A complaint by EUJS to a reporter at the outlet Sceptr requesting him to stop purposely framing migrants as criminals has been left without any answers. Sceptr, a nationalist alternative media site covering news in Belgium and the Netherlands, regularly handpicks articles on crimes allegedly committed by migrants, even when there is no evidence that the perpetrators are foreigners.
A complaint by EFOMW requesting the Belgian news outlet La Libre to avoid dangerous simplifications when reporting on Muslims has been ignored by the editors. An opinion piece published in March has made widespread generalisations about what classifies as good Muslims and bad Muslims, creating misunderstandings that could lead to discrimination against those that the author sweepingly labels in a negative way.
In one entire year, IPSO received 8000 discrimination complaints - but upheld only one. In a time of increasing antisemitism, Islamophobia and overall racist and discriminatory acts across the United Kingdom, Europe and around the world, we find this lack of oversight over this kind of reporting to be both troubling, and telling.
Today, Media Diversity Institute and Hacked Off are calling on the Independent Press Standards Organisation to end this #RacismInThePress, and start taking complaints of racism and discrimination more seriously. Please circulate their letter using the hashtag #RacismInThePress.
MDI has received more than one hundred signatures from Parliamentarians, free speech advocates, academics and public personalities as well as over 5,000 signatures from individuals. If you are one of our signatories, thank you. In addition to wide-ranging support from major media influencers, they have also received a response from IPSO rejecting the accusation that it condones racial or religious-based hatred, and accusing the letter of failing to address the issue of striking a balance between a journalist or newspaper's freedom to offend while protecting individuals. However, this coverage is not only offensive, it is hateful. Racially abusive coverage of a group has the ability to harm individuals--even if it does not target anyone outright. Without taking responsibility for complaints brought against groups, IPSO does the opposite of "striking a balance"--it says that no matter how offensive, a complaint cannot be brought. By default, this protects abusive, and hateful press coverage. You can read the full response below the image.
In a statement we understand was first published in Press Gazette on February 28th, Sir Alan Moses said this (in italics, Hacked Off analysis below each point)):
“IPSO rejects the accusation that it condones religious and race-based hate or in any way approves of offensive attacks on groups on the grounds of their beliefs or identity.”
Firstly, it is IPSO’s purported job to “regulate” newspapers – to ensure racist and discriminatory abuse is not published in them. A competent regulator would act – but IPSO does nothing. Indeed its failure to act on the issue amounts to condoning.
Secondly, it is not about material which is “offensive” but that which is seriously abusive.
“Our decisions on discrimination and accuracy make it clear that a finding that there has been no breach of the Editors’ Code does not in any way imply that IPSO approves of what has been written.”
It is not at issue whether IPSO “approves” of coverage in the sense of agreeing with it. It is not the job of a complaints-handler to consider questions of taste and decency – and nor should it be.
But the public do expect to see coverage adequately remedied when it is racially abusive – and that is not happening.
“The real issue, with which the letter fails to grapple, is how to strike a balance between the freedom of a journalist or newspaper to offend a group while protecting individuals.”
Firstly, this misunderstands (or seeks to misrepresent) what the letter is about. It is not primarily about protecting individuals – who already have, albeit very much limited – protection under the Code. Instead it is about protecting groups and communities, who are attacked en masse in some coverage.
Secondly, Sir Alan refers to “strik[ing] a balance” between the freedom to offend and protecting the public. But the problem here is that IPSO does not seek to strike the balance at all – it explicitly will not take complaints about groups. A balance would be to say that abuse which reaches a certain threshold of seriousness will be in breach, weighed against freedom of expression. IPSO says no matter how abusive, no complaint can be brought. That is the opposite of balance.
“We work every day to make these difficult judgments; we seek to maintain the balance between freedom of expression and protecting the public.”
But IPSO does not even make that judgment, because it does not even consider complaints about group discrimination. IPSO’s rule is that “anything goes” for groups. There is no judgment there – it is carte blanche for newspapers to abuse at will.
“A solution to the important problems of where and how the line is to be drawn is not going to be found by the misleading and distorted picture of IPSO’s work, particularly in the misuse of statistics.”
The reference to statistics presumably refers to the letter citing that one discrimination complaint out of over 8000 was upheld by IPSO in 2017. We would welcome any further clarity over that statistic, which came from IPSO. We note the accusation that the statistic was “misused” is not substantiated.
Sir Alan questions where the line should be drawn – but IPSO could make a start by drawing any line – rather than sitting back and refusing to accept any group discrimination complaints.
