The press watchdog is facing growing public pressure to launch an immediate inquiry into "press racism", with campaigners saying British newspapers are contributing to a "climate of hostility" towards migrants, refugees, and Muslims.
Almost 4,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the Independent Press Standards Organisation to look into allegations of discriminatory reporting practices.
"Something is clearly going very wrong when newspapers can demonise entire cross sections of society without worrying about any consequences," campaign group Global Justice Now, which launched the petition, wrote on its website.
The petition follows widespread condemnation of a recent column on Brexit and grooming gangs by The Sun's former political editor Trevor Kavanagh that referred to "The Muslim Problem".
It prompted a letter of complaint to ISPO by Jewish and Muslim groups, who said they were "horrified" by the turn of phrase, which, they said, echoed language used to describe Jews in Nazi Germany.
The petition also calls for Kavanagh, who is an IPSO board member, to step down "so that IPSO can make an effective, unbiased enquiry".
In a follow-up column, Kavanagh rejected any accusation that he was Islamophobic and said opposition to his column was "a pernicious attempt to stifle and smother free speech".
Earlier this month, the National Union of Journalists called on IPSO to investigate "the prevalence of Islamophobia, racism and hatred espoused in the British press".
The NUJ's code of conduct for journalists states:
A journalist produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, Article 12 of IPSO's Editors' Code of Practice, which sets out the rules newspapers and magazines regulated by by the organisation have agreed to follow, states:
The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
Chris Frost, NUJ ethics council chair, said in a statement: "Trevor Kavanagh's comments are an abuse of free speech and the press standards watchdog should accept complaints that traduce social groups in our society. Kavanagh is using the actions of a small group of individuals to place blame on a whole religion of 1.8 billion people."
In a statement, IPSO responded to Global Justice Now's petition and said on it's website no decision had been made, and wrote:
We acknowledge the concerns that this petition has raised. Should IPSO’s Board decide to launch a standards investigation on this or any subject, this would be made public, in accordance with IPSO’s commitment to transparency. At this time, no such decision has been taken.
The press watchdog, which received more that 14,000 complaints last year, went onto say board member Trevor Kavanagh "will have no involvement in the consideration or handling of the concerns raised about The Sun."
Last year, research from the University of Cambridge and Economic and Social Research Council concluded that mainstream media reporting was contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards Muslims.
One of its recommendations was to encourage media employment of "community relations" reporters as specialist correspondents in order to improve the balance in reportage on faith and other minority affairs.
Attitudes towards Islam are believed to have worsened as a result of the London and Manchester terrorist attacks, with 42% of English people surveyed saying they are now more suspicious of Muslims, according to research by anti-racist group Hope Not Hate.
In recent times there have been other campaigns targeting newspapers, such as Stop Funding Hate, which urges businesses to pull their advertising in publications that promote division.
Richard Wilson, the director of Stop Funding Hate, told BuzzFeed News: “With experts warning that the hate in our media is fuelling hate crime on our streets, advertisers urgently need to face up to the problem of systematic, institutionalised discrimination by elements of the UK press.”
Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Aisha Gani at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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