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UK media exploited girl's water ride death to demonise Muslims: Letter

The letter to press watchdog says media focus on faith of Evha Jannath who died after theme park fall was 'demonisation'
Evha Jannath died after falling from a water ride at Drayton Manor theme park near Birmingham on 9 May (family handout)

Press coverage of the death of a schoolgirl following a fall from a theme park ride violated the media ethics code by highlighting her Muslim faith, community leaders have alleged in an open letter to the UK press watchdog.

The letter to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) said the reporting of Evha Jannath’s religion was "exploiting the tragic death of a child" following the accident at Drayton Manor theme park, near Birmingham.

The release of the letter comes as the funeral for Jannath takes place in her home city of Leicester on Tuesday.

The 11-year-old schoolgirl died after falling from a water ride while on a school trip to the theme park on 9 May.

The letter states, “this sickening and hurtful coverage betrays a sentiment that when it comes to Muslims, even exploiting the tragic death of a child is accompanied by demonisation”.

Muslim community leaders make up the majority of the signatories, with imams and Islamic centre leaders coming together from across the country to put their name to the letter.

They accused three news outlets of breaching clause 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice which “requires details of an individual’s religion to be avoided unless it is genuinely relevant to the story”.

Fahad Ansari, the organiser of the letter and a human rights lawyer, said that “it has sadly become part and parcel of life in Britain for both the print and broadcast media to litter their reporting of the news with dangerously prejudicial content designed to stigmatise and alienate Muslims.

“That even the tragic death of a young girl could be exploited in this manner is further evidence that Islamophobia remains the only acceptable form of racism today. It is inconceivable that Evha's death would have been reported in a similar manner had she been a member of another faith."

IPSO confirmed to Middle East Eye that it had received the open letter and that it was currently being processed.

They noted that the overwhelming majority of complaints related to Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror and Metro are specifically mentioned in the letter for their coverage of Jannath’s death.

“The Daily Mail led with ‘Muslim Girl, 11, dies in front of ‘shocked and screaming’ youngsters after falling into the water on Splash Canyon rapid ride while on a trip from her Islamic school to Drayton Manor theme park.”

IPSO told MEE that as of Tuesday afternoon, they had received just over 1,300 complaints about the Metro article, four about the Daily Mail and nine about the Daily Mirror. 

The letter warns that the coverage reflected a dangerous tendency in the way Muslims are portrayed and says it was written “with an overwhelming sense of concern about the direction in which our society is moving”.

Arzu Merali, head of research at the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and Moazzam Begg, outreach director of the organisation CAGE, are also among the signatories.

Many social media users also condemned the media coverage following the incident last week.

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