Decision of the Complaints Committee 17562-17 Elgy v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. Rachel Elgy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Now Phil’s finally Out, he must shut door behind him”, published on 14 August 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Now Philip Hammond is finally Out he must shut the door behind him and take control over our laws, our trade and especially immigration”.
2. The article under complaint was an opinion column by Trevor Kavanagh. It claimed that there was “one unspoken fear, gagged by political correctness, which links Britain and the rest of Europe. The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam”. The article claimed that “thanks to former equalities chief Trevor Phillips, and Labour MPs such as Rotherham’s Sarah Champion, it is acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem”.
3. The article claimed that the authorities have “long deliberately disregarded Muslim sex crimes – soon likely to be a racist offence in itself – including outrages such as female genital mutilation and ‘honour’ killings”. It claimed that this “contemptible treatment of women…would have been inconceivable here on such a scale only a few years ago”, that “the problem began with Tony Blair opening the doors to mass immigration and silencing critics by branding them ‘racist’”, and that “it was turbocharged when German Chancellor Angela Merkel indiscriminately waved in a million more so-called refugees from Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan”. The article concluded by noting that if the UK achieved a full Brexit, it will “be back in charge of immigration”, and asked: “What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?”
4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to claim that it was acceptable to say that Muslims were a “specific rather than a cultural problem”. She said it was inaccurate to claim that the “contemptible treatment of women” was a problem caused by immigration. She said that contemptible treatment of women was evidenced throughout Western history, and noted that 90% of sex offenders in the UK are white males. The complainant acknowledged that some recent high-profile cases of child sexual exploitation involved perpetrators from Asian communities, but said that these crimes can occur in all communities. She said that female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honour’ based violence cannot be linked to any one religion or culture. The complainant provided material to demonstrate that these offences were perpetrated across faiths, and that neither were required by the Qur’an. She said that the article’s generalised statements on the sexual offences were misleading, and it was misleading to suggest that sexual offences were disproportionately committed by Muslim men.
5. The complainant said that the article’s reference to “so-called refugees” was inaccurate, as it cast doubt unjustifiably on the genuineness of their claims. She questioned whether there was evidence for this position, or the claim that “a million” refugees had entered Germany.
6. The complainant said the question posed at the end of the article reflected the phrase “The Jewish Problem”, used in 1930s Germany in the context of Nazism, and before the Holocaust. She said that the article discriminated against immigrants and Muslim men.
7. The newspaper said that this complaint raised issues of freedom of speech, and highlighted the determination of some to restrict open discussion about a specific problem for fear of being labelled “racist” or “Islamophobic”. The newspaper said that the article did not state or suggest that a disproportionate number of sexual offences are committed by Muslims compared with the wider population. It said that the article pointed out that for gang-related child sexual exploitation, the convictions have largely been against British Pakistani men. The newspaper said that conviction rates show sex gang grooming by Muslim men is a specific problem. In relation to the columnist’s claim that female genital mutilation and “honour” killings were examples of “Muslim sex crimes”, which had been “long disregarded [by the British Authorities]”, the newspaper said that there was evidence to support his position that both offences are commonly associated with Muslim society, and in some cases, the Muslim faith. It referred to a report from the World Health Organisation which stated that female genital mutilation, while perpetrated by members of a number of faiths, “has frequently been carried out by some Muslim communities in the genuine belief that it is demanded by the Islamic faith”. It provided an excerpt of an article on “honour” killings, which referred to statistics published in a report by the United Nations claiming that there were 5,000 killings worldwide each year, mainly in Western Asia, North Africa and parts of South Asia, and referred to them being more prevalent in, but not limited to, countries with a majority Muslim population.
8. The newspaper said that in referring to “so-called refugees”, the columnist was expressing his opinion that not all of the 1 million people who had entered Germany as refugees were entitled to refugee status. It said that he was entitled to this view, given the significant number of people initially accepted as refugees who are later decided to be economic migrants. It noted that the 1 million figure had been widely reported.
9. The newspaper
said that the Code protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of
their religion, but does not prevent criticism of religion or groups. It
strongly denied that the use of the phrase “The Muslim Problem”, to identify a
problem with the Muslim male attitude towards white women, reflected the use of
the phrase “The Jewish Problem” in 1930s Germany. It noted that the columnist
had written a further column, which it said addressed many of the issues raised
in the complaint. In this further column, the columnist said “I can honestly
say it never occurred to me that this could be interpreted as a play on the
Jewish Problem and I will happily apologise to anyone who is thus offended”.
Relevant Code provisions
10. 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.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
11. The column was published in the context of debates following the conviction of 14 people in Newcastle of sexual offences, which included public statements by Sarah Champion MP and Trevor Philips. In that context, the columnist expressed the view that following the “furore over Pakistani sex gangs”, it was now “acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem”, and commented on the connection between the religious background of perpetrators in these types of offences, and their actions. The Committee acknowledged that the opinion was contentious, and capable of causing offence, but its role was to consider the matter under the terms of Clause 1 of the Code. The claim was clearly the columnist’s comment on the causes of a complex social phenomenon, and it could not be understood as a claim of fact. The columnist set out his reasons for his view, and there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
12. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that it was inaccurate to refer to female genital mutilation and “honour” killings as examples of “Muslim sex crimes”. From the material provided by both parties, it was clear that both these offences were perpetrated by members of various faiths, and that the cultural and religious contexts in which these crimes take place are complex. However, it was not in dispute that some individuals committed these offences because they believed it formed part of their Muslim faith, and the article did not imply that these crimes were not committed by members of other faiths. The newspaper had provided a sufficient factual basis for the columnist’s brief reference to these offences as “Muslim sex crimes”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that the
“contemptible treatment of women” has taken place throughout British history,
that 90% of sex offenders in the UK are white males, and that it was therefore
inaccurate to claim that the “contemptible treatment of women…would have been
inconceivable here on such a scale only a few years ago”. In making this claim,
the column was referring specifically to what it referred to as “Muslim sex
crimes…including outrages such as female genital mutilation and ‘honour
killings’”, rather than the treatment of women in general. The article was not
misleading in the manner alleged, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this
14. The columnist was entitled to speculate on the validity
of the status of refugees entering Germany, and the reference to “a million
more so-called refugees” was clearly presented as his speculation. The article
was not misleading on this point, and this aspect of the complaint did not
raise a breach of Clause 1.
15. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the
article discriminated against Muslims. Clause 12 of the Code protects
identifiable individuals from discrimination; it does not relate to
discrimination against groups or categories of people. The complainant’s
concern that the article discriminated against Muslims in general did not
breach Clause 12.
16. The Committee acknowledged that the question posed at
the end of the column – “What will we do about The Muslim Problem then” – was
capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a
reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust. The Committee made clear
that there is no clause in the Editors’ Code which prohibits publication of
offensive content. It was clear that many, including the complainant, were
offended by this aspect of the article, but there was no breach of the Code on
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 14/08/2017
Date decision issued: 26/10/2017
Trevor Kavanagh is a member of IPSO’s Board. The Board has no role in the consideration of individual complaints, which are adjudicated on by the Complaints Committee. Mr Kavanagh played no part in the consideration of this complaint.
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.
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