A complaint made against the Sun newspaper for an article that asked readers "What we will do about The Muslim Problem then?" has been dismissed by a press watchdog.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) said August's article by Trevor Kavanagh didn't breach its "discrimination" guidelines because it didn't target any specific individuals.
IPSO was tasked with looking into the article written after Muslim and Jewish groups condemned the Sun's former political editor's op-ed about Muslim communities, which ended with the question about "The Muslim Problem".
Kavanagh — who sits as a director on IPSO's board but was not involved in the ruling — was cleared on Thursday, despite the regulator's decision committee acknowledging the question posed in the article could be interpreted as Nazi-era language.
"The committee acknowledged that the question posed at the end of the column – 'What will we do about The Muslim Problem then?' – was capable of causing serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust," the finding read.
But the article did not breach the discrimination clause of IPSO's guidelines (Clause 122) because no specific individual was targeted.
"The committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article discriminated against Muslims. Clause 12 of the Code protects identifiable individuals from discrimination; it does not relate to discrimination against groups or categories of people.
"The complainant’s concern that the article discriminated against Muslims in general did not breach Clause 12."
A Sun spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the newspaper welcomed the ruling.
"This is a welcome reminder that the vitality of newspapers comes from the free exchange of ideas and opinions, perhaps particularly those which some might not like," the representative said.
In a later follow-up to his original piece, Kavanagh tried to apologise for the Nazi interpretation of the language used, despite dismissing much of the criticism as "fake fury".
"I can honestly say it never occurred to me that this could be interpreted as a play on 'the Jewish Problem', and I will happily apologise to anyone who is thus offended," he wrote.
But Jewish and Muslim groups were scathing of the ruling, suggesting that IPSO could not protect minority groups from Nazi-like propaganda in the British press.
"This decision suggests that the IPSO code is unfit for purpose," Marie van der Zyl, from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told BuzzFeed News.
"It is incomprehensible that the committee could at once acknowledge that the article 'was capable of giving serious offence, given it could be interpreted as a reference to the rhetoric preceding the Holocaust', and yet conclude that there was no breach of the code.
"The IPSO code clearly needs to be reviewed to protect minority groups, not least from comments that echo the tone of Nazi propaganda.”
The Muslim Council of Britain's Miqdaad Versi called the press regulator's ruling "astonishing", and pointed to the fact that Kavanagh sat as an IPSO board member.
"What is truly astonishing is that regardless of the specifics of the code, IPSO does not seem to have any concern that one of its board members used this Nazi-like phrase about Muslims," Versi told BuzzFeed News.
Versi said Kavanagh had previously been reprimanded for attacking a complainant to IPSO and was found to have breached the regulator's code for another article that the Sun was force to issue a correction for.
"One has to wonder what it would take for IPSO to act and remove him from their board," he added.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at email@example.com.
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