“David Yelland, Tom Watson, Jo Brand, Vince Cable and I” sounds like the start of a story from an after dinner gig – but they are the esteemed company that I now keep by delivering this lecture, the fifth Leveson Lecture. They have all shrewdly and brilliantly shed light on press reform, and they did it very much in the thoughtful and open-minded spirit of Sir Brian Leveson’s report.
I am very conscious that they are hard acts to follow.
And as I was working on this talk a few days ago, worried whether I should have accepted your invitation to deliver this lecture, I was distracted by another event that was taking place.
No I wasn’t tracking Priti Patel’s plane back from Africa along with thousands of other people. I was watching the Prime Minister and others pay homage at a party to celebrate Paul Dacre’s 25 years at the Daily Mail. I tried to find the words that evening to express my disgust – I could not, so I will simply quote my colleague, Andrew, Lord Cooper:
“The Prime Minister attending the *celebration* of the repulsive Paul Dacre’s 25 years as editor of the disgusting Daily Mail is another depressing sign of the sickness at the heart of UK politics & the Tory Party weakly traipsing towards the edge of a cliff”
Now Either Andrew is very right and brave or that is a spoof twitter account that I have just quoted from.
But their evening was about the past. And tonight is about the future.
So it is a great honour to be here and a privilege to be associated in this way with the Leveson process.
Like you I followed the public sessions of the inquiry with amazement and sometimes with horror, and like so many others I felt deep admiration for those people who had experienced dreadful abuse and were ready to come forward and tell their shocking stories in public.
Some of them are here tonight and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for what they did.
It is frustrating that, five years after Sir Brian Leveson’s report, his recommendations have yet to be fully implemented. In that famous ‘last chance saloon’ there are still a few drinkers clinging to the bar, but it is by their fingertips and It is only a matter of time before this issue of press regulation that we’ve tried and tried and failed and failed to resolve for the last seventy years has to be faced and fixed.
Ladies and gentleman it always astonishes me that those that shout the loudest about Political Correctness gone mad are also the ones that engage in the most vile morally incorrect comments. Those that bemoan Leveson and predict the end of press freedom seem also to be those who despite all the exposed bad behaviour on hacking and invasion of people’s lives have found another form of bad behavior to engage in – preaching hate.
And that is my subject tonight.
Because hate, ladies and gentlemen, can be preached in papers as well as from pulpits. Preaching hate, hate speech, may seem strong terms, but I believe it is an accurate description of what we are seeing in parts of our national press almost every day.
I recognize hate when I see it. Growing up I was subjected to it, “paki bashing” wasn’t a socially uncomfortable word. It was a lived experience. As a lawyer I’ve prosecuted it, and taken instructions from those that have engaged in it, and as a woman I’ve challenged it and as a Muslim in Britain 2017 it’s once more a daily reality.
In sections of our press it is relentless and deliberate. Steadily and methodically using paper inches and columns to create, feed and ratchet up suspicions and hostilities in our society, driving communities apart and creating untold – and unnecessary – fear and distress.
Poisoning our public discourse, making it almost impossible to have sensible discussions about the real challenges, crowding out tolerance, reason and understanding. And this drip, drip, approach creates a toxic environment where hate crime is the highest it’s been since records began.
But for many of you this is not breaking news. It’s evidence Sir Brian Leveson heard in the course of his inquiry – on subjects such as discrimination, incitement to hatred and inaccuracies relating to race and religion, the evidence was pretty shocking. Let me quote Leveson. There was, he said,
‘a significant tendency within the press which leads to the publication of prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental illness or disability’.
That’s plain language. ‘A significant tendency.’
And since those words were written it has become far worse. A significant tendency has become something of an obsession. Hate speech in the press has become a plague, an epidemic. Ways of expression that I thought we had left behind with Enoch Powell in the 1960s are now the new normal.
Women, the disabled, refugees, the LGBT community, BAME none are beyond the wrath of the hateful write up but I am sure few would dispute that Muslims are now their principal targets. This is true not just of two or three notorious dailies, but also of papers some still regard as responsible and ethical. Anti Muslim hate speech is becoming a regular feature even in the more “respectable” parts of the press and that’s why it’s becoming more dangerous.
