There has been something of an outcry regarding Fatima Manji reporting the recent attacks in Nice on Channel 4 News in a hijab. I say outcry, I really mean one man campaign waged by the ever-odious Kelvin Mackenzie. The same man who, whilst editor of the Sun Newspaper, printed outrageous lies about the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, and who for decades refused to so much as say sorry, now uses his regular column in that same obnoxious rag to rail against a Muslim woman, looking like a Muslim woman, for reporting on an issue concerning a Muslim man. It is entirely unclear whether Mackenzie believes all people of faith are entirely incapable of offering any balanced reports, just unable to offer balance if issues that (potentially) concern their particular faith beliefs are involved, or whether he specifically believes Muslims alone are incapable of balance.
Outrage can be clocked at The Guardian and the BBC. Manji herself complained to IPSO and Mackenzie’s comments have been condemned by Channel 4, ITN and the National Union of Journalists. Tim Farron added his two penneth here, claiming the comments were ‘beyond belief’. The Conservative Sayeeda Warsi and Labour MP Diane Abbott have both condemned Mackenzie’s views here. Outside of the Sun Newspaper itself, condemnation has been pretty widespread and relatively consistent. I can only echo the sentiments. Clearly a reporter’s personal views and faith do nothing of themselves to determine whether they are able to offer a balanced report. The NUJ’s General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, put it well in her statement:
To suggest that a journalist is incapable of reporting on a terrorist outrage because of the colour of her skin, her religion or the clothes that she wears says all you need to know about the contemptible views of Kelvin MacKenzie.
Likewise, Channel 4’s News Editor, Ben De Pear, rightly stated he ‘cannot accept … an employee being singled out on the basis of her religion [and] subject to acts of religious discrimination’. All quite right and entirely appropriate.
So why, pray tell, is condemnation for Kelvin Mackenzie’s repugnant comments about Fatima Manji almost universal in the mainstream media yet these same outlets, far from condemning similar suggestions, led the charge against my friend, Dan Walker, when he ascended to the BBC Breakfast sofa because he was an Evangelical Christian? I refer you, dear reader, to my earlier comments here and here.
If Ben De Pear, Channel 4 news editor, is correct that it is unacceptable for an employee to be ‘singled out on the basis of her religion [and] subject to acts of religious discrimination’, on what basis were the repeated reports that Dan Walker is an ‘Evangelical Christian’ and a ‘Creationist’, with no real explanation of what either of those things actually mean, deemed acceptable? If Kelvin Mackenzie’s views of Fatima Manji are rightly deemed ‘contemptible’ simply because she has a stated (or, at least, known) belief, why were Rupert Myers’ comments that Dan Walker ‘now has a stated opinion, he is no longer a dispassionate and objective journalist’ not similarly condemned? How can the same organisations who pilloried Walker for his Christian beliefs now condemn Kelvin Mackenzie for criticising Fatima Manji’s Islamic beliefs? Why do these outlets defend a Muslim as a dispassionate reporter (as, I am sure, Manji is) whilst condemning a Christian as a biased reporter (which, I have no doubt, Walker is not)? What is it about Christian reporters that make them intrinsically untrustworthy and Muslim reporters inherently objective?
Could it be that the faith commitments of both Manji and Walker make them no more, or less, naturally inclined to bias than one another? Is it not possible that people of all faiths and none are entirely capable (so far as any of us are capable) to report objectively and provide balance as necessary? To listen to the views of the mainstream media outlets, the distinct impression is that a Muslim reporter reporting on a Muslim terrorist is entirely capable of being dispassionate whilst a Christian reporter, seemingly reporting on anything factual at all, is utterly biased and categorically unable to present basic fact. If Walker’s ability to present the news as a Christian is in question, then Manji’s ability to present the news as a Muslim must also be questioned. If Manji’s Islamic belief is irrelevant to her presentation of the news, then so must be Walker’s Christianity.
The mainstream media contradiction and hypocrisy on this issue is telling. The irony is that in accusing Walker of lacking objectivity because of his religious beliefs, whilst defending Manji in hers, it is the mainstream media outlets themselves who show their fundamental lack of objectivity on the issue of faith. One must note the BBC, who employ Walker and also reported on Mackenzie’s comments with some sympathy toward Manji, giving them some semblance of credibility and consistency. The same can hardly be said of Manji’s employers, Channel 4, who (rightly) defend her position but failed to offer Walker the same courtesy. Others were clearly sympathetic to Manji despite having made highly critical comments about Walker’s appointment.
Who, dear reader, do you detect lacks objectivity?