The newspaper said its headline this week “One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis” did not accurately reflect the results of an opinion poll that the story was based on.
The study by pollster Survation questioned 1,003 British Muslims by phone on behalf of The Sun newspaper, which like The Times is owned by tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
The survey found that 20 percent agreed that they had “some” or “a lot” of “sympathy with young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”.
It did not specify which warring group they were joining in the complex civil war, which has killed over 250,000 people and displaced millions over more than four years.
The result was similar to levels of sympathy among non-Muslims.
The Sun caused a social media outcry when it reported the poll with a front-page headline Monday that read “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”.
Over 30,000 signed a petition demanding The Sun apologise and Britain’s press watchdog said it received about 3,600 complaints.
“This headline and article is not only an inaccurate lie but is also inflammatory and extremely damaging to our community cohesion,” the petition on change.org read.
The petition said the report — which comes amid indications of rising levels of hate crime against Muslims — “amounts to inciting religious and racial hatred and promotes Islamophobia”.
Survation itself distanced from the report, releasing a statement that said “Survation do not support or endorse the way in which this poll’s findings have been interpreted” and noting that the poll had showed a fall in sympathy with fighters travelling to Syria among Muslims since March.
“Furthermore, Survation categorically objects to the use of any of our findings by any group, as has happened elsewhere on social networks, to incite racial or religious tensions,” the pollsters added.
But The Sun, Britain’s most popular newspaper, has defended its reporting.
“People are angry because we dared to tell the truth. Bizarre, no?” columnist Rod Liddle wrote on Thursday.