In 2011 I said “Islamaphobia has passed the dinner table test”, found in the most respectable of settings I was derided by many in the press. I had touched a nerve, it was their dinner tables. It’s since become far worse.
Islamophobia is Britain’s latest bigotry blind spot.
It’s where the respectable rationalise bigotry, couch it in intellectual argument and present it as public interest or honest opinion that allows the rot of xenophobia to set in and starts to destroy society.
Allow me to cite a few examples.
The Sun’s front page from the 23rd of November 2015 was as shocking as anything that the Leveson Inquiry heard about. “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis.’ It was shocking first of all because it was a lie. The survey they relied upon did not say that, as was swiftly pointed out by those who had read the story closely. Eventually, and in a rare development, even the polling company distanced itself from what was said.
But the Sun wanted to believe it, true or not, and so the figures were made to suit the message.
Now it was bad enough, you may say, for the biggest-selling newspaper in the country to devote its front page to encouraging a false and derogatory idea about Britain’s three million Muslims. But for me it was the timing that was the most shocking.
This was just over a week after we had seen the Paris terror attacks in which more than 100 people had died. Europe was anxious and on high alert, and a huge international manhunt was under way. In these moments I know, and every Muslim knows, that suspicion increases and abuse and physical attacks increase. Innocent people suffer. They are spurned and spat upon in our streets. And sometimes much worse, as police figures about hate crime testify.
Yet it was at precisely this time that the Sun saw fit to tell its readers – again, falsely – that a fifth of our Muslims sympathise with the kind of people who carried out the Paris outrages.
If the editor of the Sun had been looking for the best way to incite hatred and actual violence, he could not have done it any better.
Sadly the Sun has developed a long record of such behaviour. The attack on the broadcaster Fatima Manji, when the paper again encouraged the idea that Muslims by definition were potential terrorists and therefore could not be trusted.
And more recently another columnist on the paper was happy to adopt the language of Hitler, announcing that Britain needed to tackle, in capital letters, The Muslim Problem. Where every Muslim is presented as a threat a problem, where group accountability is promoted, where individuals are dehumanized by being presented as a false homogenous block and then labelled as the other then that ladies and gentlemen, is hate speech.
Let me turn to that other favorite of those in this room the Daily Express. The
relentlessness of anti Muslim interspersed with anti immigrant / anti refugee front pages is exhausting.
“Muslim schools ban our culture
One in 5 Brits will be Ethnics
Muslims tell Britain to go to hell
Fury at the police in Burkhas”
And on and on.
But worryingly whilst the Sun and the Express are familiar suspects in this area, it does not stop with that sort of paper.
And Many of you will recall the recent report in the Times headlined: ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’.
This was a supposedly serious paper reporting on a serious issue. One involving a vulnerable child. As anyone who is familiar with public and private care proceedings will tell you taking children from their natural parents and placing them in care is a detailed and complex process, but even before we could delve into the detail of this case what The Time was doing was willfully sending a message to its readers that Muslims are frightening people with whom Christian children are not safe. It pandered to bigoted stereotypes, was extraordinarily irresponsible and most shockingly was untrue.
The paper claimed that it was concerned in general about children being fostered by families of different cultures, but even in its own story it accepted that this happens far more often to children from minority backgrounds.
And so choosing to highlight this case, when it knew otherwise , the Times gave itself away. What shocked the Times, or at least what it hoped would shock its readers, was the idea of a white Christian girl being cared for by Muslims.
The Times chose to highlight an instance of cross-cultural fostering where the child was white, even though it knew that it was far more common for it to happen to non-white children. For the Times, clearly, it is intrinsically more concerning that a white child should be with Muslim foster parents than the other way around.
And that, for me, is an expression of hatred, and it is also the encouragement of hatred. It is hate speech.
We have since learned that the story contained a catalogue of factual errors from the allegation around no English being spoken by the foster parents, to the removal of the crucifix, to the ban on carbonara to the use of a photo of a woman in a burkha, the list goes on, errors which have not been corrected.
And More worryingly is not the factual errors but the omissions that were included in the story to allow it to be presented in a distorted way.
