The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…


  • First of all, please, make yourself comfortable, Mr Bunglawala. Could you provide us with your full name?

  • Sure. My name is Inayat Bunglawala.

  • Thank you. You are representing an organisation called Engage, which is a limited company by guarantee. Can you tell us who Engage is and what its purposes and objects are?

  • Sure. Engage was set up almost four years ago now and it's a Muslim advocacy organisation which seeks to encourage greater civic participation on the part of British Muslims in our democracy.

    So we try -- during election time, we encourage voter registration drives, we encourage people to take an interest in politics, if they have concerns, to raise them with their MPs. We make this information available on our website so people can easily identify who their local politicians are.

    In addition to that, we also seek to ensure a fairer portrayal, a more balanced portrayal of the faith of Islam and in pursuit of that we're often in contact with the Press Complaints Commission and newspapers, with a view to seeking a correction of misrepresentations that we believe we have seen in newspapers.

  • Thank you. You provided the Inquiry with a submission in writing dated 31 October 2011. Do you have that available?

  • That submission, if you look at page 54254, third line, refers to a parliamentary briefing page on Islamophobia, which you enclose. It's not in the bundle which has been made available to the Inquiry but I have downloaded it from your website. It's an all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia briefing note, dated September of 2010.

    I just touch on one or two points you make there in relation to Islamophobia in the media. I know you don't have the document in front of you but are there any specific points there you could highlight, your concerns about Islamophobia and the media?

  • Yes. At Engage we believe that as a society in recent years we've moved away from overt racism. We recognise that racism is wrong, we recognise that stereotypes of people are generally wrong, you know, to propagate these. We recognise it's important to be generally polite in our discourse, and it's wrong to be deliberately offensive.

    The one exception, it seems to us -- the one glaring exception, it seems to us, is that in recent years the coverage of Muslims has not improved. Sometimes we come across some very, very disturbing headlines which seem to us to be aimed at fermenting prejudice against Muslims. Rather than reporting facts, it's aimed at stirring up prejudice towards the British Muslim community.

  • Thank you. In relation to that, in the briefing paper, although it's not in front of us now, you give some examples of headlines: "Muslim schools ban our culture", "Muslims tell us how to run our schools", "Britain has 85 [underlined] Sharia courts" and "BBC put Muslims before you".

    Those are examples from certain sections of the press which you draw attention to Parliament; is that right?

  • That's right. We believe these headlines are -- we believe these headlines only serve to increase prejudice towards Muslims and they are designed to increase it, which is actually the more disturbing fact.

  • Can I put this general point to you before we look at your submission to the Inquiry: we all believe in free speech. How do you define or where do you see the boundary between fair comment on the one hand and unfair, unbalanced discriminatory comment on the other, if the answer isn't already to be found in my question? I apologise but it's defining the boundary, please.

  • I can fully accept that newspapers are there to report stories and if Muslims are involved in those stories, there will be facts about Muslims or the faith of Islam which they need to touch upon, especially in a time when we're facing a terror threat from Al Qaeda. It would be impossible for newspapers to avoid the subject of Island and Muslims.

    Where I think a line needs to be drawn is on a clear falsehood on -- where newspapers just tell plain falsehoods in their headline, where they seem to be fermenting prejudice, whereas if we replace the word "Muslim" with another minority group, we would very quickly recognise this is unacceptable.

    So I think the same standards should be applied to Muslims as to any other faith group or any other minority group community.

  • Thank you. You're entitled, of course, to refer to clause 12 of the PCC code, which contains a general anti-discrimination provision, both in terms of race and religion.

  • Yes, that's right. I remember about ten years ago the Sun printed a terrible headline, something about the "gay Mafia" -- I think it was referring to ministers that were in Tony Blair's government at the time who happened to be gay -- and the Sun faced criticism from all quarters for that headline, and I don't think we've seen the Sun repeat that kind of homophobia again, or seen that overt homophobia, and I think it's a good step that we've moved away from that. I'd like to see something similar happen in connection with reporting on British Muslims as well.

