Mohamed Esat Mohamed Esat

The Leveson Inquiry

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The Federation of Muslim Organisations has contributed to public debate and has been involved in a number of submissions to public inquiries and Royal Commission reports on matters of public interest. The extracts of our submissions are provided below.

The Leveson Inquiry – A background

The Prime Minister announced a two-part inquiry investigating the role of the press and police in light of the phone-hacking scandal, on 13 July 2011. Lord Justice Leveson was appointed as Chairman of the Inquiry.

Part 1 of the Inquiry examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press and, in particular, the relationship of the press with the public, police and politicians. 

Lord Justice Leveson opened the hearings on 14 November 2011, saying:“The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question:h  who guards the guardians?”  A wide range of witnesses, including newspaper reporters, management, proprietors, police officers and politicians of all parties, all gave evidence to the Inquiry under oath and in public.


The FMO’s submission to the Leveson Inquiry

On Thursday 9th February 2012, PR Officer Suleman Nagdi gave documentary evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. The pdf of the FMO’s submission can be downloaded here.

The extract of the submission can also be found at: 

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140122145147/http:/www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/witness/suleman-nagdi-mbe-dl/


Extract of FMO’s submission to  the Leveson Inquiry – Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press

27th January 2012
I am writing to express my views in relation to the Leveson Inquiry’s module 4 on ’recommendations
for a more effective policy and regulation that supports the integrity and freedom of the press while
encouraging the highest ethical standards.’
I draw on my extensive experience within numerous roles in giving this opinion. These roles include
an elected position as Public Relations Officer with the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO)
which has been established for over 25 years, serving as the umbrella body for almost 200
organisations in the multi-faith environment of Leicester, the UK’s most ethnically diverse city
outside of London. I work on a range of issues including policing, education, youth, health, housing,
bereavement and inter-faith work amongst others. The Federation is run by an executive committee
which is democratically elected bi-annually by the Federation’s affiliates and is bound to operate in
accordance with the constitution of the Federation. Adopting a professional, diligent, pragmatic and
diplomatic approach has ensured the trust of the local community in a unitary, collective effort. This
has also led to us developing outstanding relations with our various faith and non-faith based
partners. Indeed, such has been our successes that we have been used as a frame of reference by
many other organisations nationally and at a European level, who have sought our consultation on a
range of issues.
The Leveson Inquiry has come about due to a deeply disturbing chain of events surrounding the
phone hacking scandal. The Inquiry that is currently underway should allow us to undergo a period
of reflection; an opportune moment to critically analyse the media’s duties and responsibilities in
the process of delivering news to the great British public.

Reporting of Islam and Issues Concerning Muslims
The FMO as an organisation has for many years played a significant role in community relations both
locally and nationally and is proud to have established a strong partnership with many media
outlets; a partnership that has been borne out of consistent, transparent and progressive dialogue.
As such, we are in a position to comment on the conditions required to facilitate a relationship built
on trust between the media and the general public.
One of the main failings of the Leveson Inquiry thus far has been to give adequate thought to the
issue of reporting on issues concerning Muslims and Islam. Irresponsible and sensational journalism
has without doubt given rise to a carte blanche approach to issues concerning Muslims at many
levels in society. I believe this all stems from the newspaper headlines Muslims have had to contend
with over the past decade. Certain tabloid papers have reported on issues concerning Muslims with
a lack of accountability which has resulted in a climate of hostility in both the reporters and the
readership. This is clear when one peruses the ’comments’ left beneath articles concerning Muslims.
The adverse effects of such irresponsible and often prejudiced reporting have been investigated by
academics and most recently, by Lancaster University who produced a report titled ’The
Representation of Muslims in the British Press 1998-2009’. The study found:

More common than the expressly negative representation of Musfims, was a more subtle set of
implicitly negative representations, with Muslims often being “collectivised” via homogenising terms
like “Muslim world” and written about predominantly in contexts to do with conflict, terrorism and
extremism.
This trend, when coupled with the named journalists who were emphatically anti-Muslim in their
writings, has led to a climate of intolerance against Muslims. This is deeply worrying in terms of its
implications for Britain’s Muslim communities, as well as community harmony and cohesion on the
whole. Britain’s Muslims are the country’s second most populace faith group and this issue has a
deep impact on their abilities to contribute in British society.
This is extremely concerning when one considers that the media is often the sole source of
information on Muslims for many sections of society. If this irresponsible journalism is allowed to
continue unchecked, it may only be a matter of time before negative public opinions leads to more
worrying attacks on Muslims.
The only institution for recourse – the Press Complaints Commission – has failed to address these,
and indeed many other issues. It seems high time that a new body which is fully independent and
has powers of sanction be put in place to ensure that the public has confidence in our media.

