A former journalist at The Times has accused the newspaper of having “doubled down on its racist coverage” of a case involving an English-speaking girl from a Christian family who was placed with two mixed-race Muslim households.
Murad Ahmed, a leisure correspondent for the Financial Times, issued a 10-tweet attack on his former employer on Sunday after the paper defended its coverage on Saturday in an editorial headlined, ‘Truth Hurts’.
The leader came as Andrew Norfolk, the chief investigative journalist at the newspaper, also defended his reporting of the story which polarised opinions with claims including that the five-year-old girl involved “had her cross removed and was encouraged to learn Arabic”.
Norfolk said he had acted in the public interest by investigating the “difficult and sensitive” story that was brought to the newspaper by a social services employee. “I think we did our job as a newspaper,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme over the weekend.
“Given the religious and cultural sensitivity of the story there was always the likelihood that those less concerned with children’s welfare than with superficial social harmony would cry foul. Sure enough, The Guardian newspaper has seized on a court order issued after our initial reports to claim that it contradicts the facts on which they were based. It does nothing of the sort,” The Times wrote on Saturday, before drawing a comparison between it revealing concerns around the custody case and exposing the widespread sexual abuse of white teenagers by mainly Pakistani men in Rotherham and Rochdale.
“Five years ago it was this newspaper, and Mr Norfolk, who revealed both the systematic sexual abuse of white teenagers by mainly Pakistani men in Rotherham and Rochdale, and the complicity of social workers, police and local councillors who failed to stop the grooming for fear of being accused of racism. Leftist media organisations instinctively recast that story as one of Islamophobia. They only fell silent when overwhelming evidence emerged in the press, courts and public inquiries that forced the country to confront a deeply rooted pattern of criminal behaviour with a clear ethnic component.”
The paper went on to say “uncomfortable cultural overtones are no reason” to shy away from stories: “On the contrary, papering over the cracks in a multicultural society only dooms it to deeper misunderstanding and strife in the end.”
Murad Ahmed began his critique of the Times by declaring his admiration for its “amazing journalists” and stating that during his eight years working there he had “never felt a sense of racism or Islamophobia”.
He then went on to claim that the Times’ story was “openly racist”, lacked balance and used language “intended to point fingers at Muslims as outsiders”.
Ahmend continued: “The paper has doubled down on its racist coverage and with this disingenuous leader, made things worse”.
Ahmed’s tweets resonated with Miqdaad Versi, the secretary general of the Muslim Council and a board member for Rights Watch UK.
Versi expressed concerns at to how the Times’ “could not see the racism”.
Meanwhile, the man heading the government’s review into fostering, has also condemned the way in which the Times reported the story, saying the newspaper “has a duty to check those facts and to balance them with other facts and to correct inaccuracies when they became clear”, which he said they had not.
Sir Martin Narey told the BBC’s Today programme on Monday: “I don’t think they have. They’ve been very defensive, they’ve persisted with stories they are clearly not true”.
He said the paper had been “unfair” in its reporting.
Suggestions that the foster family did not speak English, that the girl had a cross removed and wasn’t allowed to eat carbonara were “entirely untrue”, Sir Martin said. The paper also, he said, neglected to mention that the child had been checked on and was “settled and happy”.
The Guardian has further suggested the mother of the child involved “is herself the child of Muslim immigrants”. The Times has said that is incorrect.
Sir Martin added that he was “troubled” by the case which risked putting off both current carers and “discouraging” future foster parents.
Tower Hamlets Council has also highlighted “inaccuracies” in the reporting of the case and last week defended its handling of it. However, it said it was unable to go into details as “we are legally restricted”.
In a statement the council said: “Tower Hamlets Council has the welfare of children at the heart of what we do.
“The decision to choose foster carers for a child is based on a number of factors including cultural background and proximity to promote contact with the child’s family and the child’s school in order to give them as much stability as possible.
“We have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member and we continue to do so.”