Then, a blog appeared on IPSO’s website on March 1st which cited the open letter:
“In recent months there has been significant debate and discussion about the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code and how our Complaints Committee applies the Code to the complaints we receive. We believe that more transparency about Clause 12 and how it applies to individual complaints will help to inform this discussion.
“Clause 12 says that 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. It also states that these details should not be included in a story unless they are genuinely relevant.
“Yesterday, 26 politicians wrote to us raising concerns about racism and Islamophobia in the press. There are no easy answers to the question of how to strike a balance between the freedom of a journalist to or newspaper to offend a group while protecting individuals.”
As above, it not about offense – it is about abuse. And clearly a line must be drawn between freedom to offend and protection from abuse – but IPSO deny that line exists; instead persisting with a steadfast refusal to even consider group discrimination complaints.
On the basis of these remarks, it is clear IPSO have no intention of acting on this issue. They do not even seem to have grasped the problem.
IPSO’s failure makes implementation of the Leveson framework, which would introduce stronger free expression protections alongside meaningful accountability, more urgent than ever.
From a far-right newspaper accusing the president of Greece of being a “traitor” because of his Jewish identity, to an alternative media website compiling a selection of crime stories based on the assumed nationality of the perpetrators, these January highlights are an overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
FRANCE – MP blames Muslims for her own homophobic views
Date of publication: 18 January 2019
Media outlet: Valeurs Actuelles, conservative magazine
Author: Agnès Thill, La République En Marche (LREM) MP in the French national assembly. The Valeurs Actuelles reporter is Bastien Lejeune
Headline: “Medically assisted procreation and Koranic schools: Agnès Thill's controversy, the symptom of progressive sectarianism”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: At a French parliamentary debate, Agnès Thill, MP of President Macron’s party LREM, presented a note to the National Assembly expressing her opposition to the new law on medically assisted procreation (known in France as PMA). Regarding the introduction of the word “parent”, to replace “mother” and “father”, she said that “this absence of gender in the word ‘parent’ will encourage the growth of Koranic schools”. Her note reads: “Our Muslim friends, who, as we know, are against this gradual distancing from the concepts of father-mother, man-woman, for the word parent include parent 1 and parent, [...] live in a parallel world, in our Republic, where everything is as they want, where a man is a man, a woman is a woman, and there are not, for our Muslim friends, parent1 and parent2”. According to Agnès Thill, the introduction of the PMA law would “lead moderate children to become less moderate teenagers”. In this article, the right-wing magazine Valeurs Actuelles, does not criticise her anti-Muslim and homophobic remarks, but simply points out how unusual it is for a LREM politician to hold these views. The controversy is presented as “a new example of the majority's difficulties to tolerate divergent views”. The reporter writes: “Agnès Thill's crime? To be the only one in her parliamentary group to defend the idea of a real debate about medically assisted procreation”. Last November, Agnès Thill came under attack from many, including her own political party, for saying that the “powerful LGBT lobby” was influencing the debate on the PMA. In a video interview at the end of January, she compared the “suffering of single women” who want to use the PMA to “drug addicts”: “If a drug addict suffers, do we give them drugs? If a woman is suffering, do we give her a child so that she stops suffering?” A child is not a type of medicine”.
Myth debunked: In vocalising her opposition to the law, Agnès Thill is proposing a gender binary which is intolerant of other gender identities and of any family that is not heteronormative. And at the same time uses the opportunity to accuse French Muslims of being homophobic because they have more gendered roles of mother and father, or a traditional family structure. In her opinion, the state moving away from the mother-father and woman-man dichotomy, Muslim people would turn to their own communities’ schools, which, she says, are more prone to radicalising the children than the public institutions. In saying so, she is insinuating a correlation between attending an Islamic school and Islamic fundamentalism. When mentioning the expected effect of the law on the Muslim community, Agnès Thill is attributing her own homophobic views to Muslims and, at the same time, using them as the reason for her objection to the law.
More to read:
UK – Anne Marie Waters’ fallacies about Islam and the establishment
Date of publication: 7 January 2019
Media Outlet: Politicalite, populist far-right news website
Author: Anne Marie Waters, founder and leader of the far-right party “For Britain” and founder and director of Sharia Watch UK
Headline: “ANNE MARIE WATERS: After Terror Attacks, The State Is Protecting Islam’s Reputation”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In this article, Anne Marie Waters claims that Islam is inherently violent because that is what the Quran prescribes. However, she continues, there is no public debate around Islam’s teaching because “such discussion would reveal the truth about Islam’s teachings”. According to her, the British state defends Islam because it wants to let “masses from the Middle East and Africa” to come and settle in the UK. “For every cruelty or atrocity associated with Islam, whether it be the grooming gangs, child marriage, FGM, or jihadi violence, the priority of the establishment is always to protect the religion”. Anne Marie Waters also claims that Sharia law will “be accommodated in all areas of life” and that Europe will be radically transformed. The well-known anti-Islam activist Anne Marie Waters founded the political party “For Britain” after leadership bid for the Eurosceptic UKIP party failed.
