The UK’s press watchdog has cleared Kelmin Mackenzie, former editor of The Sun, for his column questioning Channel 4 journalist Fatima Manji's right to wear a hijab while reporting the terrorist attack in Nice.
The columnist triggered a fierce controversy when he condemned the broadcaster for its choice of reporter, asking if it was “done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male-dominated and clearly violent religion?”
His inflammatory words sparked a widespread outcry. The journalist in question, Fatima Manji, launched an official complaint to the UK’s Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), which received over 1,900 complaints in response to MacKenzie’s column.
Yet, on 19 September 2016, the press watchdog dismissed the claim that MacKenzie was guilty of discrimination.
“There can be no doubt that this was deeply offensive to the complainant and caused widespread concern and distress to others,” the ruling states.
But overall, it concludes that although the article did refer to Manji and her faith, it only did so to trigger a “legitimate debate” on whether “newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols.”
“Furthermore, he was entitled to express his view that, in the context of a terrorist act which had been carried out ostensibly in the name of Islam, it was inappropriate for a person wearing Islamic dress to present coverage of the story."
Manji has described Ipso’s decision as “frightening”. In a live interview on BBC Radio 4, she argued that the decision amounts to an acceptance that it is “open season on minorities, and Muslims in particular.”
In a country that seen a 41% rise in hate crime since June, the decision is chilling, and raises serious questions about where freedom of speech ends and inciting hatred begins.
Referring to Islam as a “violent religion” or suggesting journalists should be judged by their religious allegiance, is not simply a matter of opinion. Defending herself against Mackenzie, Manji challenged the attempt to draw parallels between her own personal religion and the actions of the terrorist who killed dozens, pointing out the crucial fact that at least 30 Muslims died in the attack.
In a fair and free society, freedom of expression goes hand in hand with tolerance and diversity. Channel 4 is continuing to stand by Manji and have challenged Ipso’s decision: