Canada: Star apologizes to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for publishing wrong & misleading photo

Star apologizes to Toronto-area mosque for publishing wrong and misleading photo
The Baitul Islam mosque has no connection whatsoever to a questionable study linking Canadian mosques to extremism.
Worshippers take part in afternoon prayers at the Baitul Islam Mosque in Vaughan, Ont., prior to Canada Day festivities at the mosque on Friday, July 1, 2016.
Worshippers take part in afternoon prayers at the Baitul Islam Mosque in Vaughan, Ont., prior to Canada Day festivities at the mosque on Friday, July 1, 2016.  (COLE BURSTON / THE CANADIAN PRESS)  

The Baitul Islam Mosque in Vaughan serves as Canadian headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama, an international Muslim community known worldwide for its motto, “Love for All, Hatred for None” and for its devotion to universal brotherhood.

This Muslim community is highly regarded throughout the world for sharing its message of peace, tolerance and universal human rights, and for its longtime strong and vocal rejection of terrorism, and specifically, in recent years, the terrorism of Daesh (ISIS).

Given these values, members of the Toronto-area mosque were quite rightly “deeply troubled” this week to see a photo of their mosque published on the Star’s website alongside a report by The Canadian Press about a study contending that “many” mosques and Islamic schools in Canada “are filled with extremist literature.”

While the photo was removed within a few hours of being posted online, this was a bad mistake on the Star’s part and we have spent considerable time here this week determining what went wrong.

The Baitul Islam Mosque has no connection whatsoever to the content of the study — which has itself come under question — so the image of this specific mosque should never have been linked to this article. As I later learned, no Toronto-area mosque whatsoever was part of this study. The study’s authors reached their conclusions following visits to four mosques and three Islamic schools in the Ottawa area.

Compounding the error in photo selection, the Star’s photo caption named this Vaughan mosque in referring to the study, thereby further wrongly linking Baitul Islam Mosque to a questionable study claiming extremist literature in Canadian mosques. The findings of the study have since been strongly rejected by the Canadian Council of Imams.

“It is very upsetting for the members of the community to see the image of their highly regarded and internationally respected mosque negligently used as a stock image,” Safwan Choudhry, director of communication for Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada said in an email to the Star Monday night shortly after the article and photo were published.

As soon as this was brought to our attention, the Star acted quickly to take the photo down from its website. It was not published in the newspaper or on the Star’s tablet app, Star Touch.

So what went wrong here beyond the reality of working at web speed where judgments about what to publish must be made with much haste?

On the Internet, there is a strong imperative to include photographs with stories; research tells us it increases the number of people who will click to read. But photos that specifically illustrate a specific article are not always available so archived “file photos” are often used in a generic manner.

In this case, the file photo of the Vaughan mosque, and the photo caption naming it, was added to the story file by an editor at Pagemasters North America, the outside provider that edits content for the Star’s newspaper and website.

Having talked to senior editors at Pagemasters, I feel quite certain there was no ill intention here toward the Baitul Islam Mosque. As one editor told me, this mistake was, “sadly, an ill-considered choice made by an otherwise competent editor.”

As a result of this error, Pagemasters plans immediate mandatory training sessions on the need for caution when selecting images to accompany stories online. I expect editors in the Star’s newsroom will be involved with that training.

In talking later to Choudhry, he told me the mosque was alarmed and worried that the Toronto Star had associated it with a study about extremism in Canadian mosques, particularly given this community’s strong public commitment to peace and goodwill: “Given the bigotry and Islamophobia we witness, there are very real fears about our mosque being linked to a hurtful and harmful story.”

He is right of course. As a news organization that espouses equal dignity for people of all religions and races, the Star has responsibility not to fan the flames of Islamophobia or, indeed, intolerance toward any religion.

Linking this specific mosque to any report of Islamic extremism was an unacceptable error and the Star apologizes to the Baitul Islam Mosque and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama community.

As for The Canadian Press report itself, we also heard from… read more at

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