Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A cucumber ban?

A few days ago, the Mail reported:

The article 'by' Daily Mail Reporter begins:

An Islamic cleric living in Europe has said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any 'sexual thoughts'.

The unnamed sheikh was quoted by el-Sawsana news saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male relative, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.

The cleric said that these fruits and vegetables 'resemble the male penis' and could arouse women or 'make them think of sex,' in a story reported on Egyptian news website Bikya Masr.

And here's how the original article, published on 6 December by Bikyamasr.com, begins:

An Islamic cleric residing in Europe said that women should not be close to bananas or cucumbers, in order to avoid any “sexual thoughts.”

The unnamed sheikh, who was featured in an article on el-Sawsana news, was quoted saying that if women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve.

He said that these fruits and vegetables “resemble the male penis” and hence could arouse women or “make them think of sex.”

Very similar, isn't it? Eventhough Daily Mail Reporter has acknowledged Bikyamasr.com, the article is a shameless cut-and-paste job.

Except for one key sentence, which appears in the original but has been left out of the Mail's article. It says:

Bikyamasr.com cannot independently verify the accuracy of the news item at time of writing.

Why would the Mail leave that out? Instead, they run a story that cannot be verified about an unnamed person in an unnamed country without expressing any apparent doubt about its accuracy.

Moreover, the Mail has also failed to update its readers on a follow-up post written by Joseph Mayton, the Editor of Bikyamasr.com, on 11 December:

As Editor of Bikyamasr.com, I am disappointed that I did not catch and hold this piece. The “Islamic cleric bans women from touching cucumbers, bananas for sexual resemblance,” article should not have run when it did. Arguably, it should not have been run at all. We should not have published about an “unnamed sheikh” in an unnamed European country unless we were able to garner more information on the issue, both on the sheikh himself and the news website the information was gathered from, independently.

We realize that as a growing news organization with a growing reputation and readership, we have an increased responsibility to not only verify our own material at the highest levels, but further investigate the quotes and articles of other news organizations before referencing their work.

This is our error. We apologize for the poor judgment on the matter. It is inexcusable. While the exact quote reported by Assawsana.com may well have been exactly what it was reported to be by that website, without a name and location behind this person and comment, it is difficult to find the information credible.

We recognize our pitfalls and their repercussions. The fact that this story was quoted by a large number of news organizations across the globe shows that our error in judgment can have serious, detrimental effects. For this, we would like to apologize to our readers for the inadequate editorial judgment I, as Editor and Founder, made in this instance.

He adds:

We will continue to push for more information on this story, from Assawsana.com and other sources, in order to interrogate the accuracy of their original article. If we cannot uncover more information, then we take it as our duty to make this clear and do everything in our power to spread that revelation to those who have sourced and quoted us this past week.

But will the Mail be listening?


  1. Things like this make me wonder why on Earth the Daily Mail has such high sales. Then again, maybe people buy the paper to have a laugh lol.

  2. This story is about 400 years old - literally. In the time of the first Elizabeth some English diplomat in Constantinople was passing on a rumour about the emperor's harem - "if they would eat cucumbers they are sent in unto them sliced". It was probably rubbish then, too.

  3. Nothing new for the Mail but, despite printing the original article, bikyamasr could definitely give them some tips in writing retractions. Well done to them for having integrity and humility after what seems to have been a genuine mistake.

  4. Have to agree with the commentator above: that reads like a genuine retraction. No weasely 'might have' and 'may have suggested' rubbish, just the truth, we made a mistake, it caused a problem, we will try our best not to do it again. I know nothing about this news organisation yet I already think it's far more respectable than the Mail!

  5. I have actually complained to the Press Complaints Commission and Daily Mail have taken that article offline in December. This is what they replied:

    Dear ***,

    Thank you for your letter. As the complainant says, we followed the story on bikyamasr.com, and were unaware that the website later published a clarification on the matter. Upon receipt of your letter, we removed the article from our website and have no plans to reinstate it. We published the story in good faith and would point out that neither the complainant nor the Editor of bikyamasr.com have any evidence to support a claim that the original story was untrue, though I accept that we do not have any evidence to the contrary either.
    As the complainant also points out, many reputable global news outlets followed the story and many of these are still running it now – including what appears to be the original source - http://www.assawsana.com/portal/newsshow.aspx?id=58893.


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