Andrew Norfolk gave the child a simple cultural identity – white, Christian, English-speaking and with a British passport – and yet this is not the full picture. The child has dual nationality, has lived abroad, perhaps until quite recently, and although she was christened by some accounts she has never regularly attended church. Her maternal grandparents (who are her only known grandparents) are Muslims who pray at home. All of this detail was excluded.
Norfolk wrote of the child being ‘taken from her family and forced to live with a Niqab-wearing foster carer’ and of the mother being ‘horrified’ by this. He did not explain that the child was removed from her mother by police as an emergency measure, because of urgent concerns that she (the child) was at risk. Nor did he mention that there were ‘issues around the mother’s possible drug and alcohol use’, or that she has been subject to a criminal charge.
Include these details and you have a story that is much more complex and less surprising, but which also does not fit the neat cultural model presented. The Times knew the circumstances, but claims to have withheld details from the readers to protect the girl’s anonymity. I do not accept that.
At best Norfolk failed to research and verify, at worst he deliberately misled. Good journalists verify, and he should have done so. The Times has complained that everything in the story was put to the council, which refused to comment. The Times must have known that on 29 August, the day after it published, there would be a case hearing at which it was entitled to be present and where it could not fail to learn more. If it had waited, in other words, it would probably have got a fuller, fairer picture. But maybe it was a picture that the Times did not want.
These are individual stories but allow me to give you a broader picture.
The statistics and research are deeply disturbing.
Let me quote a few-
Media representations of Muslims are overwhelmingly negative.
For every 1 ‘moderate’ Muslim mentioned, 21 examples of ‘extremist’ Muslims mentioned in the media.
Headlines are purposefully divisive and juxtapose ‘Muslims’ against ‘Britons’- the Us and Them narrative is frequently put out there.
“The British press most frequently positions Islam and Muslims in stories or contexts that relate to conﬂict.”
Research into one week’s news coverage on Muslims showed that only 4% of the 352 articles studied were positive.
In a study of 200,000 newspaper articles, references to Muslim hero(es) were identified only 39 times, brave Muslim(s) was found on 20 occasions and honest Muslim(s) just 6 times out of 20000, and Kind Muslim(s) was not found anywhere in the corpus.
And a poll conducted for the Runnymede Trust found that 78% of respondents believed that media coverage of British ethnic minorities promotes racism.
If the issue makes for grim reading the consequences of such stories are even more stark.
Firstly its about protection. Going back to first principles. The first role of government is to protect its citizens. To quote Leveson, journalists have ‘wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people’. In a modern society that is unacceptable. We cannot leave innocent people, sometimes entire minority communities, exposed to such abuse. We would not do so in any other walk of life.
Second, it is about protecting society and enabling the best democratic discussion. We need the information that is given to the public to be accurate, otherwise our public debates are poisoned by falsehoods. In this sense, addressing inaccuracy in news publishing the the most important thing that we can do, because all the other debates – about Brexit, immigration, crime, education, health, defence, poverty – all of them, are being poisoned by false and inaccurate information. So journalists, editors and news publishers need to be properly (independently and effectively) accountable for what they publish.
Newspapers like to insist that certain standards of behaviour should be expected of people in the public eye. They certainly hold those of us in politics to account and so they should. But if they demand standards then they too should abide by some especially publications like The Times.
Because when the likes of the Times lowers its standards it gives license to others to go even lower. And that is what happened in this particular foster case . The Times’s message was instantly amplified most notably by the Daily Mail, in even cruder terms. More hate speech, worse language, on more front pages, reaching more people.
I have mentioned the way that hate speech poisons public discourse. Colleagues in the Palace of Westminster, even ex ministers Robert Halfon and Shaikesh Vara gave comments to the press off the back of that article. They shared and amplified the shock that the Times intended – at least until something more like the truth began to emerge.
And the twitter sphere was awash with hateful speech.
Let us be very clear about what is happening. Editors are seizing on every opportunity they can find to vilify and marginalise a substantial minority of their fellow-citizens. To make all Muslims appear dangerous and threatening by virtue of our shared faith identity. This is deliberate and it is dangerous.
