Decision of the Complaints Committee 18812-17 Butt v mirror.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Tahir Butt complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Harrowing moment 18-month-old baby is held down on hot coals in sinister Muslim ritual” published on 2 October 2017.
2. The article reported that during a religious ceremony in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, an 18 month old baby was “held down on hot coals” in a ritual 'thought to be intended to protect the child from harm'.” The article included a statement from the police superintendent in the area, who named the child’s parents and stated that the parents had “prayed for a son when the wife was pregnant” and had promised to keep the baby on a bed of coals if they had a son. The article also included a video of the ritual and photographs taken from the video.
3. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate, as he did not believe there was any such ritual within Islam, as it was not prescribed in the Qu’ran, and he believed referring to the ceremony as “sinister” misrepresented Muslims. He also said that the details given by the superintendent that were included in the article, such as the parents’ names, indicated that they were not Muslims.
4. The publication said that the ritual was part of Muharram, the month that marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, and in these circumstances, it was accurate to refer to it as a “Muslim ritual”. It provided links to various local news sources in India, which made clear that the ritual was taking place as part of Muharram, in which Shia Muslims take part in self-flagellation and walk on burning coals. While the publication did not accept it had breached the Code, it changed the headline to state “Harrowing moment 18-month-old baby is held down on hot coals in sinister religious ritual”, as a gesture of goodwill and to reflect the fact that the ritual was not practiced by all Muslims.
5. The publication said that while they were aware that the names of the parents given by the police superintendent suggested they may not be Muslim, it was common practice in India for individuals of different faiths to join in with this ritual, and provided contemporary news sources to support this position. It said this did not change the position that the ritual itself was a Muslim ritual as although both Muslim and non-Muslim individuals may take part, it was performed to mark a significant Islamic festival, which was observed only by Muslims. It also said that the complainant was not in a position to comment on the religious background of the individuals referred to in the article.
6. The publication said that where a young child had been placed on hot coals, and the police representative had stated that “a local Child Welfare Committee had been asked to offer counselling to the parents,” as reported in the article, the newspaper said it was entitled to claim that the ritual was “sinister”.
Relevant Code provisions
7. 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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The complainant had commented that the article was inaccurate, as he did not believe the child’s parents were Muslim. While IPSO is able to consider complaints from third parties about accuracy, the Committee will consider the position of the party most closely involved. In this instance, the complainant was not making this complaint with the knowledge and consent of the individual’s referred to in the article. In these circumstances, it would not be appropriate or possible for the Committee to make a finding on the religious beliefs of these individuals.
9. IPSO can, however, consider complaints from third parties in relation to disputed points of fact. Therefore, the Committee considered whether it was accurate to refer to the ritual outlined in the article as a “Muslim ritual.” The newspaper had relied on local news sources, which had reported that the ritual was part of Muharram, which is practiced by some followers of Islam to mark the first month in the Islamic calendar. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article and no breach of Clause 1(i).
10. The complainant did not dispute that the ritual was held in the village to mark the beginning of Muharram, but argued that it was not prescribed by Islam. The article had not made any broad claim about religious significance. The description of the ritual as “Muslim” was based on the fact that it formed part of celebrations for a significant time in the Islamic calendar. There was no significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of 1 (ii), notwithstanding the fact that individuals of other faiths might take part in the ritual.
11. The publication was entitled to characterise the ritual as “sinister”, where the article included the video of the event, and reported that welfare concerns regarding the child had been raised. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action required
Date complaint received: 02/10/2017
Date decision issued: 22/12/2017
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