Elham Asaad Buaras
Kelvin MacKenzie, former Editor of The Sun, has come under heavy criticism for arguing that a hijab wearing Muslim journalist should not have fronted Channel 4 News’ coverage of the Nice terror attack. Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow called him a “bigoted fellow”.
The article, which had prompted over 1,700 complaints to the press watchdog the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), said that it was not appropriate for a ‘young lady wearing a hijab’ to cover the killing of over 80 people by a Muslim.
Writing in his column on July 18 titled, ‘Why did Channel 4 have a presenter in a hijab fronting coverage of Muslim terror in Nice?’ MacKenzie argued Fatima Manji anchoring the story was somehow too close for comfort.
He asked if it was “appropriate” for Manji “to be on camera when there had been yet another shocking slaughter by a Muslim? ”
Despite acknowledging the fact Manji has been as a broadcaster for four years and was scheduled to anchor that on that day MacKenzie suggested Channel 4 should have appeased anti-Muslims who he said represent the “ordinary viewer”.
“Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male- dominated and clearly violent religion?,” he asks.
He not only suggests that Manji should have been kept off air but so should her employer. “It is coverage like this that raises a question mark over the future of Channel Four,” wrote Mackenzie, adding he hopes “the new Culture Secretary [gets rid of the broadcaster] ”.
Manji penned her rebuttal in the Liverpool Echo, where she argued Mackenzie’s offence at her doing her job is a smearing of “1.6 billion Muslims in suggesting they are inherently violent. He has attempted to smear half of them further by suggesting they are helpless slaves. And he has attempted to smear me by suggesting I would sympathise with a terrorist.”
She also said that it would be “dangerous” to regard MacKenzie and his supporters “as mere pantomime villains”.
“Their soapbox allows them to spread their ill-informed, irresponsible and malevolent invective to millions of readers. Racist and Islamophobic rhetoric has real consequences – lives have been lost and shattered in our own country.”
She also reminded readers that Mackenzie has a history with Channel 4 News, most famously over the lies published about the Hillsborough tragedy while he was Editor of The Sun.
“It took him 23 years to apologise and four more to claim he was ‘caught up’ in a government conspiracy to tarnish Hillsborough victims, only after being confronted by brave campaigners and responsible journalists, including my Channel 4 News colleague Alex Thomson and the tireless team at the Liverpool Echo,” wrote Manji.
Manji spoke of “kind messages from friends, colleagues, acquaintances and even those I have never met, expressing solidarity and anger at his words.”
The National Union of Journalists defended Manji. Its General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, said: “To suggest that a journalist is incapable of reporting on a terrorist outrage because of the colour of her skin, her religion or the clothes that she wears says all you need to know about the contemptible views of Kelvin MacKenzie.”
Adding that, “His feigned moral outrage is the language of racial hatred and bigotry, and sadly just the latest incoherent ramblings of a pundit who should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. Journalism in the UK needs more diversity, not less.”
Among the many journalists to voice their dismay is senior live blogger for The Guardian Claire Phipps who reminded Mackenzie that Manji was merely doing her job “and she’s bloody good at it”.
A baffled former literary editor of The Australian Miriam Cosic asked, “Why did The Sun pose such a silly question about a colleague’s regular job? #journalism #islam”. A question echoed by Labour MP for Ilford North and Treasury Select Committee member, Wes Streeting, who tweeted “Why is this even a thing? Oh, Kelvin MacKenzie.”
Big Questions and BBCRadio5Live presenter Nicky Campbell called the column “extraordinary”, while Labour’s Deputy Chair, Jonathan Ashworth MP went further calling it “vile”.
Clearly enraged The Independent’s political correspondent, Jon Stone asked, “what the f#@k is this racist garbage”.
In the House of Commons, Shadow Secretary for Education and Women and Equalities, Angela Rayner, asked Education, and Women and Equalities Secretary, Justine Greening regarding the Islamophobic article: “I was dismayed and upset by The Sun columnist, Kelvin Mckenzie’s disgraceful Islamophobic attack on the Channel 4 news presenter, Fatema Manji. Will the minister join me in making it clear that all parties in this house regard those comments as totally unacceptable and that being the case will the minister also join me in urging Mr Mckenzie to make a full public apology and urge The Sun and other media to be more responsible in who and what they allow on their media outlets.”
Greening replied: “This isn’t the first time Mr Mckenzie has written and said things that are deeply controversial and to many people in our country feel deeply offensive. Frankly I think it is for him how he wants to respond to the wave of criticism he’s received since writing that article. From my perspective, I’m proud that we live in a country where men and women are equal and that includes women having the right to be able to wear what they want and to be able to get on in their jobs, what they want to be able to wear, that includes newscasters and journalists in my view. So we need to make sure that we have some kind of consensus around not rising to the bait of people like Kelvin Mckenzie and I hope that we can frankly give his comments the derision that they deserve.”
However, Greening did not even acknowledge that this was an Islamophobic attack!
Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, said: “The Minister has put the a in his place pretty comprehensively.”
In a statement to The Muslim News, Channel 4 News spokeswoman said MacKenzie’s comments “are offensive, completely unacceptable, and arguably tantamount to inciting religious and even racial hatred.
“It is wrong to suggest that a qualified journalist should be barred from reporting on a particular story or present on a specific day because of their faith. Fatima Manji is an award-winning journalist.
“We are proud that she is part of our team and will receive, as ever, our full support in the wake of his comments.”
Fatima Manji made an official complaint to IPSO on July 21.
Manji became the UK’s first hijab-wearing TV newscaster on one of the country’s major channels in March.
Undeterred MacKenzie continued his attack on Channel 4 News and Manji, using his column on July 25, he threatened to complain to Ofcom that a newsreader wearing the hijab during a report on terror attacks breached impartiality guidelines.
He also said he “may ask Sun readers who share my concerns to email Ofcom as well”.
The move prompted Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, to accuse MacKenzie of “shameless self-promotion”. Farron said his continued pursuit of the issue was “beyond belief” and a complaint would be a “waste of Ofcom’s time”.
“Kelvin MacKenzie’s threat to submit an Ofcom complaint following his own bigoted remarks is beyond belief,” he said. “If he had an ounce of decency, he would have apologised profusely for the offence he caused Fatima Manji and would seek to be more tolerant in future.
“For him to continue to drag this out is nothing more than shameless self-promotion at any cost, as well as complete waste of Ofcom’s time.”