Muslim news site 5Pillars ordered to pay back COVID grant after publishing anti-gay video

5Pillars deputy editor Dilly Hussain

Muslim news site 5Pillars has been asked to pay back a COVID emergency grant after it published a video describing gay people as a “gross crime against Allah”.

Last year, 5Pillars received a £3,000 COVID emergency grant from the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF), which supports independent news providers in the UK.

PINF is led by Jonathan Heawood, the founder of the UK government’s press regulator, IMPRESS, which also regulates 5Pillars.

Last summer, PINF began to receive complaints that 5Pillars was supporting conspiracy theories, including that MI5 had been responsible for the murder soldier Lee Rigby in 2013.

In a statement in June 2020, PINF described the selection process for its COVID emergency grants: “To demonstrate that they follow high standards of journalism, we asked applicants to confirm whether they were regulated (e.g. by IPSO or IMPRESS) or otherwise accountable for their professional standards (e.g. to the NUJ or ICNN).

5Pillars is regulated by IMPRESS and thus satisfied this requirement.”

It added that applicants were also required to have a “track record of publishing public benefit journalism”, to be responding to the COVID-19 pandemic “through journalism or related activities”, and to have “a clear vision for their future development as a news organisation”.

PINF said that 5Pillars “scored well” in these areas, and that by the time they became aware of concerns about its content, “the grant to 5Pillars had been paid and could not be withdrawn”. At the time, it encouraged readers to raise any complaints with IMPRESS.

But PINF has now demanded that 5Pillars return the grant money, after it broke IMPRESS rules that ban inciting hatred against the LGBT+ community.

According to the Daily Mail, in a now-deleted video, the deputy editor of the Muslim news site described being gay as “a gross crime against Allah”.

In a ruling this month, IMPRESS said that “‘crime’ has a clear and persuasive meaning”, and that the comments were likely “to encourage or legitimise real-world threat” to LGBT+ people.

Responding, 5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih and deputy editor Dilly Hussain said the decision was “unfair, flawed and an attack on the right of Muslims to express themselves freely within the law”, but added that they would “comply with IMPRESS’s judgement under protest”.

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