Myth debunked: It is deceitful and false to claim that “the priority of the establishment is always to protect the [Islamic] religion”. Facts show that Muslims in Britain are repeatedly stigmatised and attacked, not only by “ordinary people”, but also by government officials or “the establishment”. To name a few: Boris Johnson, Former British foreign secretary, compared full-face veiled women to letterboxes; Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid uses the term “no-go areas”, an expression imbued with anti-Muslim sentiments; the then-Communities Secretary Eric Pickles sent a letter, endorsed by Cameron, asking Muslim leaders to “explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “truth” when it comes to the Quran and Islamic teaching. Islam is a religion, with the Quran as its central text and, as such, is subject to different interpretations that vary across time and space. As with all the major religions, there is not one single understanding and application of the holy book that all the believers who identify with that religion follow in the exact same way. Some Islamic terrorists justify their violent acts through their interpretation of the Quran, but this is also in conformity with their objectives and world view, and it is different from those of the overwhelming majority of Muslims across the world. Claiming that, compared with the major religions, Islam is inherently violent because of the words contained in the Quran is a fallacy. A comparative text analysis of the Old and New Testaments and the Quran has shown that the Christian texts, especially the Old Testament, contains more references to killing and destruction. However, when Christian terrorists, such as Anders Behring Breivik (who had the Bible in his manifesto), kill people, no one blames the Old Testament and claims that Christianity is inherently violent.
More to read:
GREECE – Eleftheri Ora accuses Greek President of being a traitor on account of his Jewish origins
Date of publication: 28 January 2019
Media Outlet: Eleftheri Ora, far-right daily newspaper
Headline: “Prokopis Traitor with… Kippah”
Description of the antisemitic content: Eleftheri Ora’s front page accuses the President of Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos of being a traitor for his soft stand on the Prespa Agreement which formally recognises the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to be recognized as the Republic of Northern Macedonia. On the previous day, Holocaust Memorial Day, he attended an event in Thessaloniki’s Music Hall. The far-right newspaper shared information about protests against the President to be held outside the city hall and by the use of inflammatory language actually indirectly encouraged attendance at the protest. Clashes with the police were reported that night. The following day, the newspaper published the front page mentioned and accuses the president of being a traitor. It also described the previous days’ clashes as an ‘’angry mob’s attempt to lynch the president’’. This front page is an example of unprofessional journalism that borders on incitement to antisemitic hate.
Myth debunked: Eleftheri Ora is taking advantage of public opinion surrounding the highly contentious Prespa agreement to fuel hatred against Jews. The newspaper connects two separate issues –the President acceptance of the Prespa agreement and his assumed Jewish identity – which have no correlation. The newspaper does not provide any evidence to support the claim. Furthermore, last week, a majority of Greek MPs voted in favour of the Prespa agreement, but Eleftheri Ora has singled out and disparaged, the role of the president. The accusation that Jews are not loyal to society or the country in which they live is one of the oldest antisemitic tropes. In line with previous articles that attributed Jewish origins to many politicians, Eleftheri Ora is once more feeding conspiracy theories that accuse Jewish people of being disproportionately represented in spheres of power and to secretly pulling strings in Greek politics.
More to read:
HUNGARY – Research Institute Director makes controversial statements on the 1920 anti-Jewish law
Date of publication: 7 January 2019
Media Outlet: Magyarhirlap.hu
Headline: “Some people want to create a political debate”
Description of the antisemitic content: This article is an interview with Sándor Szakály, Director of the Veritas Research Institute run by the government. While discussing current affairs with his interviewees, Sándor Szakály claims that there is confusion around the numerus clausus, a 1920 law that restricted Jewish students’ access to higher education. According to Szakály, “Jews were not specifically targeted by the law”, but “only those Jewish people who were not baptised”. Furthermore, Sándor Szakály states that the law “was not a legal disqualification but rather a restriction of rights, and it is, by no means, appropriate to call it a Jewish law". The journalist rightly challenged Sándor Szakály’s statement and said that the numerous clauses law had led to the Holocaust. This was not the first time that the Director of the Veritas Research Institute made an antisemitic statement about the numerus clausus. In a 2016 interview with the Budapest Beacon, he similarly claimed that the law was not directed against Jews, as it does not even mention the word “Jewish” and, while he admitted that the quota certainly did limit the rights of some, it also “gave greater opportunities to others”.