So bear with me whilst I tell you a little bit about British Muslims.
They, we, are not a monolithic block.
Some are black, some two-thirds are various shades of brown, many are oriental and, yes, some are even white. They originate from all corners of the world, including the continent of Africa and the European mainland, with ancestry which traces back to ancient civilisations in South and Central Asia and Persia; some are simply descendants of your bog-standard Anglo-Saxon.
Some are old, but most are young: a third are under the age of fifteen. They are male, female and transgender; they are straight, gay and bisexual. They are monogamous, polygamous, and some, like the rest of the population, simply sleep around.
Some wear clothing that shrouds from head to toe whilst others insist their ankles are always bare. Many believe that knee-length is modest enough, whilst some are daring enough to flash a little of thigh. Some wear a nikaab (full face veil), some a hijab (headscarf), some a dupatta Benazir Bhutto style: some prefer a bandana or even a half-shaved head. Some show neck, others tease with a little glimpse of cleavage, and some let it all hang out.
They shop at Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, watch for deals at Lidl and Netto; the posh ones even go to Waitrose, whilst the busy and tech-savvy use Ocado. Some even buy their meat there, whilst others insist on Mr Ali, the halal butcher. Some only trust their cousin brother the kosher butcher to guarantee halal. They love a good bargain, are fans of BOGOF; the young adore the voucher websites.
They choose private schools and grammar schools and fight like mad for good state-school places. Some get fed up with bad schools, and start free schools and faith schools and some even home school. Some attend the mosque five times a day, others once a day, some only on Fridays and some only as a tourist when they visit exotic Muslim lands abroad.
Some use the Christmas break to go on pilgrimage to Mecca because the Saudi weather is at its best; others throw the biggest Christmas parties – tree, crackers and all – and those who don’t celebrate Christmas still have turkey over the festive period. Many use Easter to justify ditching the ‘no chocolate’ diet, some even give up coffee for Lent in solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters, and those who don’t do any of the above still love a great bonfire and fireworks, we are as fascinated with explosives as the rest of Britain.
Some are writers and campaigners for free speech, others just read. Some read half a dozen languages, most read at least two, and a very small number can’t read at all.
Most speak up to three languages and listen to music in many more. Some act, play instruments, sing and dance. Some denounce fun, and some, like most Brits, have two left feet.
Most worry about job prospects, the housing ladder and finding a compatible other. They use dating sites – singlemuslim.com does a roaring trade – some rely on friends and family to arrange a match. They fall in love, they marry, they divorce. Some are divorce lawyers and judges, some accountants and lots are doctors, and those that aren’t wish they were. They make pizza better than Italians, stir-fry better than the Chinese and sell Bengali food as Indian; one even baked a cake for Her Majesty the Queen. They drive taxis and tubes and buses, they collect your bins and they sweep the streets. They teach your kids, they cure the sick, the fix your teeth, they bank your money and fix your central heating. They police our streets, they gather intelligence both at home and abroad to keep us safe and for over a hundred years they’ve been giving their blood and sweat in our armies to defend the values we all hold dear.
They are boy-band heartthrobs and excel in Great British Bake Offs; they run faster than the world and win Olympic golds; they are football heroes and cricket legends; they are elected as members of parliament and members of their Lordships’ house, and one of them is the most influential person in London, our main man, the mayor.
British Muslims are everywhere, all 3 million of them and counting.
And of this 3 million, less than a tenth of 1 per cent over my lifetime have wanted to cause us, all of us, some really serious harm.
I needed to get that off of my chest.
And, yes, some are very devout, pious and deeply thoughtful, although these is no correlation between these types and lengths of beards or headscarfs. And some are very, very conservative, rejecting musical instruments like the Church of Christ, wearing clothes that seem to belong to foreign lands, like Haredi Jews, holding deeply illiberal views on homosexuality like some Evangelical Christians and Baptists, and having the potential to be deeply sectarian, like supporters of the two Old Firm Clubs, Celtic and Rangers.
