Baroness Warsi calls for a public inquiry into press Islamophobia
On Tuesday 14 November, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi delivered the fifth annual Hacked Off Leveson Lecture, calling for Yvette Cooper MP to implement Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
Speaking before a packed room at the University of Westminster, Baroness Warsi talked about the “exhausting” Islamophobia in British press, mentioning highly biased and distorted stories from The Sun, The Times, and the Daily Express as examples of “hate speech that is driving communities apart and poisoning our public discourse.”
She contended that “In sections of our press, it is relentless and deliberate. Steadily and methodically using paper inches and columns to create, feed and ratchet up suspicions and hostilities in our society, driving communities apart and creating untold – and unnecessary – fear and distress.
“Poisoning our public discourse, making it almost impossible to have sensible discussions about real challenges, crowding out tolerance, reason and understanding.
“And this drip-drip approach has created a toxic environment where hate crime is the highest it has been since records began.”
Baroness Warsi called the Conservative Party’s failure to implement Section 40 – which would force a newspaper to cover the legal costs of the claimant in a libel case unless it joined the approved regulator and offered low-cost arbitration – “one of the greatest political failures of our time”.
She argued that “The political class failed, and in particular my own party, the Conservatives, failed more so. Section 40… remains on the shelf.”
She also added: “A regulator is meant to uphold standards… IPSO does not and cannot do that.”
Baroness Warsi wrote a letter to Yvette Cooper MP to ask her to consider looking into an early inquiry by the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs to “tackle the plague of hate speech”.
The lecture ended with reflections from the panellists.
Miqdaad Versi, from the Muslim Council of Britain, talked about Trevor Kavanagh, former editor of The Sun and now member of the IPSO board: “He attacked a complainer for complaining… he’s found in breach of the code he’s implementing”.
MEND’s head of policy and research Isobel Kingscott discussed the implication of hate speech in British press: “The toxic atmosphere of hatred… leaves vulnerable communities open to attacks”.
MEND joins Baroness Warsi’s call for full implementation of the Royal Charter for a more accountable, and more just press.