The British think-tank Policy Exchange, recently published a report, Eroding the Free Press, about a leaked draft of “Guidance for Reporting on Islam and Muslims”. The guidance was drafted by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), the UK’s independent press regulator, an initiative that IPSO announced in late 2018. In the past, IPSO has, among other issues, published guidance on the reporting of death and inquests, sexual offences, suicides, and transgender people. According to IPSO, its guidance is “designed to support editors and journalists” and “does not limit or restrict editorial decision making, but may inform that decision making”.
In a January 2019 blog on IPSO’s main priorities for 2019, IPSO Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin laid out the five priorities of the year. “Reporting of Islam and Muslims” was listed as the first priority and described in the following way:
“In October 2018, we began working towards producing guidance for journalists on the reporting of Islam and Muslims in the UK, an area of broad political and social concern. The guidance will help journalists to report on a sensitive area, whilst also ensuring that it does not impinge their right to criticise, challenge or stimulate debate. We have established an informal working group to help us draft the guidance, bringing together academics who have research experience in relation to Islam and Muslims in the UK and representatives of organisations interested in the coverage of Islam…”
Policy Exchange’s report on the leaked guidance gives rise for concern.
In the words of the report, the guidance, “seems designed to bind the hands of UK newspapers when it comes to reporting on stories relating to Islam and Muslims – with potentially serious long-term consequences for the workings of a free and independent press”.
According to the Policy Exchange report, the draft IPSO guidance states:
“Journalists should be aware that their content can have an impact on the wider community and on how minority communities are treated. Inaccuracies and insensitivities can damage communities and prevents their accurate representation.