Myth debunked: Mazsihisz, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities released a statement saying that Sándor Szakály’s “approach and vocabulary are particularly unfair to Jews” and “his historical interpretations are not only deceptive but also dangerous”. A number of historians have rebutted the Director’s comments in the past. Ignác Romsics, one of the most authoritative researchers on the period 1919 to 1944 in Hungary stated that “indeed, the word Jewish or Israelite did not appear in the text of the numerus clausus law; however, parliamentary records about instructions for implementation of the law and the practical application of the law clearly show that it was exclusively directed at the Israelite denomination or ‘nationality.” In 2016 GTTO published an article by journalist Dóra Ónody-Molnár which stated that “the trivialisation of the numerus clausus law [...]contributes to the interpretation that, before 1944, i.e. while Hungary was a sovereign state, Jews were basically safe, and that the persecution of Jews only began under the German occupation”. Even if Sándor Szakály were not involved in politics, the fact that the Veritas Research Institute is run by the government makes the Director a political influencer. His antisemitic statements are therefore in sharp contrast with the “zero tolerance on antisemitism” position by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. If Orbán stated the “need for firm policy to combat rising anti-Semitism”, how can a Director of a Research Institute make antisemitic remarks without being asked to consider his position
More to read:
BELGIUM – Former Migration minister favoured Christian refugees for humanitarian visas
Date of publication: 17 January 2019
Media Outlet: RTBF, Belgian public-service broadcasting organisation
Author: The former Secretary of State for Migration, Theo Francken, of the Flemish nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA).
Headline: “Humanitarian visas: Theo Francken favoured the arrival of Christians”.
Description of the anti-Muslim content: In this interview, Jan De Volderhead of the Belgian branch of the charity called Community of Sant’Egidio, discloses details on the country’s humanitarian visa programme. De Volder revealed that the Community of Sant’Egidio, which was selected by the immigration ministry to cooperate on humanitarian visas, received instructions to only select Christian Syrians. This shows that the former Secretary of State for Asylum, Migration and Administrative Simplification, Theo Francken, of the Flemish nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), has been choosing refugees on the basis of religion.
Myth debunked: As an EU report states, “Humanitarian visas are one of the tools that countries can use to enable people in need to access international protection legally and safely”. While it has not yet been fully implemented by all EU countries, the humanitarian visa system was proposed “to address the intolerable death toll in the Mediterranean [...], to combat human smuggling, and to manage arrivals, reception and processing of asylum claims better”. Using religion rather than vulnerability to select refugees is discriminatory. This anti-Muslim bias wrongly creates the impression that some people, Muslims, are less deserving of being granted refuge on the basis of faith. Asylum seeker selection should be based on people’s need and on the vulnerability, regardless of anyone’s religious background.
More to read:
BELGIUM – Media site publishes crime stories assuming foreign nationality of perpetrators
Date of publication: ongoing
Media Outlet: Sceptr, alternative media covering news in Belgium and the Netherlands
Description of the anti-Muslim content: Sceptr is a news outlet that, according to its website, reports “hard topics that traditional media neglect” and “aspires to be a taboo-free place and an instrument for politically active citizens”. In one of its sections, called “migration and integration”, almost all articles focus on crimes committed by migrants. However, in most of the cases, there is no proof that the perpetrators are actually migrants. The site rewrites articles from other newspapers in a way that discredits migrants without providing any evidence. The word “allochtoon” (“foreigner”) is used in almost all headlines to describe the criminal as a non-Belgian national. A story from Gazet Van Antwerpen, about a man named Toufik C who was convicted of raping a 14-year-old girl, is taken by Sceptr and framed in a way that describes him as a migrant with a Muslim background. No other media outlet who reported the story mentions the nationality of the perpetrator, including the sensationalist HLN. Sceptr considers his Arabic name as proof he is a foreign national.
