Sunday, 27 March 2016

Sun's story about Muslims 'seriously misleading' rules press regulator

The Sun newspaper’s front page story claiming that 1-in-5 Muslims had sympathy with ISIS was ‘seriously misleading’.

The press regulator, IPSO, ordered The Sun to publish a retraction on their page two yesterday.  This they did, but The Sun has still not apologised for their inaccurate report.

IPSO received a record number of complaints against The Sun’s report of last November, which claimed that, "nearly one in five British Muslims has some sympathy with those who had fled the UK to fight for Isis in Syria".

The Sun had commissioned pollsters Survation to carry out the poll. 

But IPSO ruled that The Sun “had failed to take appropriate care in its presentation of the poll results.” 

Subsequently, concluded the press regulator, “the coverage was significantly misleading.”

IPSO adjudicated that The Sun’s report broke Clause 1, regarding accuracy, of their Code of Practice.

Explained a spokesperson for IPSO: 
"The newspaper had provided various interpretations of the poll result which conflated important distinctions between those travelling to Syria and those already fighting in Syria; between 'sympathy' for these individuals and 'support for their actions; and between individuals attracted by the ideology of Isis, and the ideology of Isis itself.”
IPSO also upheld a complaint about the headline of an article in The Times which reported the Sun's survey with the headline "One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis".

The Mail Online also copied The Sun’s report but withdrew it from their online newspaper when it became clear that The Sun’s story was wrong.

IPSO received a record 3,000 complaints against The Sun’s front page report, which was published following the attacks by ISIS in Paris last November. 

A large number of the complaints raised objections that The Sun’s report discriminated against Muslims. The press regulator, however, was unable to consider those complaints. That’s because clause 12 of IPSO’s code of practice only considers discrimination if an individual is actually named.

Explained the regulator:
“The article under complaint did not include pejorative or prejudicial reference to any individual. The terms of Clause 12 were therefore not engaged.”
It was clear that The Sun’s report was wrong the moment it was published. Survation, the company commissioned by The Sun to carry out the survey, had to issue a statement to say that The Sun misinterpreted their survey:
“Survation do not support or endorse the way in which this poll’s findings have been interpreted. Neither the headline nor the body text of articles published were discussed with or approved by Survation prior to publication.”
YouGov, the Sun’s usual pollster, said that it refused to do the poll for the Sun. It explained that it could not be confident that it could accurately represent the British Muslim population within the timeframe and budget set by The Sun.

The Survation poll for The Sun asked 1,000 Muslims in Great Britain how much sympathy they had, “with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”.

The problem with the Sun’s interpretation of this poll is that people travelling to Syria are not necessarily going to fight on the side of jihadis. There have been high-profile examples of British people going to fight on the side of, for instance, the Kurds, who are fighting against Isis.

Muslims going to fight against ISIS have been described as “heroes” in the national press, and so it should not be assumed that all Muslims going to Syria are fighting for ISIS.

Another problem with The Sun’s report is that their survey didn't actually ask whether people supported ISIS, or even jihadis. Subsequently, The Sun’s survey did not say what the Sun reported it did.

Alarm was also expressed that Survation allegedly chose respondents for their survey by simply calling people who had "Muslim sounding surnames". Other pollsters have claimed that this method wouldn't necessarily result in a "representative sample of the British Muslim population."

Dr Maria Sobolewska, a Manchester University academic of polling techniques, told the Independent that, “public opinion polls have no value for estimating the number of prospective and likely extremists and terrorists”.

Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said that, “Many Muslims will find this poll hard to believe.” 

He said that the vast majority of British Muslims abhorred terrorism and added that:
“The grand strategy of Daesh (ISIS) is to divide our communities and stoke fear between communities. We should not play their game.”
Indeed, numerous reports have confirmed that ISIS actually wants an increase in hatred of Muslims. 

Commented Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who studies how people become terrorists. 
“This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims
“Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam."
Concurred an editorial in America’s ‘The Nation’ newspaper:
“The terror group has been quite clear that its strategy is to eliminate what it calls the ‘grayzone’ where Muslims and non-Muslims live in harmony. It aims to provoke Western governments into clamping down on their own Muslim populations, the better to drive them into ISIS’s arms.”
Don’t The Sun and other British newspapers realise that?

Such a concern, however, does not come within the remit of the press regulator, which explained in their ruling:
“There will be those who firmly believe that conducting and reporting a poll of this nature was in itself distasteful or socially harmful; such concerns do not constitute a possible breach of the Code. The newspaper was entitled to commission the poll, and it had used a reputable polling company to do so.”
Of course, commissioning the poll was one thing; misreporting it was another. What was the agenda of The Sun in doing that, since their inaccurate report couldn't have been a simple journalistic mistake?

 Jon Danzig's original blog on The Sun report: 'Are some newspapers stirring up trouble?'

Other articles by Jon Danzig:


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