Much has been made of The Daily Telegraph‘s calculated courting — and subsequent criticism — of beseiged NSW Young Australian of the Year Iktimal Hage-Ali.

But did the paper also know about her 22 November arrest and release without charge when they dubbed her the state’s most promising young Muslim leader? Blogger Irfan Yusuf raised the question in Crikey last week:

…why did McIlveen (and his colleagues including Piers Akerman) devote so many words to defending Hage-Ali hardly 7 days ago? Did they know about the November 22 drug bust at the time they knew about Hage-Ali’s arrest?

Crikey now understands that The Daily Tele did know, and they used this information to enact that most tabloid of tactics: build up a public persona for the sole purpose of then eating them alive.

According to Crikey sources, Tele attack dog Luke McIlveen rang Hage-Ali to ask her about the arrest on the same day that the paper ran his article portraying her as a victim of hardline Muslim bloggers who criticised her for drinking alcohol at the NSW Young Australian of the Year award ceremony. All of which makes the Daily Tele’s making and breaking of Hage-Ali seem pretty calculated.

The Tele, unable to resist the droolworthy combination of Islam and drugs, seems to have planned a sequence of events: praise Hage Ali and talk up her role as a young Muslim role model, break the story of her arrest, then run a poll that asks “Should Iktimal Hage-Ali be excluded from future government advisory roles?” then run predictable result (73% of respondents were in favour of her exclusion.)

Moustapha from the Islam Australia blog had this to say about News Ltd’s strategy:

The “journalists” at News Limited knew about her arrest before they published last week’s articles praising Iktimal, she was also hired by News Limited to write an online blog for their website.

So here you have an organisation who knows about an arrest, but still chooses to build this person up as a role model and give her a job — a week later though they decide to bring the girl down with vicious articles to tarnish her reputation.

It is obvious there is an agenda here, it is as plain as daylight — let’s build up a young Muslim woman and then let’s expose her as being no better than the rest of them.

Young Muslim leader Nader Hamdan slammed Hage-Ali’s treatment by The Telegraph in rival paper The SMH:

The Telegraph knew about her being questioned about this drug matter and put her on a pedestal as the fresh face of Muslim youth last week, having her on covers of their paper,” Hamdan, a former Australian boxing champion, said.

“She was their darling and then they shot her down, not only doing her plenty of damage but also to the Australian Muslim community. They set this sensational story up.

“They played her, she’s young, honest and she was gullible, they are parasites for doing this to her. Everyone knows Telegraph is a anti-Muslim paper.”

But the Daily Tele seems too busy taking pot shots at their rivals to defend themselves:

The Sydney Morning Herald – which missed the story – used its website to wrongly suggest that Ms Hage-Ali’s recent employment as a blogger had been deliberately hidden by The Daily Telegraph.

Their online article helped drive thousands of extra readers to The Daily Telegraph‘s rapidly growing website.

Thousands of extra readers. Seems ripping a young Muslim leader’s reputation to shreds has proved stunningly successful.


David Penberthy, Daily Telegraph Editor (and Crikey’s Editor of the Year), writes: Crikey’s account today of The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of Iktimal Hage-Ali is an absurd and baseless conspiracy theory. This newspaper did not know of Ms Hage-Ali’s cocaine arrest when it published a news story, editorial and opinion piece defending her earlier this month over attacks from hardliners within the Muslim community for her drinking champagne at the NSW Australian of the Year awards. We had been strongly supportive of her candidacy – and defended her against those subsequent attacks – because we believed then that she was an excellent role model and an articulate, moderate voice for her community. To suggest that we would somehow deliberately build her up – and even give her a blog – knowing that she was under a serious cloud is ridiculous. It was only because of our support for her that we were contacted by persons with information about her cocaine arrest who rightly told us that we had not published the full story. We then contacted her and asked her whether it was true that she had been arrested and interviewed by police in relation to using cocaine; she told us that she had not. We continued to work on the story for another week and it was only after we corroborated it through three different sources that we decided to publish, despite her (false) denials. Every word we have published is true. It’s also wholly in the public interest. Not only was she the NSW candidate for Young Australian of the Year, she was also handpicked by the PM to serve on his Muslim advisory council. Any other person of similar prominence and standing would have received the same coverage if they had been arrested as part of a drug raid. The truth is that other media are so paralysed by political correctness that they would rather miss the story and then take pot-shots at us. Irfan Yusuf’s contribution to Crikey’s coverage of this issue is unusual, as The Daily Telegraph’s attempts to silence his views have so far comprised the publication of many of his opinion pieces and hosting an online forum on his behalf. I note he claims to have been subjected to nasty feedback while online – surely this is the risk you take if you set yourself up as a commentator. Perhaps he can soothe his feelings by reading the equally vicious messages which we happily publish about the likes of Piers Akerman, Luke McIlveen, or our entire paper and by default our staff – because we subscribe to the old-fashioned notion that it’s not our job as a newspaper to censor people’s views and shut down debate.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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