UK newspaper bosses defend reporting of minorities

Newspaper headlines have helped to create an Islamophobic sentiment in the UK, the new boss at the Daily and Sunday Express has told MPs.

UK newspaper bosses defend reporting of minorities

Newspaper headlines have helped to create an Islamophobic sentiment in the UK, the new boss at the Daily and Sunday Express has told MPs.

At a probe into hate crime, Gary Jones admitted he felt "very uncomfortable" looking through previous Express front pages, and said some were "downright offensive".

The editor-in-chief was one of a number of senior journalists who faced a grilling by MPs on the treatment of people from minority groups by the press.

Mr Jones, who took over the role in March, told the committee:

"Each and every editor has a responsibility for every single word that is published in the newspaper and yes, cumulatively, some of the headlines that have appeared in the past have created an Islamophobic sentiment, which I find uncomfortable."

Gary Jones. Photos: PA Wire
Gary Jones. Photos: PA Wire

Mr Jones said he was making changes at the newspapers.

"I've gone through a lot of former Express front pages and I have felt very uncomfortable looking at them," he said.

"Individually they may not present specific issues. There have been accuracy issues on some of them and some of them are just downright offensive.

I wouldn't want to be party to any newspaper that will publish such material.

"I have to accept as a newspaper editor that people have different views to my own and that the newspaper is there to represent the broader section of views, but I think there are limits as to how far you should go into an honest and fair-minded society."

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee is investigating hate crime and its violent consequences.

Paul Clarkson, managing editor of The Sun, said he apologised for errors in a story that said one in five British Muslims had sympathy for jihadis.

He added: "We are sorry if we offended anyone."

Paul Clarkson
Paul Clarkson

The executive declined to apologise for a "cut out and keep" guide to what terrorists look like.

Mr Clarkson said The Sun, which has run a number of stories on transgender men and women, had an "excellent" relationship with trans groups.

Associated Newspapers editor emeritus Peter Wright told the committee that the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday try to report difficult issues in an even-handed and sensible way.

He said: "We go to great lengths to avoid any articles that could possibly contribute to Islamophobia.

"But, you still have to report difficult issues. There have been claims of Islamophobia surrounding the reporting of sex grooming gangs in Rotherham and elsewhere.

You can't, I'm afraid, ignore the fact that these crimes appear to have a cultural background to them. We try to report them in a way that is even-handed and sensible.

Mr Wright defended the Daily Mail's controversial story on the decision by judges that Brexit could not be triggered without a Westminster vote.

Peter Wright
Peter Wright

A profile of the judges that ran with the article, headlined Enemies of the People, included references to the sexuality of one of the trio, Sir Terence Etherton, who had recently been appointed Master of the Rolls.

"If you Google him the first story which comes up is the Guardian's report on his appointment," Mr Wright said.

The headline is Britain's first openly gay judge becomes Master of the Rolls.

He told the committee that Associated titles received complaints, including to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), that needed investigation on 348 stories last year.

Of those, 30 involved discrimination and none of those were upheld by Ipso.

Trinity Mirror editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley said he would be "committing commercial suicide" if he carried some of the "more offensive, insulting articles" that other newspapers have carried.

"But, I still would defend their right to carry them," he added.

Lloyd Embley
Lloyd Embley

Ian Brunskill, assistant editor of The Times, told the committee he did not accept suggestions of "intentional, deliberate Islamophobia" in the British press.

"There are news stories that tackle difficult subjects and there will be problems around those," he said. "There will be opinion columns that will offend, there are misunderstandings, misjudgments and mistakes.

But I don't recognise the picture of deliberate, dishonest manipulation of information in order to stoke Islamophobia.

Metro editor Ted Young showed the committee a series of front pages in which he said the free newspaper had made an effort to ease racial tensions after terror attacks.

Mr Young said:

Mistakes happen but we definitely as a paper try to be proactive in promoting racial harmony and a sense of national togetherness, especially in times of crisis.

Committee member Stephen Doughty attacked examples of newspapers "jumping on the anti-trans bandwagon", including a Times column with the headline "Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby" and a Telegraph article about a "transgender explosion".

Mr Brunskill defended the headline as a "fair reflection" of the views expressed by columnist Janice Turner, in what he said was a "fierce debate" over transgender issues.

Telegraph editor emeritus Ian MacGregor told Mr Doughty: "We take the coverage of these issues so seriously. We are very careful about the wording we use. We treat these issues with great sensitivity."

Mr Doughty also challenged Mr MacGregor over the Telegraph's decision to put images of 15 Conservative MPs on its front page under the headline "The Brexit Mutineers".

"Do you stand by that front page, given some of the attacks and threats that have been made to public figures and the hate crime some politicians have experienced?" asked the Labour MP.

Mr MacGregor, the president of the Society of Editors, responded: "We stand by that story 100%.

"That was a fair characterisation of how senior Conservatives saw what they perceived as the rebels who were not going to support them on the date for Brexit. That's how we were being guided as to how they were perceived.

To put something on the front page like that, I think, is totally justified.


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