On Wednesday June 26th, a report by Professor Brian Cathcart and Paddy French, “Unmasked”, was published. The report examined a series of investigative stories run by the paper which had the effect of demonizing Muslims. Each of the stories was found to be substantively false.
The following day, The Times used an editorial to attack the report and motivations of its writers, contributors and supporters (these include the Hacked Off Campaign, and others campaigning on Muslim advocacy and media regulatory reform).
The editorial rants for over 500 words, but none of them raise a single point of inaccuracy.
How did three stories packed with major errors get published? Is there a wider anti-Muslim agenda at the Times newspaper? Are they institutionally Islamophobic? We want answers.
This was a report which was dozens of pages long, detailing a multitude of errors and inaccuracies made by Mr Norfolk and published by The Times. Yet The Times does not appear to have identified any of those as false (it could have done so when approached for comment by Professor Cathcart and Mr French before publication – but failed to do so then, also).
Please see below for a full rebuttal of The Times’ remarks.
“The Times journalist Andrew Norfolk has become the target of an extraordinary personal attack. A 72-page pamphlet, co-authored by a founder of the campaign group Hacked Off, accuses Norfolk of writing articles that “tended to encourage fear of Muslims”, and of breaching standards of professional conduct and ethics. This is a mischievous and ideologically motivated attempt to smear a reporter long recognised as one of the bravest and most scrupulous in his field.”
The evidence is well-set out in the report, which no one could argue lacks detail. The Times raise no point of inaccuracy. Hacked Off’s response was very clear that this is less about a single journalist, and more about the actions of the publisher. It is the Times corporately, and its editor, who should be held accountable, not an individual journalist.
“The attackers have form. When Norfolk revealed for the first time the systematic sexual abuse of white teenagers by men of mainly Pakistani background in Rotherham and other northern towns, he also revealed the complicity of social workers, police and local councillors who failed to stop the grooming. They failed for fear of being accused of racism. That fear proved deeply entrenched.”
This is nonsense. None of the supporters of this report are “social workers, police, [or] local councillors”. None have been a position to “stop the grooming”. In any case, this paragraph refers to coverage produced by Mr Norfolk which was not assessed in the report. There are no allegations made about other journalism produced by Mr Norfolk or published by The Times.
“Norfolk’s work was eventually honoured with the Orwell Prize, the Paul Foot Award and with journalist of the year awards, but not before it had been fiercely disparaged by groups determined to recast the story in terms of Islamophobia. Norfolk’s critics fell silent only when overwhelming evidence emerged in the press, courts and public inquiries that forced the country to confront a deeply rooted pattern of criminal behaviour with a clear ethnic component.”
Hacked Off did not “disparage” Mr Norfolk’s historic coverage, which precedes the stories covered in the report, and are not aware of any other supporters doing so.
“This week’s report focuses on three stories covered by Norfolk in 2017 and last year. All concerned matters of significant public interest. Two examined possible failures of care by local authorities while the third considered the conduct of a charity. Two articles were the subject of complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the regulatory body to which The Times belongs.”
They are only of public interest if they are true. These were not.
IPSO is a body controlled by the newspaper industry and cannot properly be described as a “regulator”. Their rules on accepting complaints mean that plenty of legitimate complaints are thrown out before consideration, and other prospective complainants are deterred by the inherent biases in the system.
“Ipso properly declined to consider complaints that were politically motivated and from people in no position to know the facts. Complaints from interested and informed parties — a local authority and the charity — were investigated by Ipso’s complaints committee. The Times was found to have breached the Editors’ Code on one point in each case; other points of complaint were dismissed. The Times accepted the regulator’s decisions and took the remedial action required.”
The Times refers to self-serving IPSO’s rules about only accepting complaints from those individuals most closely affected, allowing potential for inaccurate coverage to smear whole communities and damage policy-making processes.
The fact that even IPSO – a complaints-handler subject to industry control – found inaccuracy speaks to the severity of The Times’ editorial failures on these stories.
“The groups behind this latest attack on Norfolk are campaigners for what they tendentiously call “reform” of the media. By this, they mean statutory regulation and the suppression of content at odds with their own narrow agenda. Implacably hostile to independent self-regulation embodied by Ipso, most would force the press to sign up instead to the state-approved regulator Impress, funded by Max Mosley. In the words of one contributor to the new report, to criticise their thinking — in opinion columns or in a leading article such as this — is to provide “an editorial bedrock for news reporting that characterises Muslims as extreme, intolerant and threatening [and to] support it as brave and necessary even when it takes place against a background of rising hate crime”. That argument is as false as it is dangerous.”
Some groups who supported the report – including Hacked Off – are opposed to statutory regulation and support independent regulation instead, which would uphold the media’s right to be biased and partisan but would ensure inaccuracy was properly remedied. The independent model supported by Hacked Off is the only model which has robust constitutional protections on political interference and prior restraint.
The Times prefer to be a member of IPSO, which does not have access to the same constitutional safeguards as the independent model advocated for by Hacked Off, and even lets a politician sit on the body which has influence over its rules.
If The Times genuinely has concerns about state involvement in newspaper regulation, then it should abandon IPSO immediately and sign up to an independent recognised regulator.
“IMPRESS” is a recognised regulator. It is not state-approved. It has a mixed funding model and has constitutional protections on its independence.
“Though the authors hedge their invective with caveats, the intent is clear. It is to deter and hamstring journalists from investigating controversial stories. In an era when news risks being obscured by propaganda, it is vital that sensitive issues be debated rather than suppressed. Above all, honest reporting needs defending. We unhesitatingly defend it in the case of our own reporters, on whom our readers are entitled to rely.”
This is just misdirection. No-one who supported this report wants controversial investigations being shut down. And it is all a bit rich after The Times spent the last few years campaigning to suppress a public inquiry into police corruption.
What it shows is that, for all the bluster they have descended to, The Times has not raised issue with any factual point in the report. One can only deduce that they have been unable to find one.
There is no stronger vindication of Professor Cathcart and Mr French’s report.
CLICK HERE to write to the editor of The Times today, to urge them to refer themselves for an independent equalities investigation at the paper, and for the title to join an independent regulator.