The Mail on Sunday has been accused of fuelling Islamophobia after offering students hundreds of pounds to spy on Muslim student societies in an attempt to uncover evidence of “extremism”. The newspaper promised student journalists £100 per meeting to pose as Muslims and secretly record meetings of student Islamic societies to see if any radical organisations were recruiting there.
The offer came in an email from junior reporter Sophie Borland, who graduated from UCL in 2004. It said: “What the editor wants is to pay student reporters to go undercover to one or two meetings of various societies. The reporters would be paid £100 per meeting but IF something came up that turned into a story obviously they would be paid a lot more.”
The email referred to a ‘tip off’ that radicals would be targeting London campuses. Borland referred to “rumours flying around a lot”. The Sunday Times reported on radicals allegedly operating undercover at UCL in the autumn, but Borland said: “If you take a look at their article it really wasn’t based on much. The Sunday Times went really big on it but it wasn’t anything really.”
The Mail on Sunday’s Education Correspondent Glen Owen specifically targeted Imperial College’s Muslim students and Queen Mary’s World Revival Society.
London Student responded to the offer in order to examine the nature of the newspaper’s approach, but never attended any meetings or accepted any money.
ULU is considering banning the sale of sister paper the Daily Mail from its shops in protest at the newspaper’s tactics.
ULU Vice-President Sam Thomas said: “I am disgusted at the thought of a national newspaper abusing students’ freedom through such tactics. These allegations must be thoroughly investigated. If found to be accurate, we will be forced to consider whether the Daily Mail has any place in ULU’s shops.” ULU shops do not open on Sundays, and so do not stock copies of The Mail on Sunday.
The Mail on Sunday was looking for evidence of ‘extremism’, but what this amounted to was unclear. At one point Owen described what they were after: “I don’t know, anything that suggests that extremism is taking hold. It doesn’t matter what form it takes just as long as it gives any indication of extremism.”
At another point he explained: “Well, anything that gives a flavour of the more extreme end of things and any intelligence that you can pick up. It’s not a restricted task, it’s whatever would be of interest.”
See also “MoS under fire from student press”, Guardian, 10 March 2006