Most of us simply just want to get on with our lives. We love Britain; it’s where most were born and the only home we know, and we continue to choose it as home. We enjoy our faith and the principles, practices, culture and community that it inspires. We haven’t quite worked out how we’ve managed to get into this mess where we have become the bogeymen of the far right, the media and the government. Most of us are like rabbits caught in headlights, staring, waiting, frozen, still not sure how to react. And most of us dread breaking news and front page headlines in the Daily Mail. We just want to wake up to a news day which is not another bad-news day about bad Muslims; we want to stop being held collectively responsible for the actions of terrorists across the world and want someone to switch off the bright, glaring, ginormous LED spotlight that seems to follow us everywhere.
We have our own dazzling diversity, in the midst of an even more dazzling and wonderful diversity of the United Kingdom.
And the rest of us need to acknowledge what British Muslim already know : that substantial parts of our national press are actively hostile . that they do not hesitate to demean, misrepresent, vilify and lie, that Muslims are their favourite whipping boys. British citizens not just seen as second-class citizens but seen as the Enemy Within.
Resentment is couched in fear and a community confined to a kind of moral ghetto.
Shockingly these individuals run or help to run our biggest newspapers, so they have an extraordinary platform to pursue their ends.
Many of you will have read about the new George Orwell memorial outside the BBC’s headquarters, just a couple of streets from here. It carries the fine quotation: ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.’
That argument is often used in the press as an excuse for hate speech. Now I don’t know what Orwell himself would have thought about this, but here is what I think.
By all means, tell communities what they would rather not hear, providing it is true. Providing you have checked it Providing you have verified it.Far too often what is written about Muslims in this country is simply untrue.
And yes, by all means rock the boat of public opinion, but think before you do it. This is not a game. Journalists have a vital role to play in our society, they have a right to report and challenge but it is not a right to victimise and not a right to bully.
Innocent people suffer from this hate speech the drip, drip, drip of daily poisonous headlines playing out as daily low-level abuse on our streets.
I am convinced that no reasonable person, no one who cares about life in this country, believes that this hate speech in our national press is harmless. I believe, that it does more to encourage intolerance, abuse and violence against Muslims than anything else.
So why is it happening?
A cynic will answer – and that cynic will probably be right, to a degree – that it sells newspapers and generates clicks online. In other words that this is commerce at work.
Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, has spoken in the past of what he thinks successful editors give their readers – they ‘make them laugh, make them cry or make them angry’.
Making people angry gives these papers energy and impact. Anger sells, hate sells.
At worst it is deliberate at best it is ignorance. Surveys tell us that 94 per cent of our journalists are white, a figure that is all the more extraordinary when you consider how much of their industry is concentrated here in London, where about 40 per cent of the population is not white.
I won’t speculate here about this remarkable mismatch, but I will say this. Not only would their journalism look very different if they employed a few more from the communities they write about but they might learn and reporting may become informed.
But there is another reason why this is happening, and it is, in a way, what brings us all together here tonight.
It is happening because it can. Hatred, cruelty and abuse by national newspapers prevails when citizens are powerless, unable to defend and protect themselves.
This was supposed to be fixed five years ago, but yet it has not been so.
Perhaps the most quoted line of the Leveson Report was the conclusion that national newspapers had ‘wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people’. A modern, civilised society cannot tolerate that.
Our political parties came together in 2013 and agreed a way of delivering Leveson’s careful recommendations.
There was a Royal Charter, whose terms matched the recommendations virtually word for word. There was a clause in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act which made it much harder for any future government to tinker with the Royal Charter. And then there were clauses in the Crime and Courts Act. All of this was approved overwhelmingly by both Houses of Parliament, with all of the political parties in support.
These measures were designed to stop the wreaking of havoc in innocent lives. and to redress the balance of power between citizens and newspapers.
The whole of the non-broadcast news publishing industry was to be bought into the modern world of effective, independent regulation. And very importantly the reforms were meant to give everyone access to justice when news publishers breached their rights.
All this, without impinging on freedom of expression. Indeed Sir Brian Leveson found ways of actually enhancing the freedom that journalists have to investigate and report.
And We all know what happened, and as a politician I will put my hands up and say that the political class failed, and in particular my own party, the Conservatives failed more-so. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, the motor that was to drive the whole Leveson machine, remains on the shelf.
