The Thunderer goes downhill

There was a time when The Times of London provided a standard for serious journalism. Now too often it is lapsing into a cheap populism that often makes it indistinguishable from the tabloid press. Never mind accuracy or responsible journalism if a sensationalist story can gain more readers! Bearing the brunt of this populist approach to boost circulation are British Muslims.  It is high time its editors recognise that journalism needs to be fair and responsible.

Among its worst lapses was the story on Daesh, which quoted without clarification utterly unacceptable views  on the abuse of women, giving the readers the impression that this was Islamic practice. In a similar vein, the story headline, ‘Call for national debate on Muslim sex grooming’ (March 2015),  stigmatised a religious community for the acts of  criminals for whom morality or religion had little import.  The paper’s prize-winning reporter, Andrew Norfolk, has become a sensationalising specialist, for example his recent story, ‘Muslim Council ‘secretly linked’ to Brotherhood’ (18th December 2015). Dramatic headlines with little substance!

Now on 27th December, the Times carried a further sensationalist and spurious headline on its front page – ‘Muslims Silent on Terror’. The report asserted that Muslims were ‘boycotting the country’s key anti-radicalisation programme’, because ‘a tenth of extremism tip-offs were coming directly from the community or faith leaders.’  Dr Shuja Shafi, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, provided the context in a letter – to its credit – published in the paper:

Sir,

The headline of your front page ‘Muslims “Silent on Terror” (26 December 2015) is wrong, misleading and above all incendiary. It has no bearing on the rest of the article which speaks of the very real concerns Muslims and people of other faiths have on the government’s Prevent programme. To translate this as silence on terrorism on the part of Muslim communities is completely misleading and untrue….We (the MCB) have encouraged community efforts to report criminal activities and cooperate with the police.The Muslim Council of Britain itself has also initiated a national process to explore grassroots responses to terrorism. Yes, many Muslims do have serious concerns about the government’s Prevent programme, and many of us want a successful counter-terrorism policy that works far more closely with Muslim communities. Our democratic and pluralistic traditions should surely  mean that such concerns ought not to be shut down with accusations of acquiescence to terrorism or disloyalty to our country. Today’s front page only serves to further heighten attitudes against Muslims.

The Thunderer can still salvage its reputation and contribute to an uplifting rather than demeaning manner to the national conversation.