Kelvin MacKenzie hijab comments not religious discrimination, says regulator

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Complaints made against Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie alleging religious discrimination have not been upheld by the press regulator.

ITN and a Channel 4 News reporter referred the matter to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) after the former editor of the tabloid newspaper questioned whether it was right for correspondent Fatima Manji to appear on screen wearing a hijab to present a report on the Nice massacre in July.

He subsequently defended his "reasonable" criticism of Channel 4 News, arguing the hijab was a "religious statement" and questioning whether a Christian would be able to wear a cross prominently on television.

In response, Ben de Pear, editor of Channel 4 News, said Ms Manji had been the victim of religious discrimination.

In its ruling on Wednesday, Ipso said: "While the columnist's opinions were undoubtedly offensive to the complainant, and to others, these were views he had been entitled to express.

"The article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of her religion."

Accordingly, the regulator found that Mr MacKenzie's July 18 column did not breach the discrimination clause of the Editors' Code of Practice.

It further ruled he was also not in breach of the harassment or accuracy clauses of the code.

It was found that although the matter complained of was of a sensitive nature, it was the subject of a legitimate public debate.

The finding continued: "The columnist's view that Islam is 'clearly a violent religion' was a statement of his opinion. This view, however extreme or offensive to many, did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

"The suggestion that the complainant was a 'pawn in this TV news game' was clearly conjecture, and underlined that the author's criticism was directed at Channel 4 and not at the individual newsreader."

Mr de Pear said Channel 4 News was "dismayed" by the ruling.

He said: "Whilst we agree that freedom of expression is a fundamental right, we do not believe that it should be used as a licence to incite or discriminate.

"His inflammatory comments on Fatima Manji's professional status, which were widely condemned, and his attempts to equate the wearing of a hijab with support for terrorism, have no place in a properly informed and tolerant society.

"At Channel 4 News we employ reporters based on their journalistic skills, not their ethnicity. We see no reason why a Muslim journalist should be prevented from covering any story and Fatima will continue to report and present the news on the issues of the day with impartiality and depth.

He added the programme was grateful for support shown for Ms Manji.