The consequences of this are dire, and I believe that over the past couple of years they have come to be felt most directly and most painfully by British Muslims.
In my real world away from Parliament with real people, friends and family, they are shocked when they see the vile headlines, questioning whether the Press are really allowed to do this?’ The answer is yes they are. Without Section 40 our libel laws protect only those with the means to sue. For the ordinary Brit there is no effective regulation of news publishers and this is one of the great injustices, and one of the great political failures, of our time.
Access to justice was at the core of the Leveson recommendations. He wanted everybody to be able to defend their reputation. If you had a viable complaint against a news publisher, he said, it should not matter whether you are a millionaire or a mill worker. You should have justice.
So he proposed low-cost arbitration. Anybody should be able to defend their reputation where they had a decent case, at the cost of only a small administration fee – a couple of hundred pounds rather than a couple of hundred thousand.
And Leveson foresaw that some papers, by their own choice, might refuse to let complainants go to arbitration – so forcing them to go to the courts. When that happens, he said, it is only fair that newspapers should normally have to pay the complainants’ legal bills.
Newspapers complain that this is unfair but is it?
What is unfair about embracing arbitration especially when it will save them an awful lot of money too. In Yorkshire we like ideas that save money.
And yet the papers have fought this change and I am sorry to say that, so far, my party has let them have their way. And although we have a new Libel Act, its protection extends to only a tiny fraction of the population – the well resourced and the fortunate.
Or to view it another way, editors and journalists know that they are usually free to libel ordinary people. Its why we see so many cruel and dishonest reports in our newspapers and online.
Another important reason as I’ve said is the absence of effective regulation. And This brings me to IPSO.
There is another great line in the Leveson Report, where he reviews the history of press regulation in this country. And He talks about ‘a pattern of cosmetic reform’.
I recommend you read or re-read these passages of his report. The way in which, over the years, the press industry has responded to public discontent about their self-regulation would be funny if it was not so awful.
It is also remarkably ingenious.
And the best proof that the reforms are only ever cosmetic is that after 70 years of ducking and weaving, when we have reached the point where industry chiefs tell us they have created ‘the toughest press regulator in the western world’, we have IPSO.
Where do I begin?
IPSO supposedly has powers to fine news publishers up to £1 million, but strikingly, after more than three years it has still to find anything going on in the entire British press to justify even a £100 fine.
It supposedly has powers to force papers to print front-page corrections and apologies when they commit front-page code breaches. That’s something you might think is pretty basic, not just as a sanction or punishment but also so that readers who saw the story on the front page see the correction on the frontpage too.
But no, IPSO doesn’t require front-page corrections, at least not in the national press. Instead it allows them to be buried deeply inside. It is absurdly proud that it has, on a very few occasions, persuaded papers to put an obscure little trailer for an adjudication on the front page, and feels that it’s done its job.
How bad does it have to be for IPSO to be moved to order one of the daily usual suspects to print a proper front-page correction. If what we’ve seen is not bad enough, then I genuinely dread the story that will one day be bad enough to provoke IPSO.
The cosmetics don’t end there. IPSO supposedly has powers to investigate, but again, amazingly, it can’t seem to see anything worth investigating. Let’s just think about that. IPSO has been around for about three years, through two elections and a referendum, Brexit, fake news and terror alerts and whole lot more. And in These years with an onslaught of hate speech of a kind that I don’t think has any precedent in modern history.
But in all of this IPSO has not spotted anything it considers worth investigating. It apparently has little anxiety about press standards.
And then there is the handling of complaints – a whole other minefield.
If you complain about an inaccuracy you will find that in the first instance what concerns IPSO is not the inaccuracy, not the potential breach of their code of practice, but who you are. Are you the right person to point out that inaccuracy?
Pass that test and your complaint will probably be considered, but bear in mind that it will be considered by a body that does not meet the standards of independence spelled out as necessary by Sir Brian Leveson.
Think about that. A judge at a public inquiry defined the standards of independence that were necessary to protect the public, deliver fair outcomes and command public confidence. And the industry rejected it. The industry claims that it knows better than the judge how to set up a regulator that is independent of the industry.