Journalistic Integrity in General
The details which have emerged about journalistic reporting since the Leveson enquiry commenced
have brought under question the integrity of some reporters who have failed to deliver news in a
responsible way while not impinging upon civil liberties and maintaining a robust and balanced
critique of issues. The phone hacking scandal was centred upon certain individuals in the media
taking advantage of technological advancements to extract information from British citizens
illegally.
In shaping the future of this profession, it is imperative that guidelines are imposed which ensure
that people’s privacies are maintained and that journalists face rigorous accountability in the case of
substantiated complaints. This must begin with a restructuring of the training of journalists, so that a
code of ethics is imposed which must be adhered to. Ideally, this code would encourage traditional
methods of information gathering which relies primarily on a system of developing and cultivating
relationships with individuals in society via transparent and balanced dialogue. By reverting to these
traditional methods of acquiring and cultivating contacts, journalists will be able to deliver news
without having to resort to measures that infringe civil liberties.
The phone hacking scandal is arguably the culmination of many years of an unsavoury culture in
sections of the media where the pressure to deliver exclusive and often, sensationalist headlines is
both brutal and intense. At every level of the media hierarchy, pressure is filtered down to ensure
that sales are increased in the face of increased and fierce competition by giving the public exclusive
news first. Unfortunately this desire to acquire sensational news has resulted in methods of ’by any
means necessary’ developing. This relentless pursuit may be a reason why those engaged in the
phone hacking scandal chose to continue their actions and it may be reasonably argued that had the
pressure not been so overwhelming and had management emphasised more traditional methods of
investigative journalism, then this wholly unsavoury culture may not have developed.

Management in the media, undoubtedly, had a massive part to play in the development of this
culture. Therefore, it is of overwhelming, absolute and fundamental importance that management
adopts a course of action that enables ethical reporting. The only way to do this is by effective
editorial scrutiny through the implementation of a system of checks and balances which scrutinises
the sources used to compile news reports to ensure that the research methods employed are in no
way infringing on civil liberties. Such an implementation of checks and balances must be thorough
and consistent, as to enable the embedding of journalistic integrity across the board in the media
sector. In the first instance, a system of auditing may be necessary in order to ensure that all stories
are sources in an ethical way.
In relation to the Muslim community, some of the reporting of the faith of Islam has had many
consequences. Several reports have proved that when matters Islamic or Muslim is reported, nearly
always they are negative stories which offer a single line of balance, if any. We are extremely
concerned that the media is often the sole source of information for many sections of society. Yet a
continuous and sustained barrage of headlines we believe incites people to act in a discriminatory or
criminal way. Examples include the bus driver who allegedly told his passengers to leave the bus
whilst he observed his prayers or even the schoolchildren who were forced to eat Halal food. Both
incidents have much deeper narratives but the simplistic way in which these stories are reported has
played into the hands of those who want to divide our nation. I am fully of the opinion that the Press
Complaints Commission has had its day. Instead a new body which is fully independent and has
powers of sanction be put in place to ensure that the public has confidence in our media.

Contributing to the Leveson Inquiry
Thus far, the Leveson Inquiry has provided a forum for recourse for celebrity figures that have had
their privacy invaded in untenable ways. Highly reported cases such as the disappearance and
murder Milly Dowler have also attracted necessary attention. However, a major issue of reporting
on Britain’s Muslim communities has been overlooked.
In order for this to be adequately explored, it is imperative that those who work within the
community and have access to the opinions and stories which count, are able to contribute to the
Inquiry. If this is not possible, then I would be obliged if you could reference this submission in your
final report. As an individual who has previous experience of providing evidence on matters of public
concern, most notably in 2010 for the House of Commons Select Committee on the Preventing
Violent Extremism agenda, I am fully aware of the importance of engaging in this process.
I wish you well in what is an extremely difficult challenge and I also look forward to hearing from
you soon.
Suleman Nagdi MBE DL

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