News about Muslims in the British press is rarely positive, but it is never scarce. Consider these stories, published across a typical month towards the end of 2016. In the Times on 9 November 2016, an article announced: “Islamist School Can Segregate Boys and Girls.” On the Daily Express website, nine days later: “Anger as less than A THIRD of Muslim nations sign up to coalition against Isis.” In the Sun online, on 1 December: “SECRET IS SAFE: Half of British Muslims would not go to cops if they knew someone with Isis links.” On the Daily Express site the day after: “New £5 notes could be BANNED by religious groups as Bank CAN’T promise they’re Halal.” On ITV News, the same day: “Half of UK Muslims would not report extremism.” Two days later, in the Sunday Times: “Enclaves of Islam see UK as 75% Muslim.” The Mail on Sunday, that same day: “Isolated British Muslims are so cut off from the rest of society that they see the UK as 75% Islamic, shock report reveals.” And another version, in the Sun online: “British Muslims are so cut-off from society they think 75% of the UK is Islamic, report reveals.”
No other community in Britain receives such regular torrents of bad press. But that is not the most shocking thing about these articles. Every single one of them was misleading. And they were not just lightly dotted with inaccuracies. The chief premise of each piece – the premise articulated in the headline – was dead wrong.
In each case, the newspapers had to correct, retract or rewrite their work. There was no evidence, for instance, to suggest that only Muslim groups were concerned about the composition of the new banknotes, as the word “Halal” suggested. The tales about “isolated Muslims” who are “cut off from society” were all inaccurate. In fact, a government report had found exactly one secondary school whose overwhelmingly south Asian students, when surveyed, believed Britain’s population to be 50-90% Asian, “such had been their experience up to that point”. Contrary to the headlines, the report found no Islamic “enclaves”; actually, no references to religion at all.
These fabrications can all be found in an Excel spreadsheet maintained by Miqdaad Versi, an amiable, animated, sartorially rumpled man who has made it his personal mission to confront, very patiently and politely, the Islamophobia of the British press. Versi lodged formal objections to the errors in each of these articles with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), a regulator whose rulings most British publications have agreed to abide by. Ipso forced the newspapers to correct all of them.