UK Journo: No, I’m Not Advocating Penalties for News Orgs That Criticize Islam


Huffington Post UK political director Mehdi Hasan today responded to attacks he’s been getting after a Guardian report––and follow-ups on other sites, Mediaite included––saying he suggested penalties for news organizations that demonize Muslims. Hasan insists that he was just speaking off-the-cuff and does not favor the censorship of any news outlet for merely speaking critically about Islam, but does think there is a serious problem of news outlets attacking and demonizing Muslims in ways they would never do towards people of other faiths or ethnicities.

Here is the context for Hasan’s controversial remarks, as he recalls them:

I suggested that, in the context of an ongoing British debate over the best form of press regulation, there needed to be tougher action by any proposed new regulator against the promulgation of falsehoods and smears against marginalised minorities of all types – Muslims, Gypsies, asylum-seekers, etc. I made no mention of the religion of Islam, to beliefs, practises, theology and the rest. In the Q&A after my talk, while thinking aloud, I said I genuinely couldn’t think of any way of changing press attitudes and practises that didn’t involve some sort of sanction or penalty, maybe in the form of pressure from consumers or advertisers.

He makes it very clear he was not advocating for any new penalties against news organizations or censorship of any kind. But in the ensuing days, Hasan writes, he’s been the target of “Muslim-baiting trolls” on social media calling him all sorts of names, including “fascist.”

Hasan says he has no interest in silencing anyone just for the mere act of criticizing Islam (something he does himself on occasion) and believes in free speech. The issue for him is where you draw the free speech line and how willing news organizations should be to provide platforms for vicious anti-Muslim sentiment.

And to Hasan, the level of vitriol he has gotten only proves his point:

You can now say things about Muslims that you cannot say about any other minority community, and such an egregious double standard is both morally wrong and, from a counter-extremism and counter-terrorism perspective, completely counter-productive. Can we deal with this point please? Rather than sticking our heads in the sand?

Hasan singles out several individuals in particular for their reactions to his comments, including TheBlaze host and CNN commentator S.E. Cupp. Cupp reacted to Mediaite’s report on Hasan’s comments by writing, “HuffPo wants to censor anti-Muslim speech. What’s wrong w/the press?”

Hasan brought up Cupp’s comments as part of the “right-wingers of varying hues” who took offense with what he said. Cupp posted a response to her blog today saying Hasan is misguided in how he wants to push back against anti-Muslim sentiment in the press:

The words he used to describe objectionable press about Muslims “negative, mad, crazy, over the top, dishonest, demonizing” are, with perhaps the exception of “dishonest,” entirely subjective. Who is he to decide that a story about Muslims is “crazy” or “over the top”? Those aren’t words that journalists like to use when describing press coverage. And if he thinks coverage has been dishonest, there are already mechanisms in place (for as long as there has been a free press might I add) to combat inaccuracies, including the issuing of corrections, suspending reporters, follow up stories, and – best of all – more speech, not less.

You can read Hasan’s full response piece here.

[image via screengrab]

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Josh Feldman is a Senior Editor at Mediaite. Email him here: Follow him on Twitter: @feldmaniac