it appears that MacKenzie is getting off scot-free.
The feeble ruling from Ipso lets MacKenzie skip away into the sunset without reprimand or accountability, but he casts a long and sinister shadow. This whole Manji v MacKenzie fiasco sends out the alarming message that journalists – if they belong to a particular faith group – are fair game for overt discrimination and prejudice. It further sidelines those of ethnic minority and faith backgrounds in general, and those with media aspirations in particular. This is anything but good news for improving diversity in an industry which is currently 94% white, and 0.4% Muslim.
Manji has chillingly said: “It’s open season on Muslims.” It certainly feels like the Ipso outcome mandates an unofficial licence to hate: a frightening prospect in a climate where intolerance is brewing, and unsavoury characters are ready to pounce on any excuse for anti-Muslim abuse.
But as the struggle gets dirtier, the stronger we have to be to fight it. Manji has proved to be as tough as nails, and it’s her robust integrity that should encourage more women and men, those of faith and none, to blot out the bigotry by rejecting the propaganda and by proactively engaging in the media, or indeed in any sphere. We live in turbulent times, but here’s hoping it’s the storm before the eventual calm.
Dominic Ponsford: MacKenzie must be allowed free speech
Ipso is no fan of Kelvin MacKenzie. Its complaints committee described his column about Fatima Manji as “deeply offensive”. But it ruled he was entitled to express his opinion about whether someone wearing a garment signifying membership of “violent religion” Islam should present news reports of the Nice terrorist attacks.
I disagree with MacKenzie about this. I suspect most of the journalists at the Sun disagree with him too. It’s absurd to disqualify someone from reading the news because of their religious beliefs. But, in the spirit of Voltaire, I defend his right to express his opinion.
He was not attacking Manji personally, but the idea that newsreaders should wear the hijab. It might be offensive to Muslims to call their religion violent, but Christianity could equally be so described. Again, MacKenzie is allowed to express his view on this in a comment piece.
Channel 4 News said it was “dismayed” by the Ipso ruling. But Ipso can only deal with the Editors’ Code which it has. The code outlaws needless and prejudicial reference to someone’s race, religion or sexuality. But that can’t be used as a bar on any criticism of religion, no matter how offensive some may find it.
Manji said that in the days after the Sun piece she was concerned about her safety and had to put security measures in place. While I sympathise with her, there was nothing in MacKenzie’s piece which could be construed as incitement to violence (any more than Charlie Hebdo intended to incite the attack on its own offices when it published a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad).
Argue with MacKenzie. Ridicule him. Attack his ideas. But don’t ban him from expressing them.
Homa Khaleeli: Ipso has chosen to defend journalism which panders to prejudice
What should Kelvin MacKenzie be allowed to report on? As a man in a suit is he an “appropriate” person to write about, say, the banking crises? That is where MacKenzie’s suggestion – that Fatima Manji’s identity should disbar her from carrying out her professional duties – leads us to.
MacKenzie insists that viewers could not possibly view Manji as just another journalist, which of course implies that his own identity, as a white male, is the default setting of a journalist. Then, from his privileged position in the media’s old boys’ club, he insists that this is a debate about religious symbols and asks whether an orthodox Jew could report on the Middle East.
But if like Manji they have the professional skill and can adhere to the rules of objectivity their broadcaster lays down, then why not? After all if the Sun is still wheeling out MacKenzie then it’s time for some new faces.
Ipso was set up in the wake of the Leveson inquiry to counter the outrage sparked by the worst excesses of tabloid journalism personified by MacKenzie. It’s shocking that its members can’t see the discrimination in saying a woman in hijab should not be allowed to do her job because of what she wears. Instead they have chosen to defend journalism which panders to prejudice.
Lucky, then, that we have Manji herself. Her passionate column in the Liverpool Echo, and a barnstorming interview on the BBC Today programme this week, has made it clear that she at least will make sure this kind of Islamophobia is challenged.