Decision of the Complaints Committee 03423-16 Muslim Council of Britain v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Dr Shuja Shafi, acting on behalf of the Muslim Council of Britain, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Tis the season of bombers and Uber drivers who haven’t eaten for 20 hours – welcome to the Midsummer madness of Ramadan”, published on 6 June 2016.
2. The article was a comment piece in which the columnist expressed her opinion that the Muslim festival of Ramadan was not “compatible with modern life”. She said that fasting for 20 hours a day had safety implications for employers and their employees, and she objected to the suggestion that working arrangements could be altered to accommodate people fasting for Ramadan. She also expressed her concern that “thousands of kids will sit exams with their brains addled by hunger”, and she said that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) “wanted to force the UK to change exam dates, to disrupt the timetable of the many to accommodate the decision of the few”.
3. The complainant said that the MCB had not “wanted to force the UK to change exam dates” as asserted by the columnist. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) had independently made the decision to amend exam timetables in order to accommodate Ramadan, and the MCB had “welcomed” the guidance that was issued on exam “timings”. He said that the columnist’s “intentional distortion” served to “sow distrust and division in our society”. The complainant noted that the publication had asked him to confirm whether the MCB had been one of the groups consulted by the JCQ about amending exam timetables. He believed that this demonstrated a failure to check the facts before publication.
4. The publication said that the complainant’s focus on the columnist’s use of the verb “force” was “semantics”. It said that the statement had reflected the columnist’s honestly-held opinion on the influence of the MCB on the issue of examinations at the time of Ramadan. The word “force” had a variety of meanings; in this case, it had meant “effecting a change by strength of argument”.
5. The publication noted that the MCB had accepted that it had been consulted by the JCQ, and that following those discussions, guidance on exam timetabling during Ramadan was issued, which had been welcomed by the MCB. The publication also noted that since 2007, the MCB had been lobbying for special consideration to be given to exam scheduling during Ramadan. It considered that such lobbying could be reasonably characterised as the MCB “desiring change” or “wanting to force” change. It said it was possible for a group to “force change in procedure through participating convincingly in a consultation initiated by others”.
6. While the publication did not consider that the reference to the MCB was significantly misleading, it offered to amend it to read: “Muslim groups wanted the UK to change exam dates, to disrupt the timetable of the many to accommodate the decision of the few”, and it offered to append the following note:
A previous version of this article stated that the Muslim Council of Britain “wanted to force” the UK to change examination dates for Ramadan. We have been asked by the MCB to make clear that – while it provided guidance on the topic and welcomed small adjustments to the timetable – any decisions in this regard are made independently by the Joint Council of Qualifications.
7. The complainant said that the suggested amendment was inadequate as it was unfair to blame Muslim groups for “disrupting the timetable of the many to accommodate the decision of the few”.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
9. It was accepted that the MCB had campaigned for consideration to be given to the timetabling of exams to accommodate pupils fasting for Ramadan. For instance, its Information & Guidance for Schools, published in 2007, stated that “schools should give appropriate consideration when scheduling internal examinations, since the combination of preparing for exams and fasting may prove challenging for some pupils”. The MCB had also been one of a number of Muslim groups which the JCQ had consulted about the issue, and it had welcomed the JCQ’s published guidance on the subject.
10. The columnist had been entitled to interpret the MCB’s expressed position on exam timetabling during Ramadan as demonstrating that it had wanted “to force” change. In the context of the article, which was clearly a comment piece, the brief reference to the columnist’s characterisation of the MCB’s position on the subject was not significantly misleading. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1.
11. Although the Committee did not find a breach of Clause 1, it welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the article in response to the complaint.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 08/06/2016
Date decision issued: 08/09/2016Back to ruling listing