Daily Express helped create 'Islamophobic sentiment', admits newspaper’s editor

Tom Embury-Dennis

Front pages by the Daily Express have helped create an “Islamophobic sentiment” in the media, the newspaper’s editor has admitted.

Gary Jones, who took over at the paper last month, told MPs past headlines had been “downright offensive” and made him feel “very uncomfortable”.

Mr Jones, who is also editor of the Sunday Express, said he would be making changes at both newspapers.

The editor-in-chief was one of a number of senior journalists who faced a grilling by the Home Affairs Committee into the treatment of people from minority groups by the press.

"Each and every editor has a responsibility for every single word that is published in the newspaper and yes, cumulatively, some of the headlines that have appeared in the past have created an Islamophobic sentiment, which I find uncomfortable,” he told the committee.

"I've gone through a lot of former Express front pages and I have felt very uncomfortable looking at them. Individually they may not present specific issues. There have been accuracy issues on some of them and some of them are just downright offensive."

Mr Jones, who was previously editor of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, took charge of the Daily and Sunday Express after Trinity Mirror bought the papers from tycoon Richard Desmond in a £200m deal.

"I wouldn't want to be party to any newspaper that will publish such material,” Mr Jones said. “I have to accept as a newspaper editor that people have different views to my own and that the newspaper is there to represent the broader section of views, but I think there are limits as to how far you should go in an honest and fair-minded society."

Trinity Mirror bought the Express stable from Richard Desmond in a £200m deal (Reuters)

Paul Clarkson, managing editor of The Sun, said he apologised for errors in a story that said one in five British Muslims had sympathy for jihadis.

He added: "We are sorry if we offended anyone."

But the executive declined to apologise for a "cut out and keep" guide to what terrorists look like. He also said The Sun, which has run a number of stories on transgender men and women, had an "excellent" relationship with trans groups.

Associated Newspapers editor emeritus Peter Wright told the committee that the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday try to report difficult issues in an "even-handed and sensible" way.

He said: "We go to great lengths to avoid any articles that could possibly contribute to Islamophobia.

"But, you still have to report difficult issues. There have been claims of Islamophobia surrounding the reporting of sex grooming gangs in Rotherham and elsewhere.

"You can't, I'm afraid, ignore the fact that these crimes appear to have a cultural background to them. We try to report them in a way that is even-handed and sensible."

Mr Wright defended the Daily Mail's controversial story on the decision by judges that Brexit could not be triggered without a Westminster vote.

A profile of the judges that ran with the article, headlined "Enemies of the People", included references to the sexuality of one of the trio, Sir Terence Etherton, who had recently been appointed Master of the Rolls.

"If you Google him the first story which comes up is The Guardian's report on his appointment," Mr Wright said. "The headline is Britain's first openly gay judge becomes Master of the Rolls."

He told the committee that Associated titles received complaints, including to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), that needed investigation on 348 stories last year.

Of those, 30 involved discrimination and none of those were upheld by Ipso.

Trinity Mirror editor-in-chief Lloyd Embley said he would be "committing commercial suicide" if he carried some of the "more offensive, insulting articles" that other newspapers have carried.

"But, I still would defend their right to carry them," he added.

Ian Brunskill, assistant editor of The Times, told the committee he did not accept suggestions of "intentional, deliberate Islamophobia" in the British press.

"There are news stories that tackle difficult subjects and there will be problems around those," he said. "There will be opinion columns that will offend, there are misunderstandings, misjudgments and mistakes.

"But I don't recognise the picture of deliberate, dishonest manipulation of information in order to stoke Islamophobia."

Metro editor Ted Young showed the committee a series of front pages in which he said the free newspaper had made an effort to ease racial tensions after terror attacks.

Mr Young said: "Mistakes happen but we definitely as a paper try to be proactive in promoting racial harmony and a sense of national togetherness, especially in times of crisis."

Committee member Stephen Doughty attacked examples of newspapers "jumping on the anti-trans bandwagon", including a Times column with the headline "Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby" and a Telegraph article about a "transgender explosion".

Mr Brunskill defended the headline as a "fair reflection" of the views expressed by columnist Janice Turner, in what he said was a "fierce debate" over transgender issues.

Telegraph editor emeritus Ian MacGregor told Mr Doughty: "We take the coverage of these issues so seriously. We are very careful about the wording we use. We treat these issues with great sensitivity."

Mr Doughty also challenged Mr MacGregor over the Telegraph's decision to put images of 15 Conservative MPs on its front page under the headline: "The Brexit Mutineers."

"Do you stand by that front page, given some of the attacks and threats that have been made to public figures and the hate crime some politicians have experienced?" asked the Labour MP.

Mr MacGregor, the president of the Society of Editors, responded: "We stand by that story 100 per cent.

"That was a fair characterisation of how senior Conservatives saw what they perceived as the rebels who were not going to support them on the date for Brexit. That's how we were being guided as to how they were perceived.

"To put something on the front page like that, I think, is totally justified."

Mr Brunskill said Ipso had found against The Times following a complaint about stories the newspaper ran which raised concerns about a five-year-old girl who was placed with a Muslim foster family.

The newspaper alleged the Christian girl's foster carers stopped her from eating bacon, confused her by speaking Arabic and removed a crucifix necklace from her.

He told the committee: "This is a story that has caused an enormous amount of trouble for us, for other people. It's caused enormous offence, it's caused enormous upset. The suggestion that we might have set out to do that is frankly absurd."

Mr Brunskill told the committee that readers had condemned the newspaper for the story and complained "you should be ashamed of yourselves".

He said the newspaper had reported concerns raised by a contact supervisor at Tower Hamlets Council in east London.

Asked if he would apologise for the stories, he replied: "The paper is not going to make an absurd apology to an undefined class of people simply in order to do some political grandstanding."

Ipso has investigated the stories and will publish its adjudication in the next day or two, MPs were told.

"I can tell you they have found against us," he said.

Neil Benson, who chairs the Editors' Code Committee, warned against introducing measures that would inhibit freedom of expression.

He told the committee: "I do accept that sometimes titles take a very specific view and do bang on about a particular issue, which people may find offensive. That's their right, though."

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said it was "incredibly difficult" to attract people into journalism from more diverse backgrounds.

He told MPs there was a problem with Islamophobia in Britain but said he believed it was down to "unconscious bias".

"It would be crass of me to say the media as a whole does not play its part in this," he added.

Additional reporting by PA

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