The Sun Editor Tony Gallagher has agreed to meet MP Shabana Mahmood following the publication at the end of last year of a Sun front page which said "1 in 5 Brit Muslims' sympathy for jihadis". The story, which was published 23rd November led to thousands of complaints to the UK Press Regulator
Shabana wrote on behalf of a number of MPs to ask for a meeting and highlighted a number of concerns about the article. In particular
- the editorial decision to focus so heavily on the one snapshot from November rather than focussing on the significant fall in sympathy that is revealed by the two polls conducted by Survation (from March and November 2015).
- the editorial decision to focus on Muslim views only when data for the British population more widely is publicly available. This data suggests that the views of Muslims and non-Muslims are not that different. 4% of non-Muslims have a lot of sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria; the figure is 5% for Muslims in the Survation poll. 9% of the non Muslims have some sympathy compared to 15% of Muslims.
- the editorial decision to state that one in five British Muslims have "some sympathy with those who have fled the UK to fight for IS in Syria." The questions asked by Survation do not mention IS. The question in fact talks of joining "fighters in Syria". The situation in Syria is complex and IS is one of the fighting forces.
Shabana has since written a second time to The Sun following their response to her in which they agreed to meet. The text of the letter can be found below.
Shabana is asking people for her views about this issue - the poll can be found https://actionsprout.io/E04796/
08 January 2016
Dear Tony Gallagher
Thank you for your letter in which you agree to meet me to discuss the "1 in 5 Brit Muslims' sympathy for jihadis" story. Clearly there will be many things on which we disagree but the dialogue is important, and something I wish to pursue with you - my office will be in touch to arrange.
We have common agreement around the fact that none of us want to see British nationals going to fight with Daesh. We also agree that we do not want to see the continued increase in hate crime against Muslims. This is becoming a particular problem for hijab wearing Muslim women.
However, I remain extremely concerned about your story and your headline and what it says to me as a British Muslim about future stories you will run.
In your response letter you say that it must have been clear to the person being polled that the question about having sympathy or not for British nationals going to fight in Syria referred to Daesh. You draw this conclusion because the previous two questions asked by the pollster referenced ISIS and because in your opinion "the issue around young Muslims leaving the UK is entirely and solely focused on the pull of IS".
Maybe - maybe not. We shall never know. That is not what the question asked. I put it to you that if you had wanted to ask about Daesh you should have explicitly done so. Your sister paper, The Times, very quickly realised that the headline was misleading and issued a statement to say so:
"The survey did not distinguish between those who go to fight for Islamic State and those who join other factions in Syria, and it did not ask about attitudes towards Isis itself. Our headline, ‘One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis’ was misleading in failing to reflect this.”
You also suggest that your reporting of this survey was very similar to that which accompanied Sky's March poll. You said, "a similar poll by Sky News in March, using the same question was interpreted across the board in exactly the same way". This is factually inaccurate. The Sky headline which accompanies this story is
"Poll: Majority Have No Sympathy With Extremists"
And within the body of the text, "The research found the issue of young people travelling to fight with extremist groups, including Islamic State, or becoming so-called 'jihadi brides', remains highly controversial."
This is distinctly different to The Sun and the since corrected Times headline.
I was rather surprised by your paragraphs that say the following:
"Full details of the questions and answers" were within the paper;
"the inside headline drew specific attention to the fact that those showing sympathy with fighters were in the 'minority'";
"our story reflected on the fact that level of sympathy had fallen since Sky commissioned the poll [in March]".
I think these comments rather make my point for me and fly in the face of your chosen headline.
Furthermore, it is far from clear to me what you are really trying to argue. Is it that 1 in 5 British Muslims have sympathy for those that join Daesh from Britain; is it that 1 in 5 British Muslims support Daesh and Jihadis like Jihadi John?
You use the words 'support' and 'sympathy' interchangeably. But you must know that the two words are not the same. Patrick Briône from Survation said "We were deliberately looking at sympathy when we asked this in our poll in March partly that's because we were doing both a poll of Muslims and non-Muslims and we wanted to draw comparison figures between the two. I don't think it would have been very interesting or meaningful to ask samples of the general population about support for Islamic State because I think the numbers would have been statistically insignificant."
You said in your story, "Some 2.7 million Muslims live in Britain, the 2011 census says. If the poll reflected views across the country it would mean 500,000 have some support for jihadis."
I feel that this deliberately demonises British Muslims. In the current climate this is not unique and you are not the only ones to have done it. But it does have to stop.
I look forward to discussing these issues further with you.
Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood