Muslim council of Britain demands apology after Times “distorted” religious foster case story

Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council for Britian

Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain. Pic: MCB

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has branded a correction letter from the Times over its “distorted” coverage of a Christian girl placed with Muslim foster carers in Tower Hamlets as “too little, too late”, demanding an apology from the paper.

The Independent Press Standard Organisation (IPSO) upheld a complaint by Tower Hamlets council against the Times, for its coverage of a five-year-old Christian girl placed with Muslim foster carers finding that the paper failed in its duty to provide “accurate coverage”.

The chief executive of Tower Hamlets, Will Tuckley, said the council was “pleased” with IPSO’s decision, saying: “We felt it was important to make the complaint to defend our foster carers and protect children in foster care, along with standing up for our diverse communities.”

However, the MCB believes the ruling does not go far enough, demanding an apology from the paper for its “shameful incidence of anti-Muslim reporting”.

In August last year, the Times ran three articles expressing “concern” for a “white Christian child”, after she was placed in the care of two Muslim households in six months.

In reports that the MCB have branded an “inaccurate, misleading and bigoted narrative about Muslims”, the paper claimed the girl had been “forced to live with a niqab-wearing foster carer” who pushed her to learn Arabic, removed her crucifix, and prevented her from eating her “favourite Italian food”, carbonara, as the dish contained bacon.

The newspaper went on to allege that after time under the family’s care, the girl told her mother that “Christmas and Easter are stupid”, and “European women are stupid and alcoholic”.

Infographic from the Muslim Council for Britain highlighting inaccuracies within the Times reports

Infographic from the MCB highlighting inaccuracies within the Times reports. Pic: MCB

Tower Hamlets council raised a complaint against the paper’s third front page on the issue, headlined “Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home”. It wrongly implied that the court had ruled against the council in its decision to remove the girl from her second foster home and place her under the care of her grandmother.

In fact, the council had been in the process of assessing the grandmother. Once those assessments were complete, it applied to the court to have the child placed with her.

The Times coverage was also shown to have omitted other key details, including that the girl’s grandmother, with whom she was eventually placed, was a Muslim who did not speak English.

The Times consistently implied that the judge’s decision was based on a level of failure by Tower Hamlets council. However, as the Times said in their correction letter: “This was not what the court decided, or an implication of what the court had decided”.

Tower Hamlets complained that The Times’ coverage breached Clause 1 of IPSO’s guidelines: accuracy. However, the press watchdog did not find that the paper’s omission of the child’s grandmother being of Muslim heritage constituted misconduct.

IPSO’s ruling follows an inquiry by Tower Hamlets council in October 2017, which concluded that the five-year-old had been “happy” with her Muslim foster parents.

Senior social workers deemed that the child had been given “warm and appropriate” care by both of her foster families, calling claims made by the Times “unsubstantiated”.

IPSO’s ruling, published today on page two of the Times, said the article “created a distorted impression” of the proceedings.

The watchdog required their ruling be published on page six of the newspaper or more prominently, and remain in the top 50% of their online stories for at least 24 hours.

The Daily Mail also picked up the story, running one day after the Times on August 28. The headline was: “MPs anger as Christian girl forced into Muslim foster care”.

The Mail did not have a photograph of the girl to accompany their online or print articles. Instead, they used a stock image of a Muslim family walking through a park, doctoring the woman’s face so it was covered by a veil.

A court order, released by family court judge Khatun Sapnara, revealed that the child’s grandmother, with whom she was placed, was a “non-practicing Muslim”.

The grandmother has expressed desires to “return to her country of origin and care for her child there”.

Judge Sapnara, who was ruling on the case, said that her decision had not been influenced by “undue media involvement”.

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