Myth debunked: Attributing foreign nationality to anyone who has a foreign sounding name or non-white skin colour, as Sceptr does, asserts that Belgian people cannot be anything other than white Christian people with traditionally “Belgian” names. It means that citizenship and nationality are not given on the basis of the country where one was born or grew up or live, but rather on the name. It fosters a view of society where ethnic or religious minorities are considered alien, with harmful consequences on people’s life. In crime reporting, it is unprofessional to highlight someone’s religion or nationality when it is not relevant, let alone assuming it (and highlighting it). Journalistic deontological codes prescribe that, unless there is a direct connection with the crime, or unless it is useful for the public to identify a suspect and report them to the police, information such as nationality, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation should not be stated. Mentioning the nationality when it is not necessary might cause an overestimation of the proportion of the crimes committed by foreigners, as Sceptr does, which might lead to stereotyping and discrimination.
More to read:
GERMANY – Is this what the country will look like in 2021?
Date of publication: 16 January 2019
Media Outlet: PI-News (“Politically Incorrect”) is a far-right news website that defines itself as “Against the Mainstream, Pro-American, Pro-Israel, Against the Islamisation of Europe, For Fundamental Laws and Human Rights”
Headline: “Muslim baby boomers cause radical societal restructuring”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The article starts with a fictional account of how Germany will be in 2021, according to the author: “Turkish language courses are well attended by former Germans […] Tanja is now called Birgül, Stefanie Cidgem and Beatrice-Jacqueline is called Züleyha. In the streets, heaps of trash are piling up, so that germs can spread […]. Democracy has long given way to sharia-communism. There is no blossoming sense of community anymore, and personal freedoms are gone anyway […] standards have gone down in every respect. […] Every small village has a mosque […]”. The article quotes Germany’s birth-rate statistics, defining “nightmarish” the percentage of newborns with a migrant background in some cities compared with the decreasing numbers of “German” birth rates and marriages. The author envisages a societal disaster due to the number of foreigners living in the country: “an exploding crime rate, crumbling houses, indebted people, Islamisation, Muslim parallel societies and conditions which continuously start to look like their countries of origin”.
Myth debunked: The myth of “Islamisation”, according to which Christian Europeans will be replaced by Muslim immigrants, is a fabrication that conjectures and exaggerates the consequences of immigration in Europe. Even if the birth rate of people with a migrant or Muslim background is increasing in Europe and the birth Germans without a migrant or Muslim background is decreasing, this does not equate to Muslims living in Europe wanting legislations based on religious teachings, as several polls show. There is a wide range of socio-economic factors that influence the lifestyle and customs of people living in a country that make it impossible to predict how society in Europe will look in five or more years. According to Paul Hedges, Associate Professor in Interreligious Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, the Islamisation agenda is based on a number of assumptions: “that Islam is foreign to Europe” – which is historically false – and that “Islamic values are antithetical to European/Christian ones” – which is incorrect because, as Hedges states, “the key ideas of Greek philosophy and science that came to underpin mainstream Christian thought for centuries, as well as enable the Renaissance, and the development of modern science were all mediated to Europe through Islamic societies and advances made by Islamic thinkers”. Finally, the derogatory discourse that associates “germs”, “trash”, “crime” and “crumbling houses” to people with a migrant background is a racist rhetoric of denigration. Through stigmatisation, it creates otherness to build a national identity that excludes some on the basis of ethnicity and religion.
More to read:
The former Belgian minister, Theo Francken, of the Flemish nationalist N-VA party, has given priority to Syrian Christian asylum seekers under the country’s humanitarian visa programme. This is Belgium’s media monitoring highlight for January.
The known anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters claims that “the priority of the establishment is always to protect the [Islamic] religion”, but facts show the opposite: government officials repeatedly stigmatise and attack Muslims. This is UK’s media monitoring highlight for January.
In a parliamentary debate on medically assisted procreation, Agnès Thill, MP of President Macron’s party LREM, produced a note where she projected her homophobic views onto Muslims and used them as the reasons for her objection to the law. This is France’s media monitoring highlight for January.
The alternative media outlet Sceptr re-publishes crime stories that appeared in mainstream media in order to highlight perpetrators as foreign nationals. In most of the cases, however, they are labelled “foreigner”, just on the basis of their skin colour or foreign-sounding name. This is Belgium’s media monitoring highlight for January.
The far-right PI-News offers a fictional account of what Germany will be in 2021, using racist slurs and false anti-Muslim conspiracy narratives. This is Germany’s media monitoring highlight for January.
In December 2018, the centrist francophone Belgian daily La Libre Belgique and its sister publication DH published a video from the so-called “March Against Marrakech” on their websites. This video features extreme-right protesters shouting anti-Muslim hate and threatening violence. Disturbingly, no editorial explanation contextualising the video and the decision to publish it was present alongside the footage itself.