  • Thank you. In your submission, you provide some specific examples, Mr Bunglawala. If you look at 54254, this was a piece in the Daily Star:

    "Poppies banned in terror hot spots."

  • Can you tell us about that?

  • This was a piece in the Daily Star which claimed that the sale of poppies was banned in areas with large Muslim populations: Leeds, Bradford and elsewhere. We looked into this story -- it seemed incredible to us -- and very quickly found that they had no basis whatsoever. Just because poppies may not be on sale does not mean the poppies are banned. You know, poppies need to be sold by somebody in the first place.

    So we challenged the Daily Star to prove that a ban had been in place and they were unable to substantiate their story. It was taken up by the PCC and in the end a one-paragraph clarification was printed.

    It's not just that headline. If you look at the headline, "Poppies banned in terror hot spots", and then the subheading is "Muslim snub to forces". It's that headline which is very damaging. It's clearly meant to portray Muslims as being disrespectful of the armed forces, disrespectful of Remembrance Day and the sacrifices that soldiers have made in the past.

    The fact that the Star could not find any evidence to substantiate that story and responded with a one-paragraph clarification, I just find it -- it's almost -- you get -- you just get demoralised. You say, "I've gone through the process of trying to get it corrected. We've been to the PCC, and what we're seeing is a little one paragraph response." We have no idea how many people -- who's going to see that and how that can undo the damage done by the original headline.

  • Could I ask two questions, please. The first is: did the PCC accept a complaint from Engage as opposed to from an individual?

  • I believe in this case they did, sir. It is true that we've had an issue with third-party complaints in the past, but my understanding is that in recent years the PCC may have moved on a bit and may have been more willing to accept third-party complaints.

  • That's interesting.

    The second thing is I think there's a typographical error in your statement and I just -- because I was surprised to read it.

  • "This complaint was successfully resolved by the commission and the publication of a clarification which we felt ..."

    It should have been "inadequately"?

  • Yes, exactly. I spotted that as well. You're a good editor.

  • As it reads, it seems that you were satisfied with the correction.

  • Could we make sure that the copy that goes online has the correction put in, because otherwise it's positively misleading.

  • We can resend that to you, most probably.

  • We might be able to do it -- I've just written in "in".

  • The second example, please, Mr Bunglawala. This relates to a story in December 2007 and a subsequent court case involving Lord Ahmed. Could you tell us about that?

  • Yes. Lord Ahmed is a peer. He was involved in a car accident at the time, in December 2007.

    A newspaper, in covering this case of the accident, referred to him as a "Muslim peer", and we wrote to the PCC because the PCC's code of practice says that a person's faith should not be mentioned in a story if it's irrelevant to the story, and we couldn't understand what Lord Ahmed's Islamic faith had to do with the fact that he'd been involved in a car accident. We thought it was fairly straightforward -- a fairly straightforward breach of the PCC code of practice.

    Unfortunately, the PCC did not uphold our complaint and said they believed that the fact that Lord Ahmed was Britain's first Muslim peer therefore made it relevant to the story of his car accident, which -- I mean, again, it just strikes us as totally contradicting their own code of practice.

  • Thank you. I understand you'd like to pass over the third example but you do want to talk about the fourth one, a complaint to the Daily Mail. Again, to be clear, was that Engage's complaint or an individual's --

  • Yes, this was a complaint by Engage. The article actually mentioned Engage. It was an article by Melanie Phillips.

  • It was directed to your body, so of course you had the right to complain about it.

  • But the piece claimed that you were an extremist Islamist group funded by the government, statements of fact and/or opinion with which you strongly disagreed?

  • Yes. "Extremist Islamist group" -- I fear we might not get very far with that. Melanie Phillips, she has a particular world view in which quite a few groups seem to fall into that category, so I don't think we're going to get very far with that one, but she made a clear error of fact in that story where she claimed that Engage was a body funded by the government.

