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Times distorted coverage of Muslim foster carers, press regulator finds

By Thea Dunne -

In a judgment released this week, the press regulator has found that the Times distorted coverage about Muslim foster carers in a widely reported case last year.

The Times ran the headline, "Christian child forced into Muslim foster care", on 28th August 2017. It concerned a child placed with two Muslim households in Tower Hamlets.

The article described how a “white Christian child” had been left distressed after being "taken from her family and forced to live with a niqab-wearing foster carer".

The article caused immediate uproar, and the reporting was quickly challenged by the local authorities.

The five year old girl was subsequently placed in the care of her maternal grandmother.

The family court judge who made this order, Khatun Sapnara, took the step, rare in a case involving children, to publish it, as the coverage of the case had raised “very concerning” matters of “legitimate public interest”.

Details given in the order contradicted the original reporting of the case.

The child had been removed from the mother's care by police and placed by social services with foster carers on an emergency basis in March 2017 for the child's protection. The child's biological father could not be found.

The mother later applied for the child to be placed in the care of the maternal grandmother. However first the grandmother would need a full assessment to see if she was as a safe and appropriate carer.

The delay, requiring interim care with foster parents, resulted from a delay to mandatory checks as the grandmother had been living abroad.

A follow report in the Times presented this as a victory for the newspaper, with a front-page headline reading, "judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home". 

This report was deemed misleading as while it identified the religion of the foster parents, it omitted to say that the grandmother was herself a non-practicising Muslim, and had official leave for translations of court documents as she spoke no English.

Tower Hamlets Borough Council brought a complaint against the Times to the The Independent Press Standards Organisation.

This week IPSO upheld Tower Hamlet's claim, that The Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The newspaper was ordered to publish its ruling on page six of the newspaper or further forward, and on the website, appearing in the top 50% of online stories for 24 hours.

The Times has since received criticism for giving a negative portrayal of both the Muslim community and the fostering system in the UK.

A review into the fostering system in the UK published in February this year emphasized that the care system in England, in which fostering plays a predominant role, has an "undeservedly poor reputation". In recent decades as the use of children’s homes has reduced, fostering has become more and more common, "the reality is that fostering is a success story", the report explained.

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Thea Dunne

Thea joined Vardags in September 2016. She read English at Trinity College, Cambridge and previously interned at Christie’s Auction House.