TV fakery travesty of a mockery of a sham
Hot off the presses: A victory for Channel 4, decent journalism and free speech. This important, insightful film was commissioned by my colleague in C4 Commissioning, Kevin Sutcliffe.
DISPATCHES VINDICATED OVER UNDERCOVER MOSQUE FILM
The makers of Channel 4’s Dispatches investigation Undercover Mosque have won a public apology and six figure libel settlement from West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service which falsely accused them of TV fakery.
At the High Court this morning [15 May 2008] West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service apologised unreservedly for the comments which they have accepted were incorrect and unjustified. They have withdrawn the remarks and undertaken not to repeat them. They have said that they “were wrong to make these allegations… and now accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity”.
Undercover Mosque included a number of excerpts from preachers and teachers uttering statements such as:
‘Allah created women deficient’
‘…it takes two witnesses of a woman to equal one witness of the man’
‘By the age of ten, it becomes an obligation on us to force her (young girls) to wear hijab, and if she doesn’t wear hijab, we hit her’
‘take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain’
‘Whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else – kill him in the Islamic state’.
West Midlands Police and the CPS have also agreed to pay substantial damages to the programme makers. The programme makers will be donating all of the damages to The Rory Peck Trust. The Rory Peck Trust exists to support freelance news gatherers and their families worldwide in times of need, and to promote their welfare and safety. Established in 1995, the Trust provides financial assistance to freelancers in need, and to the families of those who are killed or seriously injured or suffering persecution as a result of their work. The Trust is totally independent and relies on its income from sponsorship, grants and donations.
The settlement followed the issue of libel proceedings by the programme makers in response to public statements made by West Midlands Police and the CPS about the investigative documentary (broadcast 15 January 2007) which exposed extremism in a number of British Mosques.
In August last year, WMP and CPS issued a joint press release falsely claiming the programme had completely distorted the views of Muslim preachers and clerics featured in the programme by misleading editing.
Unusually, WMP and CPS also referred the programme to TV regulator Ofcom who rejected their complaints and stated “each and every quote was justified by the narrative of the programme and put fully in context” (see below).
Kevin Sutcliffe, Deputy Head of Current Affairs at Channel 4 who oversees Dispatches, said: “This is a total vindication of the programme team in exposing extreme views being preached in mainstream British mosques. Channel 4 was fully aware of the sensitivities surrounding the subject-matter but recognised that the programme’s findings were clearly a matter of important public interest. The authorities should be doing all they can to encourage investigations like this, not attempting to publicly rubbish them for reasons they have never properly explained. We will continue to produce undercover investigations of this nature.”
David Henshaw, Executive Producer and Managing Director of Hardcash Productions, who produced the documentary added: “This was a thorough and detailed one-hour documentary, made over nine months and at personal risk to the undercover reporter. The abhorrent and extreme comments made by fundamentalist preachers in the film speak for themselves. They later claimed they had been taken out of context – but no one has explained the correct context for arguing that women are ‘born deficient’, that homosexuals should be thrown off mountains, and that ten year old girls should be hit if they refuse to wear the hijab.”
Hardcash Productions are a leading independent television company who specialise in documentary making. They produced the multi-award-winning Beneath the Veil and an investigation into the post office, Third Class Post, for Channel 4’s Dispatches strand.
Julian Bellamy, Head of Channel 4, said: “When the West Midlands Police and CPS refused to withdraw their damaging remarks we had no option but to support this action. As Channel 4’s flagship current affairs programme, Dispatches has an outstanding reputation for brave and incisive journalism. It was clearly vital to us that an important piece of journalism and the reputation of its makers was not undermined by these unjustified allegations remaining unchallenged. Journalism of this kind has always been, and will continue to be, central to Channel 4’s purpose.”
A bit of the background:
Following broadcast West Midlands Police launched an investigation into some of the individuals featured in the programme. They sought a production order for untransmitted material with which Channel 4 complied.
In August 2007 ACC Anil Patani (Security and Cohesion) wrote to Channel 4 on behalf of the West Midlands Police who, together with the Crown Prosecution Service, simultaneously issued a press release alleging some comments in Undercover Mosque had been ‘Edited together to change their meaning’ and/or ‘Broadcast out of context’. The press release also stated that the programme might ‘undermine community cohesion.’
In November Ofcom dismissed all complaints against Undercover Mosque and rejected evidence supplied by the West Midlands Police to support their claim of misrepresentation through misleading editing. It concluded:
“Undercover Mosque was a legitimate investigation, uncovering matters of important public interest. Ofcom found no evidence that the broadcaster had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity. On the evidence (including untransmitted footage and scripts), Ofcom found that the broadcaster had accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context.”