The Hungarian national news agency (MTI) carried an alarming news item on 28 March: ’40,000 migrants are about to set off from Turkey and Greece towards Central Europe, to be joined along the way by many more’. The agency reported that they were gathering then and were setting off on 5 April.
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.
This guide was developed by Dr. Anna Szilágyi for the Get The Trolls Out! project. It is meant to be a guide for journalists and media workers, but anyone interested in propaganda, media, and language can benefit from reading it.
The guide will introduce you to 10 linguistic tools that are commonly used in propagandistic and manipulative political and media discourses and offers practical skills that journalists can utilize in their daily work. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and download the handbook as a pdf file.
You can find out more about Anna's work here, or read her Linguistic Self-Defence Guide Against Antisemitism.
If one analyses the media in Europe today it becomes evident that there has been a rise and acceptance of xenophobic, racist and anti-religion narratives. This has evidently run parallel to – and quite possibly has been one of the effects of – the surge of right-wing extremism movements and of ultra-nationalist groups in many parts of the region. Some media outlets have been echoing such narratives, thus reinforcing them. Media and journalists face a serious challenge in tackling these discourses of prejudice, intolerance and hostility towards the other and otherness.