Fatima Manji's case
The Sun article questioned whether it was appropriate that Channel 4 News had permitted the terror attack in Nice to be covered by a journalist wearing the outward manifestation of the religion which the columnist associated with that attack.
In her complaint, Manji stated that "the Sun article discriminated against her on the basis of her religion. (...) It suggested that her appearance on screen wearing a hijab was as distressing as witnessing a terrorist attack, that her sympathies would lie with the terrorists because she is Muslim, that Muslims in general are terrorist sympathisers, and that she should be prevented from enjoying a career as a television news presenter on the basis of her adoption of a religious item of dress."
According to the Editors' Code of Practice, the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images; journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit; and the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
The Code does not prevent criticism of religion, or of religious conduct or choices, as this would represent an extraordinary limitation upon free speech.
In replying to Manji's complaint, The Sun claimed that the columnist had sought to avoid criticising Manji personally – "this was not about the propriety of a journalist having religious faith, but about the propriety of public figures wearing outwardly religious garments, in the context of a story with an unavoidable religious angle. (...) The column formed part of a public debate about presenters wearing symbolic items on screen, which had previously been seen in discussions about a Channel 4 presenter’s decision not to wear a poppy, and the wearing of a crucifix by a presenter on BBC News."
The Complaints Committee decided that the article set out Kelvin MacKenzie’s opinion on the hijab, Islam in general and Channel 4 News's choice of reporter. The Committee admitted that the article was deeply offensive to Manji and caused widespread concern and distress to others. It agreed that the article was highly critical of Channel 4 for permitting a newsreader to wear the hijab as it contained pejorative references to Islam.
However, the essential question for the Committee was whether those references were directed at Fatima Manji personally.
The Committee stressed that the Code prohibits prejudicial or pejorative references to an individual on account of his or her religion. But it "does not prohibit prejudicial or pejorative references to a particular religion, even though such criticism may cause distress and offence." Accordingly, the freedom of the press to engage in discussion, criticism and debate about religious ideas and practices, including the wearing of religious symbols while reading the news, should not be restricted.
According to Kelvin MacKenzie, "whatever your perspective, it is an important debate and we should not be banned from discussing it".
In the Committee’s opinion, MacKenzie "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 cover the story." MacKenzie’s article did refer to Fatima Manji, but it did so to explain what triggered the discussion about a subject of legitimate debate – whether newsreaders should be allowed to wear religious symbols.
The Committee concluded that MacKenzie’s opinions were offensive to Manji and others, but that MacKenzie had been entitled to express them.
The article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to Manji on the grounds of her religion, according to the Committee's conclusion; therefore, the publication of the article did not amount to harassment because it concerned a matter of legitimate public debate.
Finally, the claim that Islam is "clearly a violent religion" was a statement of MacKenzie’s opinion. Irrespective of how extreme or offensive this view is, the IPSO decided that it did not breach the Code (the accuracy clause).