The Press Council considered whether its Standards of Practice were breached by an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 30 April 2017, headed “What genius gave this Islam idiot a soapbox” in print and with a similar headline online. The print article appeared on a page headed “OPINION: YOURS AND OURS”.
The article attacked “the failed concept of multiculturalism” and those who have “fallen over themselves to promote multiculturalism”. In that context, it focused on Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a Muslim woman, referring to her being promoted and self-promoted as an exponent of multiculturalism.
It referred to Ms Abdel Magied as a “silly Muslim woman” in the opening sentence, and further on as “stupid”, someone who “was always bound to utter great inanities”, “a fool”, “non-entity” and “halfwit”. The article referred to some of Ms Abdel-Magied’s public comments, including “her ridiculous (and extremely offensive) Facebook remarks about Anzac Day” and earlier, her “proclaim[ing] to great hilarity that Islam was ‘the most feminist religion’”. It made reference to her “part-time job as an ABC presenter” and position “on the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, one of the little perks run by … the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade”, and questioned: “Is the government, is the ABC, really so blind to the flaws in multiculturalism that they seek out individuals who appear to demonstrate that they grotesquely misunderstand the nature of the nation?” The article concluded: “Don’t deny nonentities their right to freedom of speech but at least deprive them of having a hand in the public pocket while they’re on their silly soap boxes.”
Following a complaint, the Council asked the publication to comment on whether, in emphasising Ms Abdel-Magied’s religion in its criticism of her, it took reasonable steps to ensure factual material was presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principle 3), and whether more generally, in light of the terms applied to Ms Abdel-Magied, it avoided contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, without sufficient justification in the public interest (General Principle 6).
The publication said the content of the article was clearly identified as opinion. The columnist was entitled to express his opinion of Ms Abdel-Magied and his opinion of her actions. It said that at the time of publication Ms Abdel-Magied was at the centre of a widespread public debate about comments she made relating to Anzac Day. Her religion was relevant to the content of the article, to her public profile (which emphasised her identity and experiences as a Muslim woman in Australia) and to her position on the publicly-funded Council for Australian-Arab Relations. It said it was in the public interest for an opinion article to discuss these realities from the columnist’s viewpoint, exercising his freedom of speech, however critical he might be.
The Council accepts that the article is, in its entirety, an expression of opinion in relation to multiculturalism and to Ms Abdel-Magied as exponent and exemplar of multiculturalism. The article attacked her suitability as a proponent of multiculturalism, a concept which it also attacks.
As a clear expression of opinion, it does not breach General Principle 3. The opinion expressed is based on explicit and implied opinions about multiculturalism.
Nor does the article breach General Principle 6. The columnist’s opinions are likely to offend many. But it is in the public interest in freedom of speech that vigorous public debate be permitted, even when expressed in extreme terms, as is the case here.
Accordingly, the Council considers that there has been no breach of its Standards of Practice.
Relevant Council Standards (not required for publication)
This Adjudication applies the following General Principles of the Council.
Publications must take reasonable steps to:
3. Ensure that factual material is presented with reasonable fairness and balance, and that writers’ expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material or omission of key facts.
6. Avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health or safety, unless doing so is sufficiently in the public interest.