Times ‘distorted’ front page story on Muslim foster-care girl – press watchdog

Times ‘distorted’ front page story on Muslim foster-care girl – press watchdog
The Times has been admonished by the press regulator over a ‘distorted’ story about a girl fostered by Muslims. The newspaper claimed that the child’s carers stopped her eating pork and took away a crucifix, among other breaches.

The girl made front-page headlines when she was removed from her mother's care by Tower Hamlets Council, east London, in August 2017. The council complained to the press regulator about the Times’ stories, which they said included “inaccuracies in the reporting” of the case.

On Tuesday, Ian Brunskill, the paper's assistant editor, spoke to the Commons Home Affairs Committee investigation of the reporting of minorities. He admitted the paper had caused "an enormous amount of trouble for us, for other people "in their coverage of the story, and had “caused enormous offence, it's caused enormous upset."

He denied that the paper had intentionally set out to offend. "The suggestion that we might have set out to do that is frankly absurd," he said.

Articles published in the paper on August 28 and 29 reported a number of concerns about the cultural appropriateness of the child’s fostering placements. Sources for the story included a social services supervisor, and friends of the child’s mother.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) Complaints Committee found that the Times article, “Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home,” published on 30 August 2017, gave the impression that the judge had found that the placement with a Muslim family was a “failure” by the council; and that this was why she was “removing” the child from her current foster carers, and placing the child with the grandmother.

The article prompted an investigation by a senior social worker at the council, who conducted supervised interviews with the child and her maternal grandmother, both of which formed the basis of the investigation. The child was temporarily placed in two Muslim households in succession, while her maternal grandmother awaited approval of her request for custody. Tower Hamlets Council argued that it had always intended to place the child with a relative.

READ MORE: Guardian’s Owen Jones accuses mainstream media of ‘groupthink’, ‘intolerance’ and elitism

Tower Hamlets Council Chief Executive Will Tuckley said it had complained about the stories because it wanted to defend its foster carers. "From the start, we had concerns about the validity of the allegations about the foster carers. For example, one allegation was that they did not speak English, even though that is a prerequisite for any foster carer.

"The allegation that the foster placement was a bad choice by the council was also found by IPSO to be distorted information."

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said the IPSO ruling was a big step forward, adding that it was the first time a story relating to Islam had been corrected on the front page of a newspaper.

MCB Secretary General Harun Khan said that it was about time that the Times, which had previously made no offer to correct their misleading articles, was made to apologise for the “inaccurate, misleading and bigoted narrative about Muslims.”

"We hope that this will mark a turning point in the tolerance the Times has shown for anti-Muslim bigotry in its coverage and commentary,” Khan added.

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