Now let’s say that you are lucky, and that your complaint is so unanswerable it is actually upheld even by the insufficiently independent IPSO. Undoubtedly you have achieved something but with limited satisfaction.
First, months have probably passed, so a correction is unlikely to have much impact. Second, what form will it take and where will it appear? Third, will the adjudication in any way alter the future behaviour of the editor? Will he or she learn from the mistake? Or be deterred from repeating it?
The answer was best expressed by the editor of the Sun himself, just after he had been found by IPSO to have published a misleading story across his front page. He announced on Radio 4: ’I don’t think, were I doing this again tomorrow, I would act in any way differently whatsoever.’
Just think about that. He and his paper insist to the public that IPSO is both independent and effective, but he is happy to publicly reject its findings and announce he will do the same again.
A regulator is meant to uphold standards. To do that it must halt sub-standard behaviour. It must correct wrongdoing. It must change the way in which organisations which fail are conducting themselves. IPSO does not and can not do that.
On the issue of discrimination IPSO has a very worthy sounding clause in its code, Clause 12, with its sweeping references to ‘race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and physical or mental illness or disability’.
And yet it is striking that, to date, IPSO has only ever upheld one complaint about discrimination. Ladies and Gentlemen in three years it has spotted just one instance in the entire British press.
This is partly because the wording is very artful, allowing complaints of discrimination only against individuals, not groups. In 2016, rejecting a complaint that the Daily Express’s coverage of migrants was discriminatory, IPSO declared that Clause 12 was not relevant because the coverage was not about an individual migrant.
As the academics Martin Moore and Gordon Ramsay remarked in their study of this problem:
‘It is hard to see when the Code could identify discrimination against nationalities or minority groups. Indeed, arguably the Code gives license to general discrimination by explicitly excluding it from its definition.’
Think about that. It could be argued that the code actually licenses discrimination.
I agree we must protect people not the faith, no faith should be above criticism and question. But these simple lines are increasingly blurred when it comes to the vilification of Muslims. If newspapers on a daily basis present individuals as a block and malign the block then this is not criticism of a faith it is the incitement of hatred towards individuals.
For British Muslims, who are bearing the brunt of a fierce hate speech assault, this is demoralising.
As they endure this plague of hate speech the libel law is out of reach and the regulator is useless. There is no redress, no way of stopping it, still less of calling the perpetrators to account.
Let me leave you on a more optimistic note- What can we do now?
First, I believe that the government, which has been considering the future of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act for some time, should commence it forthwith.
They must face down newspaper propaganda on this issue. The only freedom they stand to lose is the freedom to abuse, and they only risk costs penalties in court if they try to deny justice to people with complaints. We must end the era of sycophantic worship of newspapers who may throw us the crumbs of a supportive headline and a front page at election time.
But the commencement of Section 40 even if the government agrees to commence it, of which there is no certainty, is only a system of incentives. It will take time to work, and change will probably be slow in coming. We can be sure that the people who run the big papers will continue to drag their heels.
Hate speech is blighting the lives of our fellow citizens. It’s an issue we must act on now. We can not and must not wait. We need to get a full measure of the problem and we must do so now. Tonight you have heard what I think; let us get other views, information and ideas out into the open.
Let us hear what the press have to say, not only in defence of what is published, but also about matters such as diversity in their newsrooms. We also need to hear from the experts – yes, those pesky experts – the academics, think tanks and pressure groups. And vitally, we need to hear from the victims.
This work is sadly not within the remit of Leveson Part 2 – and by the way, let me say that the sooner that begins the better.
IPSO could not conduct such an investigation. Nor could it be trusted to do so.
I believe that the most timely and most effective way to tackle the plague of hate speech that is driving communities apart and poisoning our public discourse is an early inquiry by the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs.
I have written to the chair of that committee, Yvette Cooper MP, to ask her to consider this. I dearly hope that she will support this proposal, as I hope many others will, and as I hope you will too.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very grateful to you for listening tonight. These are issues close to my heart and it is great to have had this opportunity to talk about them in this company, and on this special occasion.
Right now it feels dark, but its always the darkest just before light breaks. Things will change and until they do we can not rest. Thank you.