    So we wrote to the managing editor at the Daily Mail and made clear that we've never received a penny from the government, we've never applied for a penny from the government. So we wanted, first, an acknowledgment of the factual error that was in their story, and secondly an apology for making that error.

    It's been seven months since this story appeared and since we first complained to the PCC and it's still in the process of being resolved. What happened is we complained to the PCC. The PCC then forwards our complaint on to the Mail. The Mail writes to the PCC. The PCC forwards the Mail's response on to us. It's like a ping-pong game in which the PCC seems to be playing more of a postman role rather than the regulatory body it's supposed to be, and that is of concern.

    After seven months of this ping-pong, we still haven't got the word "apology" out of the Daily Mail. They're still refusing to acknowledge they made an error and -- because there was a paragraph -- we said we want this as an apology and they keep striking the word "apology" out of it. We just -- I think if I was to try to draw blood out of a stone, it might be easier than getting an apology out of the Mail, it seems.

  • Thank you. "Muslim plot to kill Pope", I think we've seen that one before. It's a Daily Express front page.

  • Well, this was astonishing, Mr Jay, because this was a front-page story and normally newspapers are quite careful about -- if there's an ongoing criminal case and there are allegations against individuals, they will put words in brackets or in speech marks to denote that this is what people are saying rather than a statement of fact, but here there were no speech marks. It was just clear "Muslim plot to kill Pope" as statement of fact as opposed to anything else.

    Very quickly, it became apparent -- I believe within 48 hours or so -- that this was a non-story. The police released all the people that had been arrested in connection with this incident, without charge, but the Express had done a front page and two full inside pages, pages 4 and 5, given over to this story of a so-called Muslim plot to kill the Pope.

    When it came to a redress for this story, they printed a one-sentence clarification on page 9. Again, I hope the Inquiry will consider the way newspapers seek to redress the mistakes they make and damage they cause and whether it is in any way commensurate with the harm they are doing --

  • You don't know the sentence they said, do you?

  • Okay. Maybe the sixth and seventh examples there we'll pass over. I think you want to tell us about a different example which isn't in here, a "Christmas is banned" headline in the Daily Express?

  • Yes. This was a headline in the Daily Express, a front-page story, actually, "Christmas is banned, it offends Muslims". I recall this story because it was one of the few times that I ever actually purchased the Daily Express, and I took this story home, I read it, and there was no mention in the story whatsoever of any Muslim who was saying he was offended by Christmas. It turns out that it was a council in south London which had renamed their festivities and renamed it to something called a "Winterval" just to make clear that they were celebrating a number of festivities over a number of time.

    So we contacted again the Daily Express and got no joy from them, saying that this was a headline they could not substantiate. There was no Muslim quoted to say they were being offended by Christmas, so how could they justify the headline? To this day, I've had no satisfactory response from the Express or the PCC.

    The only reasoning I could see was that it would help them shift papers, that it would help their front page become a talking point in -- all over the UK and get people worked up, get people -- get people's backs up. That to me seems the only plausible explanation of a story that had no substance whatsoever.

  • That's not quite fair, because it does have a substance if the council had done it, but your complaint is slightly different.

  • Yes, yes, sir. There was no basis for the "it offends Muslims" headline.

    If I can just point out to the Inquiry that this particular front page was subsequently used by the far right, the British National Party, on their placards. The actual front page of the Daily Express with what headline, "Christmas is banned, it offends Muslims", appears on BNP placards now. It's clear that the far right, in the shape of the BNP, are making use of this headline to try to generate support and try to appeal to a wider section of the public for their own agenda, which is clearly an anti-minority one.

  • I think we've actually found -- or rather, Ms Patry Hoskins has found -- the one line in the Daily Express in relation to the "Muslim plot to kill Pope" story. It does look as if it's hidden away. It says:

    "Six men arrested and quizzed by counter-terrorism police probing a plot in London to attack the Pope were all were released without charge, Scotland Yard said yesterday."

    That, I think, was the day after.

  • Yes. See, they were very keen to highlight the Muslim angle when they were arrested, but when they were released, no word mentioned that they were Muslim then.

