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Kelvin MacKenzie hijab comments not religious discrimination, says regulator

Published 19/10/2016

Kelvin MacKenzie argued the hijab was a
Kelvin MacKenzie argued the hijab was a "religious statement" and questioned whether a Christian would be able to wear a cross prominently on television

Complaints made against Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie alleging religious discrimination have not been upheld by the press regulator.

ITN and a Channel 4 News reporter referred the matter to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) after the former editor of the tabloid newspaper questioned whether it was right for correspondent Fatima Manji to appear on screen wearing a hijab to present a report on the Nice massacre in July.

He subsequently defended his "reasonable" criticism of Channel 4 News, arguing the hijab was a "religious statement" and questioning whether a Christian would be able to wear a cross prominently on television.

In response, Ben de Pear, editor of Channel 4 News, said Ms Manji had been the victim of religious discrimination.

In its ruling on Wednesday, Ipso said: "While the columnist's opinions were undoubtedly offensive to the complainant, and to others, these were views he had been entitled to express.

"The article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of her religion."

Accordingly, the regulator found that Mr MacKenzie's July 18 column did not breach the discrimination clause of the Editors' Code of Practice.

It further ruled he was also not in breach of the harassment or accuracy clauses of the code.

It was found that although the matter complained of was of a sensitive nature, it was the subject of a legitimate public debate.

The finding continued: "The columnist's view that Islam is 'clearly a violent religion' was a statement of his opinion. This view, however extreme or offensive to many, did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

"The suggestion that the complainant was a 'pawn in this TV news game' was clearly conjecture, and underlined that the author's criticism was directed at Channel 4 and not at the individual newsreader."

Mr de Pear said Channel 4 News was "dismayed" by the ruling.

He said: " Whilst we agree that freedom of expression is a fundamental right, we do not believe that it should be used as a licence to incite or discriminate.

"His inflammatory comments on Fatima Manji's professional status, which were widely condemned, and his attempts to equate the wearing of a hijab with support for terrorism, have no place in a properly informed and tolerant society.

"At Channel 4 News we employ reporters based on their journalistic skills, not their ethnicity. We see no reason why a Muslim journalist should be prevented from covering any story and Fatima will continue to report and present the news on the issues of the day with impartiality and depth.

He added the programme was grateful for support shown for Ms Manji.

Mr MacKenzie said: "Channel 4 News editors were wrong to allow a reporter wearing prominent religious attire of any faith to present a story about religious extremism and mass murder.

"Rather than take responsibility for their decision, they compounded the error by making it a personal issue about a relatively junior reporter.

"As Ipso has recognised, my comments were not aimed at Ms Manji's personal beliefs or her undoubted talent as a journalist.

"The real target of my criticism is Channel 4's senior management and specifically the Editor of Channel 4 News Ben de Pear.

"I agree with de Pear that there is no reason why a Muslim should be prevented from covering any story. But there are very good arguments for why a neutral journalist of any creed should avoid wearing religious clothing on air.

"Just imagine the reaction if there was a jihadist attack in London on the scale of Nice massacre and the news was presented by someone in a hijab.

"Most fair-minded people would find it completely inappropriate and at least insensitive. The BBC recognised this problem ten years ago over Fiona Bruce wearing a barely visible crucifix.

"In the words of the press regulator, my comments were "a matter of legitimate public debate". Serious TV news programmes should be airing such debates not censoring them.

"Whether you agree with my views or not, it should be deeply troubling for anyone that a UK news broadcaster tried to silence a commentator who dared raise a concern.

"It shows yet again the arrogance and lack of judgment at Channel 4."

Press Association

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