I’ve written before about what appears to be a failure of basic journalism standards at The Times and Sunday Times under editor John Witherow. A new report suggests it’s even worse.
The report has the rather unwieldy title Andrew Norfolk, The Times Newspaper and Anti-Muslim Reporting – A Case To Answer, and it makes some very serious allegations. According to the campaign group Hacked Off, the detailed report describes a pattern of anti-Muslim reporting that looks distinctly malicious and which the toothless press “regulator” IPSO is both unable and unwilling to act upon despite clear breaches of journalistic standards.
That pattern is obvious in its reporting of trans issues too. The Times and Sunday Times are obsessed with trans people, running more than 300 anti-trans articles in a 365-day period. As with anti-muslim reporting and opinion, the coverage is careful to attack organisations and vaguely defined groups – activists, the trans lobby and so on – rather than individuals so that Clause 12 of the editors’ code doesn’t apply.
Clause 12 ostensibly covers discriminatory reporting, but only if it’s directed at identified individuals – although even if newspapers do attack specific individuals IPSO can usually be relied on to take the newspapers’ side. IPSO usually takes an interesting view of Clause 1, accuracy, too: it’s repeatedly said that false claims don’t count as inaccurate because the writer really believed they were true.
Julian Petley is a professor of journalism, a member of the editorial board of the British Journalism Review, on the advisory board of Index on Censorship and a member of the National Council of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. He draws parallels between the abuses detailed in the report and those claimed in the industrial tribunal of former Times night editor Katherine O’Donnell, a trans woman.
Witherow seems to have done his best to try to make it appear as if O’Donnell’s barrister, Robin White, was a silly woman who just didn’t understand how journalism worked. However, what emerged under her admirably rigorous questioning was an all too clear picture of editorial standards at The Times, one which surely goes some way to explaining both why Norfolk’s articles were thought fit for publication in the first place and why the paper has resolutely refused to acknowledge their manifest shortcomings.
As Petley points out, the viciously anti-trans columnist Janice Turner has form with anti-muslim and anti-islam columns too, and Witherow’s claim that he knows nothing about her is clearly untrue.
One of the columnists cited by White was Janice Turner, whose many negative articles about trans people (sample headlines: ‘Children Sacrificed to Appease Trans Lobby’ and ‘Trans Ideologists Are Spreading Cod Science’) have caused widespread fury in LGBT circles. Given that she is not simply one of the paper’s leading columnists, but a particularly notorious one, who has also come under fire for her comments about Muslims and Islam, Witherow’s claim that ‘I don’t know anything about her’ simply beggars belief.
Petley doesn’t pull his punches.
It may seem a long way from articles about Muslims to articles about trans people, but both reveal the same things about the state of journalism at The Times, and, by extension, across much of the mainstream national press: the routine demonising of minority groups, with little apparent concern for the consequences; a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and truthfulness – particularly important journalistic qualities when the subjects in question are as sensitive and controversial as these; and an arrogant and dismissive stance towards any form of criticism, entailing a concomitant refusal to acknowledge any sense of journalistic accountability or responsibility.