  • That's a very fair point, Mr Bunglawala.

    Section 2 of your paper gives examples of successful legal challenges and third-party complaints to the PCC. Unless you specifically wish to, I don't think it's necessary to alight on any of those, but I think what we would like to hear specifically from you, Mr Bunglawala, is your recommendations, your suggestion for the future, which deal with two matters: one, procedure, how complaints can be made by organisations such as yours, and secondly, the substance.

  • Yes. A couple of points, Mr Jay. One is we would hope that if the Press Complaints Commission is going to replaced or reformed, attention will be given to the speed with which the body will deal with complaints. I mentioned earlier that we've been in negotiation with the Daily Mail now for seven months for a simple apology for a clear factual error and we still haven't got an apology or a clarification for that story.

    We question how valuable any correction will be months after the original story has appeared. So clearly there needs to be an improvement in the speed by which a body deals with complaints from individuals.

    Secondly, we have a concern about the make-up of the Press Complaints Commission and the fact that serving editors are often on the committee which adjudicates these complaints and it just seems to us -- there seems to be here a conflict of interest here, that when we're complaining about a story which may have appeared in their own newspapers, that they are sitting on the committee that adjudicates the value of these complaints. There must be a better answer.

    I believe the Inquiry has heard suggestions that perhaps former journalists should be on such a committee. That seems to us to be an eminently sensible suggestion.

    Just for -- another point we would like to make is that often the apologies that are made by these newspapers are very tiny. As you just saw, in one case it was one sentence --

  • That wasn't even an apology; that was merely an update.

  • Yes, you're quite right, sir. There was an update on a front-page story that appeared, so we hope the Inquiry will, again, look at ensuring that when retractions and apologies are made, they are in some way commensurate to the prominence given to the original story and the damage done by the original story.

    After a while, we have to question -- when a paper like the Daily Express or Daily Star keeps repeating the same mistakes in terms of inaccurate coverage of Muslims and keeps repeating one-sentence or a one-paragraph apologies, we have to ask how sincere those apologies are, of what value they are and whether these newspapers are taking it seriously. So we hope that the Inquiry will look at getting a proper redress for errors that are made.

  • You mentioned the PCC but you can't go to the PCC about the Express or the Star, can you?

  • Unfortunately not, no. As Mr Desmond made clear -- the proprietor of the Express made clear in his own testimony here, he has withdrawn his newspapers from being allowed to be adjudicated by the Press Complaints Commission, which again strikes us as a most mystifying position for us to be in, because the Daily Express and the Daily Star are perhaps two of the most egregious offenders when it comes to stories which are mistaken or incorrect or inaccurate when it comes to reporting about British Muslims, and now the PCC has no jurisdiction over them, which is a very odd situation to be in.

  • Thank you. That's very clear, Mr Bunglawala. I don't have any further questions for you, but Lord Justice Leveson may.

  • I think your characterisation of the position is very moderate. Thank you very much indeed.

  • Thank you very much, sir.

  • So thank you very much, Mr Buglawala.

    Before I call the next witness -- it has nothing to do with Mr Bunglawala -- I have been asked to show you, on behalf of the Daily Star, a file full of articles which relate to treatment of these issues. It's obviously not right for me to put it to the witness, but it is right that you should see them in due course.

  • Thank you very much. Actually, this is a point that was made during the course of the evidence, wasn't it, and Mr Dingemans said that he would provide a bundle.

  • Yes, and here it is. I have obviously read it, but --

  • May I just mention one thing in relation to the last witness and the delay on behalf of Associated newspapers? Can I just say that my understanding is that the most recent position is that there is correspondence between the parties as recently as the 13th and 23 January, and it is all to do, in fact, with the final wording of the clarification, but it is --

  • It's not just gone on the back-burner?

  • Thank you. I'm sure that Mr Buglawala will be pleased to hear that, but his point about timeousness is real and I'm not seeking to apportion responsibility.

  • I think it's near an end and there's a resolution in immediate sight.

  • The next witness, please, is Fiona Fox.