IPSO provide a rare win in the battle against censorship

By George Caffrey

IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) has cleared Kelvin MacKenzie of breaching the watchdog’s regulations. Over 1,700 complaints had been made over MacKenzie’s article in The Sun in which he criticised a Channel 4 presenter for wearing a hijab when reporting on the terror attacks in Nice.

Although I disagree with MacKenzie’s view on the topic, IPSO need to be congratulated for upholding his right to express it. Fatima Manji, the presenter towards whom MacKenzie’s displeasure was directed, has criticised the decision, describing it as “frightening” and complaining that it signalled “open season” on minorities. My response to this is: ‘good!’. It is about time we recognised that it should be ‘open season’ for airing all ideas and opinions, regardless of how we feel about them.

IPSO’s public statement on the issue read:

“There can be no doubt that this was deeply offensive to the complainant and caused widespread concern and distress to others. This was demonstrated by the number of complaints IPSO received.”

In spite of this, they ruled that MacKenzie had not done anything to contravene their rules. It is refreshing for a public organisation to recognise that, as I have written, someone taking offence does not mean that an offence has occurred. The statement also declared that MacKenzie’s view was a legitimate subject of debate”. Of course, they are right. We need to use this as stepping stone back towards a society in which all topics are viewed as a ‘legitimate subject of debate’.

Unfortunately, Channel 4 News Editor Ben de Pear disagrees. He said of today’s decision:

“We are dismayed by today’s IPSO ruling, which has cleared Kelvin MacKenzie of any wrongdoing, on all grounds. 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.”

It is staggering that someone in the position that de Pear holds cannot see how stupid the above statement is. In what way can we claim to be a “properly informed and tolerant society” if we censor and/or punish those who do not subscribe to the prescribed ‘correct’ view. In order to be properly informed, we need to listen to and evaluate a range of views, not just those we deem appropriate for public consumption. And what is tolerance if not the willingness to accept the right of existence of views we disagree with? A decision to punish people like MacKenzie would be the exact opposite of tolerance.

Congratulations to IPSO for being prepared to take a stand in defence of our right to freedom of expression, may others follow your lead.