Andrew Brown: What wasn’t reported in the Muslim fostering case

08 September 2017

ISTOCK

JUST how bad a newspaper was The Times last week? Last week it was a worse — which is to say, a more deliberately misleading — paper even than the Daily Mail in its treatment of the Tower Hamlets fostering case.

There are several ways in which a newspaper can lie or mislead its readers. The most obvious is simply to print untrue statements as facts. This can be direct, or you can use elision and refinement: you report that someone has said something untrue . . . and then you put the quote in the headline. Or you can proceed by simple misdirection and the suppression of relevant facts.

All these techniques were on show in The Times’s coverage last week, and in the spluttering, evasive leader produced to justify it.

The original story claimed that a five-year-old white Christian British girl was being fostered by Muslims who had taken the cross off her neck, denied her a meal (cooked by her mother) of her favourite food because it contained bacon, and wore full face coverings in public. “More recently, the girl is said to have told her mother that ‘Christmas and Easter are stupid’, and that ‘European women are stupid and alcoholic.’”

All this was placed in the context of a notoriously corrupt borough where whites were a minority and the social services had been condemned by outside inspectors.

That came out on the Monday. It would be almost impossible to read it without concluding that this was a story about an indigenous family being victimised for living in a Muslim area.

On Wednesday, The Times’s lead story ran: “A girl at the centre of a care dispute was removed from her Muslim foster parents yesterday and reunited with her family as a judge urged councils to seek culturally matched placements for vulnerable children.

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“The five-year-old, a native English speaker from a Christian family, was taken to her grandmother’s home after a court ruled that she should not remain in the placement organised by the London borough of Tower Hamlets.”

Nowhere in this otherwise extensive report was there room to say that the grandmother to whom the child has been handed is herself a Muslim. She may not be “a Muslim immigrant”, as The Guardian had it in a leader, but, if so, that is only because she has never actually immigrated to this country, and came over to rescue her grandchild in the summer, and wants to take her back to her native country.

Nor is she a native English speaker: the court documents had to be translated for her. The much fuller judgment published on Wednesday evening made all this clear.

Before the judgment dropped, the Mail’s story was illustrated with a stock photo of a Muslim couple with a child between them, on which the picture desk had helpfully photoshopped a niqab, since the woman in the original was bare-faced (like the paper, it’s tempting to add).

The next day, Sarah Vine (the wife of a Cabinet minister), wrote in her Mail column: “Even the most avid supporter of multi-cultural Britain would have to admit it seems spectacularly insensitive of Tower Hamlets Council to have placed a five-year-old Christian girl with strict Muslim foster carers.

“The details of why she was removed from her mother are not known. What we do know is that her grandmother made repeated attempts to obtain custody of the child, but had been blocked at every turn by the council.”

This is, of course, untrue: there had been only one hearing; the council was in favour in principle, but needed (and was required by law) to make checks on the grandmother. The really telling detail was, again, the illustration: a stock photograph of an entirely white pair of grandparents with a child straight out of a Saga advertisement.

When the judgment came out, the story disappeared to page five of the next day’s Mail and all of the offending details were sourced to The Times. Odd, that.

 

ON THE other hand, the Mail’s coverage of the British Social Attitudes survey — which shows that the non-religious are now a majority in England, and professing Anglicans a small minority, one that almost vanishes entirely among young people — contained some eccentricities.

The only person they could find to prove that the whole thing was the fault of trendy Lefties was the Revd Dr Jules Gomes, who said: “Churches are dominated by Lefty snowflakes in the pulpit.” His affiliation is given as “The Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life”.

The paper is too kind to mention that he no longer has a pulpit of his own: the last time he appeared in the Mail it was under the headline “Raging vicar faces the sack after shocking a churchwarden and making a cleaner quit with f-word outbursts”.

The disciplinary panel found then that: “His behaviour has caused serious harm to people and has caused them to leave their offices or his church.” Who better to explain the causes of church decline?

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