Hacked Off write to Home Secretary demanding tougher action to protect the public from extremism

The Hacked Off campaign has today written to the Home Secretary to call on the Government to address the circulation of false newspaper stories among extremists online.

Hacked Off’s recent report, White Supremacism, the Press and the Absence of Regulation, found that:

  1. False stories published by both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers are being widely shared and disseminated among neo-Nazis and white supremacists online before any action is taken by the industry controlled complaints-handler IPSO
  2. In sharing the stories, racist and hateful comments were often added
  3. In one example, an explicit call to violence was added
  4. The stories were typically used by extremists to illustrate the “rightfulness” of their racist worldview
  5. Extremist forums and communities online, where these stories are shared as propaganda for users’ white supremacist beliefs, are similar to those used by terrorists including those responsible for the Christchurch New Zealand, Norwegian, and Charleston terror attacks

All newspapers covered in the report are members of IPSO, the industry-controlled press complaints-handler criticised for failing to uphold basic standards of accuracy

Commenting on the letter and report, Hacked Off Director of Policy Nathan Sparkes said,

“The Home Secretary’s top priority should be the protection of the public.

“Extremist activity is linked with terrorist acts of violence in the Home Department’s own guidance on counter-terrorism. The findings in this report, that false newspaper stories are fuelling extremist activity online, should be an urgent cause for action and for an independent system of press regulation to be introduced immediately.

“This Government has already shown it is weak on allegations of corruption when it comes to the press, having suppressed the promised Leveson Part Two Inquiry into allegations of police, press and political corruption. 

“It has to take a tougher line on extremism and address the dissemination of false newspaper stories as extremist propaganda without delay.”

ENDS

For press enquiries contact: sara@hackinginquiry.org

NOTES

Text of the letter to the Home Secretary: 

Dear Home Secretary

The first priority of government should be the safety of the public.

Terrorist acts of violence remain among the greatest threats to national security, committed by individuals who have often been radicalised through exposure to extremist ideology.

Indeed, your department’s own guidance on the “Prevent” duty articulates the connection between extremist communities and acts of violence:

“The white supremacist ideology of extreme right-wing groups has also provided both the inspiration and justification for people who have committed extreme right-wing terrorist acts.”[1]

It is therefore a critical matter of national security that white supremacist extremist activity is properly addressed. 

For this reason, I am writing to alert you to the findings of a Hacked Off Report which finds that false newspaper stories about Muslims and immigrants are being circulated on extremist and white supremacist internet forums.[2]

Five clearly false stories published by national newspapers critical of the activities of Muslims or immigrants were found to be in circulation by extremists in online communities.  A further story, which has been perceived to incite violence against Muslim people, was also approvingly shared among white supremacists.

These stories were shared as evidence or propaganda for the rightfulness of those extremists’ worldviews.  On one occasion, an explicit call to violence was made.

The inaccuracies in each story were serious.  They concerned matters which were fundamental to the stories.

Inaccurate press reporting about Muslims and immigrants is driving extremist narratives online, in a way which risks endangering public safety.

The organisation ultimately responsible for press inaccuracy is IPSO.  This is the complaints-handler set up by a minority of publishers in opposition to the Leveson recommendations and will of Parliament.  It has failed to impose appropriate sanctions on newspapers which consistently publish inaccurate stories about Muslims and immigrants.  This means that newspapers have little disincentive from publishing false stories of this kind.

To address this matter the Government must take steps to introduce compulsory independent press regulation, as recommended in the Leveson Report, for all significant media publishers as a matter of urgency. 

A total of 5260 members of the public have signed a Hacked Off petition calling for IPSO to be replaced immediately on this basis.

I urge you to take the appropriate action to keep our country safe, and in particular to protect the safety of Muslims and immigrants who are targeted by this form of extremism.

 

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prevent-duty-guidance/revised-prevent-duty-guidance-for-england-and-wales

[2] In full: https://hackinginquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/White-supremacism-the-press-and-the-absence-of-regulation.pdf

 

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