On the 28 August 2017 The Times, a great ambassador for British journalism, press independence and accuracy, with an unrivalled heritage, ran a highly divisive, inaccurate and disturbing headline: ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’.
The piece was described, very accurately, by the head of the government inquiry into foster care, Sir Martin Narey, as “dishonest”, and even a cursory look at the facts illustrated that the vulnerable child was being exploited for the sake of a human interest story. In an age of open Islamophobia for many it came as no surprise but nevertheless the story was able to open up a genuine window into contemporary British society, and some of the xenophobic views which have become increasingly acceptable.
Despite the story being full of irony, with the child actually being of Muslim descent and involved a motion to place the child with her grandparent (also a Muslim), the fact it could take centre stage in a broadsheet like The Times was telling.
The facts of the case are almost secondary, as the hysteria that emerged from the story stems from the idea that it would be absurd for a Muslim to care for a Christian child. Now is that really so absurd? Is it really so unimaginable that Muslims can provide warm, loving and caring homes for the most vulnerable children in our community? At a time when foster care services are struggling to manage the level of demand on them, and every good foster home is a much needed home, society would deem it was better not to place a Christian child, than to put the child with those evil, heartless, barbaric Muslims?
The role of the media in how we perceive those we live with is clearly important, and what this story has shown is when we do not challenge inaccurate and false reporting, we all lose. If we continue to just simply accept the efforts of the wealthy racists and xenophobes who are gradually eroding the integrity of our press, we will be witnessing the destruction of what made our society so great in the first place. Despite this story clearly being Islamophobic and inaccurate, the little challenge it received in the peer community, was a shame on British press. Miqdaad Versi’s November 2017 article in the New Statesman may have been one of the only real responses, and this itself showed how it’s ok to taunt and discriminate the Muslim community in the modern day.
At this point if we take a step back, is this story just bad for the inaccurate media reporting, or is it something more damaging? The reality is that the consequences of such a story have been far-reaching, and innumerable Muslims have been put off pursuing roles in foster care. The Muslim Foster Network has taken countless calls from potential foster carers from the Muslim community concerning whether they should continue journeys to become foster carers if they will be vilified simply because of their faith. Other Muslim foster carers who are caring for children outside of their faith have also expressed a fear and tension about potentially being targeted for being Muslim and hosting a non-Muslim child. The question for our society today must be: are these the pressures we want to pile on for those seeking to care for the most vulnerable children in the country? I think we would all agree not.
I think its high time we recognise and challenge blatant discrimination in the press where it occurs, and engage the The Independent Press Standards Organisation, if required. We want a free press, we want independent journalism, but we also want to ensure a society that is fair, caring and stands with the vulnerable.