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Setting press standards? Time to tackle the ‘Islamophobia’ definition

Jim McConalogue, 30 March 2020

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which was set up to regulate the vast majority of UK newspapers and magazines under the Editors’ Code of Practice, has recently been holding a review of its Code. The Code is a set of 16 clauses setting out the editorial standards – designed to balance the rights of the individual with the public’s right to know and freedom of expression.

But, what of the problematic definition of ‘Islamophobia’? How do we safeguard press freedom in relation to reporting on religion or religious groups, with particular reference to current definition of ‘Islamophobia’? The Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (FIDE) – a project of Civitas – has submitted a response to the review. After all, the term has the strong potential to be used against journalists doing unobjectionable and necessary investigative reporting on fundamental subjects such as those of Islamist extremism.

The Code itself is written, reviewed and revised by the Editors’ Code Committee. IPSO itself polices the Code, holding regulated publications accountable to standards under the system of voluntary self-regulation. So those regulated newspapers and magazines adhere to the Code by binding legal contract and agree to be held to account by the organisation.

The FIDE submission draws attention to the safeguarding of press freedom for those reporting on religion or religious groups – expressing concern for the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s definition of Islamophobia. The submission is focused on key articles of accuracy and discrimination of the Editors’ Code.

Many publications at Civitas have previously expressed concerns about the effects of that Islamophobia definition on press freedom. It is a vague and expansively interpreted definition which some have taken on without any genuine consideration of its negative consequences for freedom of expression, academic and journalistic freedom. Worse still, it has the clear potential to undermine social cohesion – turning a blind eye, rather than challenging the bigotry against Muslims which it is designed to prevent.

Given the clear sensitivities surrounding the definition and usage of ‘Islamophobia’ undermining genuine reporting on Muslims and Islam – and therefore, weakening the standing of the free press – please do read the submission to the Editors’ Code by the Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (FIDE).

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