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Fri 19 July 2019
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How much longer can our mainstream press escape the consequences of their false reporting and inflammatory rhetoric?

It’s an extraordinary moment in British politics (lost among all the other extraordinary moments in this Brexit chaos) that it takes Britain’s counter- terrorism chief, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, to point out that our newspapers help create the environment in which right-wing terrorism and Islamophobia can thrive.

After the trauma of the Christchurch terrorist attack on worshippers in two mosques, Britain’s bestselling papers were quick to blame their major social media rivals, Facebook and Google, for uploading and monetising extremist content.

But, of course, the Mail Online, Sun and Mirror all hosted clips of the horrific footage from New Zealand before many relatives had been informed of the fate of their loved ones.

For over a decade, the British tabloids – most notably the Murdoch media, the Express and the Mail Group – have demonised our Muslim communities with lurid headlines suggesting invasion, rape and violence.

Worst still is the more subtle false reporting to come out of the so called ‘quality papers’ like the Telegraph and the Times.

While free speech has to be defended, and will often cause offence, it is not the freedom to cause harm.

Last night, and into this morning, five Mosques in Birmingham were defaced and vandalised. Officers from counter-terrorism are now investigating.

We are in danger of following the path of the US where many more people have been killed by right-wing terrorism in the last 15 years than any other extremist group.

Islamophobia has spread, fed by misinformation. According to a Pew Research survey in 2016, the British public overestimates the size of the country’s Muslim population by a factor of three.

How much longer can our mainstream press escape the consequences of their false reporting and inflammatory rhetoric?

As Basu said, they are “creating a permissive environment capable of pushing the most extreme ideologues over the edge”.

While free speech has to be defended, and will often cause offence, “it is not the freedom to cause harm”.

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