A month ago the Daily Mail ran a story that began:
“A hard-working cafe owner has been ordered to tear down an extractor fan – because the smell of her frying bacon ‘offends’ Muslims.”
The same tale appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Cafe fan banned in case smell of bacon offends Muslims and in the Metro, Beverley’s Snack Shack ‘offending Muslims with bacon smell’.
The stories, at first glance, struck me as being highly unlikely. Reading through the Mail and Telegraph versions, however, proved instructive, showing that the headlines and intros were wholly misleading.
There had been a complaint about the smells emerging from Beverley Akciecek’s Stockport cafe from a non-Muslim neighbour, Graham Webb-Lee, who claimed that his Muslim friends were refusing to visit him because, according to him, they couldn’t stand the smell of bacon.
There was not a shred of proof that Webb-Lee’s allegation had any basis in fact (because, as we shall see, no reporter checked with him). None of the stories quoted a Muslim person.
Indeed, the only individual of Muslim faith mentioned in the stories was Mrs Akciecek’s Turkish-born husband, who happens to cook the bacon.
It also became clear that Mrs A had been required to remove the fan by the council because she had never obtained planning permission for it.
There was a good analysis of the inadequacies of the Mail article by Tabloid Watch soon after publication.
Three people were moved to complain about the piece to the Press Complaints Commission, but Tabloid watch reports today that the complaints were rejected.
The PCC decided that “readers would not be misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission.”
Really? How wrong can the commission be? Did it not read the 544 comments appended to the Mail’s online version of the story? Plenty of them appear to me to have been wholly misled.
Here’s a random sample of the overwhelming majority of comments:
“Oh get me out of this country! England has lost the plot!”… “Another smack in the face for us Brits”… “Well how about, you go back to your own country and we can eat our food in peace”…
“Absolutely ludicrous! If Muslims are affected let them ‘pass by on the other side of the street!’ I’m fed up of hearing about the possibility of offending Muslims in this God forsaken country!”…
“If the Muslims don’t like our way of life they know where the airport is. Sick of listening to whinging religious fruitcakes.”
“Every day… every damn day, we hear that we mustn’t have bacon or pork, we mustn’t have Christmas trees, we mustn’t have Easter in case we upset Muslims. How thoroughly disgusting and makes the heavily taxed, downtrodden, and neglected indigenous people of the UK even more of a minority in our own country. We used to be a great country, now it sucks!”…
“Another example of crazy Briton, bending over backwards to accommodate other cultures that don’t like or accept British culture but are very happy to live in the country.”…
“Unreal – could you make this nonsense up? How long before the mere sight of pork, bacon etc offends the fragile Muslims? What next? Blacked out windows in butcher shops? Pork stored ‘under the counter’ in supermarkets? The UK needs to get a grip and start defending OUR rights before it is too late.”
This is but a fraction of the comments by people who had certainly been misled enough to believe that Muslims had complained.
I am pleased to say that a minority of commenters were not misled. For example, one wrote: “So, if the smell of the bacon is so nauseating to the Muslim friends of Mr Graham Webb-Lee, why haven’t they complained?”
Another wrote: “This article is insulting (even to DM readers). The fact the women’s husband is a Muslim proves that most are not offended by bacon at all. As for the non-Muslim who complained sorry but I think he has a point. I love bacon but if the fan is 12 inches from his door he has every reason to be upset…please DM stop demonising Muslims.”
As for the Telegraph, I noted that its story was tweeted 100 times, all of which were also playing to an anti-Muslim gallery.
The articles were clearly prejudicial because the headlines and intros were misleading. The end result was to feed anti-Muslim bigotry.
To build a story based on one man’s unsupported statement when it involves the delicate matter of religious intolerance shows a reckless disregard for the pubic interest and social cohesion.
In the PCC’s opinion, “the body of the articles” in the Mail and Telegraph made the situation “clear.”
Come off it! The papers did not run this story because it involved the removal of an extractor fan. They ran it because it fitted their own anti-Muslim agendas.
The PCC argued that “while it considered that the newspaper [the Mail] could have included further details about the complaint, it did not, on balance, consider that the absence of such details were misleading in such a way as to warrant correction under the terms of the code.”
It therefore absolved the paper of being inaccurate and of breaching the clause about discrimination, which states that papers “must avoid making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s religion.”
The problem is that the clause “does not cover generalised remarks about groups of people.”
It means, sadly, that papers can discriminate against Muslim people in general.
That’s why past cases of prejudicial reporting about “asylum-seekers”, “East Europeans” and “Somalis” have fallen by the wayside.
Let me finish with a comment on the Mail website from someone who knows all about the matter:
“I am the neighbour who complained! Well done DM for asking for my comments on the matter, but if you had there would be No Story To Print! This vent is affecting my children’s health and that is why the council denied planning!
“Yes, I have some Muslim friends who it offended, but nothing was said about my English friends who avoid my house within opening hours of the shop!
“Shame on you Daily Mail. You have stirred up lots of racial tension in my area now, so for you its ‘mission accomplished.'”
SARAH & GRAHAM WEBB-LEE, Stockport