Four times in 17 months Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper has libelled Muslims, writes Brian Cathcart. That should shame everyone at the paper – and their sham ‘regulator’ too

It has happened again. Rupert Murdoch’s The Times has had to apologise and pay damages for a false report about Muslims. For a newspaper that denies it is racist towards Muslims the Times finds itself in this position with remarkable frequency.   

Working backwards from the latest case, it looks like this:

April 2021: The Times apologised and paid damages and costs to Al-Khair Foundation and Imam Qasim over false allegations that the charity was involved in human trafficking.

December 2020: The Times apologised and paid damages and costs to CAGE and Moazzam Begg for falsely claiming they had given support to a man convicted of a knife attack in Reading.

July 2020: The Times apologised and paid damages and costs to a prominent Muslim banker, Sultan Choudhury OBE, for falsely suggesting that he endorsed female genital mutilation.

December 2019: The Times apologised and paid damages and costs to Abdullah Patel, a Gloucester imam, for falsely accusing him of endorsing the murder of a police officer.

Four legal humiliations of this kind in just 17 months is an astonishing record for a newspaper that purports to deliver serious journalism. And bear in mind that these all follow the UNMASKED report of June 2019, which accused the Times of having an anti-Muslim agenda and which the paper dismissed as a smear. 

It is now beyond argument that the paper has serious, systemic problems when it comes to reporting about Muslims: it does not check its facts; it does not report responsibly and – perhaps most shockingly – it refuses to learn from its mistakes, expensive though they may be. 

UNMASKED focused on chief investigative reporter Andrew Norfolk, demonstrating in considerable detail that his work had fallen well short of the standards expected of a responsible journalist. Three sets of front-page stories published over 15 months were found to be fundamentally and disgracefully wrong, and ultimate responsibility was pinned on the paper’s editor John Witherow. 

The list above confirms that the problem persists. Lives are damaged by this reckless journalism, and given how difficult and expensive it can be for ordinary citizens to gain redress, who can say how many more people have suffered silently? 

Everyone who works at the Times should be shamed and embarrassed by this. No one there can claim they operate to decent standards. 

But what’s to be done? The Times remains in arrogant denial and Rupert Murdoch is hardly likely to act, but it simply cannot be acceptable in the 21st century that this kind of conduct should continue. 

So where is the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the so-called ‘toughest regulator in the western world’? As usual, nowhere. And culpably so. 

It is striking that these complainants all got justice without help from IPSO, but it is also striking that a so-called regulator can stand back and do nothing when standards are being breached in so visible and so systemic a manner. 

When it was launched in 2014 the public was told of IPSO’s tremendous powers of investigation and sanction, which supposedly set it apart from its failed and discredited predecessor the PCC. But in nearly seven years there have been no investigations and no sanctions. 

IPSO claims it has never spotted any problem in the press serious enough to justify investigation. Four libel apologies to Muslim complainants in 17 months by a single newspaper? Once again it will look the other way. 

IPSO, after all, was designed to fail ethnic minorities by the newspapers who own it. Not only does it never investigate or fine, it also never upholds a complaint of discrimination on grounds of race. In practice, IPSO’s inaction amounts to a licence for newspapers to discriminate.  

This leaves the public only one option in the short term. Don’t buy or subscribe to The Times or any other Murdoch publication. Discourage your friends from doing so, and if you have any association with organisations that pay for advertisements in such publications, suggest they take their business elsewhere. 

Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University London and the author of ‘The Case of Stephen Lawrence’ (1999)


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