BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ report on extremist group ignores its own role

On June 26th BBC Two’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newsnight‘ aired a report by Richard Watson.

“Newsnight’s Richard Watson has been following the extremist group al-Muhajiroun for 16 years. In this film, he reveals how the group became a crucible of home-grown terror, from the 7/7 London bombings to the recent London Bridge attacks.”

The following day an article by Watson on the same topic appeared on the BBC News website’s UK page under the title “Has al-Muhajiroun been underestimated?“.

“One of the London Bridge attackers was a follower of the banned al-Muhajiroun network. But has the UK been guilty of not taking the Islamist group seriously enough?”

That question crops up repeatedly in both the written and filmed reports. [emphasis added]

“In the late 1990s, Bakri Muhammad toured towns and cities with large Muslim populations in a recruitment drive for his new group. He was largely unchallenged by the British state, which had been preoccupied by the threat posed by Irish republican groups.

They dismissed Bakri Muhammad as a fool. In the wider community, few realised how divisive and dangerous his views were.”

“Fast-forward to 2017 and the terror attack at London Bridge had a strong link with al-Muhajiroun. The attack leader Khuram Butt was a supporter of the network, even appearing in a Channel 4 documentary last year called The Jihadis Next Door.

Butt didn’t exactly hide his extremist sympathies, and this raises a huge question for the British state – was the threat posed by radicals linked to al-Muhajiroun underestimated for years?

“”We’ve been far too tolerant of al-Muhajiroun,” says [Col. Richard] Kemp. Their use of abusive language and threats was not tackled, he suggests.

“It was a major failure and we’ve seen the consequences – we’ve seen Lee Rigby [murdered] by a follower of al-Muhajiroun, we’ve seen numerous attacks around the world.”

“By 2004, it was clear that the al-Muhajiroun network had been at the very least a gateway to terror. […]

So why was more not done? This was ideological extremism and the leaders of the network, like Anjem Choudary, were always careful to stay, just, on the right side of the law so they could not be arrested.”

Indeed the al-Muhajiroun network’s extremism has been glaringly apparent for many years and there were those who tried to raise the alarm on that issue.

However, one topic completely absent from both Richard Watson’s reports is that of the UK media’s frequent provision of a stage for the man who was for many years the face of that network in its assorted forms – Anjem Choudary – as the Telegraph reported last year:

“The BBC and other broadcasters have come under fire for regularly offering Anjem Choudary a platform to air his controversial views.

Ignoring warnings about offering the firebrand cleric the “oxygen of publicity” Choudary became a regular on many of the corporation’s flagship news programmes including Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today.

During his trial Choudary described how he would “bait” the media with controversial statements and relished appearing on air.

The court heard how he had hundreds of media contacts who he would tip off before high profile demonstrations and stunts, including 31 journalists from the BBC.”

As was noted here three and a half years ago:

“…the BBC has been wheeling out Choudary and his template propaganda for over a decade, including a ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2003 in which he refused to condemn the Mike’s Place suicide bombers, another ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2005 in which he likewise refused to condemn the London terror attacks, participation in ‘The Big Questions’ and ‘Newsnight’ and an appearance on ‘Newsnight’ in May 2013 (also promoted on the BBC News website) in which his stance on the brutal murder of Lee Rigby was made amply clear.” 

Especially given that ‘Newsnight‘ was one of Choudary’s regular spots, one would have expected to see in Watson’s reports some acknowledgement – and explanation – of the editorial decisions that lay behind over a decade of facilitation of Choudary’s PR efforts, despite recognition of the fact that his various networks were “a gateway to terror”.

Related Articles:

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BBC interviewee’s group noted in terrorism study

The BBC, ‘democratic principles’ and the Jihadist recruiter 

 

 

BBC coverage of Choudary conviction ignores his BBC appearances

Like many other UK media organisations, the BBC produced considerable coverage of the story of the conviction of British Islamist extremist Anjem Choudary which broke on August 16th.

BBC audiences heard reports on Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News‘, ‘The World Tonight‘ and ‘PM‘. Listeners to the BBC World Service heard a report on ‘Newshour‘. Television audiences also saw reports on the story – for example here and here. Visitors to the BBC News website found reports on its UK page – for example here and here – and an article by the BBC’s home affairs correspondent titled “How Anjem Choudary’s mouth was finally shut” appeared in its magazine section.Choudary magazine

As is the case in some of the other reports, in that article Dominic Casciani referred to Choudary’s relationship with members of the media.

“He would greet the journalists with a smile, and some guile, dressed up as charm.

One day outside Regent’s Park Mosque (he was banned from ranting inside its premises) he told the crowd he was honoured that I had turned up to hear him speak. He liked playing games. It gave him a sense that he was winning.” […]

“Choudary loved the limelight and revelled in media attention.” […]

“He [Choudary] tried in vain to get the Supreme Court to stop the prosecution. He asked some journalists if they would act as character witnesses (I wasn’t one of them).”

In the Newshour report, presenter James Coomarasamy remarked:

“And in Britain he’s been a fairly ubiquitous sort of figure. This is not someone – for listeners around the world – this is not someone who’s only reached…ehm…supporters via Youtube or via other social media. He’s been on mainstream news programmes quite regularly, hasn’t he?”

But in none of the above reports did BBC journalists acknowledge that their own corporation repeatedly provided Choudary with a platform. Following an interview with Choudary on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme in December 2013 in which he controversially refused to condemn the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby, we noted here that:

“Of course there can be no doubt that the BBC editors who decided to interview Choudary for that programme knew in advance exactly what kind of responses they were going to get from him. After all, like the proprietors of some Victorian freak-show seeking to attract audiences by way of the ‘shock factor’, the BBC has been wheeling out Choudary and his template propaganda for over a decade, including a ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2003 in which he refused to condemn the Mike’s Place suicide bombers, another ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2005 in which he likewise refused to condemn the London terror attacks, participation in ‘The Big Questions’ and ‘Newsnight’ and an appearance on ‘Newsnight’ in May 2013 (also promoted on the BBC News website) in which his stance on the brutal murder of Lee Rigby was made amply clear. 

Beyond his tawdry ‘shock factor’ which is exploited to the full by the BBC, Anjem Choudary does not represent one of those “significant stands of thought” which the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines pledge to reflect and represent. His bigoted rants and apologist attitude to terrorism reflect the views of no more than a minuscule proportion of British citizens and such views certainly are not embraced by the vast majority of people who share his faith. And yet, following the latest round of criticism in December, the BBC felt the need to defend its amplification of the abhorrent views of an anti-democratic supremacist.

“A BBC spokeswoman said: “We have given great consideration to our reporting of the Woolwich murder and the subsequent trial, and carried a wide range of views from across the political and religious spectrums.

“We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on why it happened. We believe it is important to reflect the fact that such opinions exist and feel that Choudary’s comments may offer some insight into how this crime came about.”Choudary Newshour

In both the ‘Newshour’ report and in his written article, Dominic Casciani describes Choudary as having “used his megaphone to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of Britain”. If the BBC now recognises that, one must of course ponder the question of why it saw fit to so frequently provide him with a microphone no less pernicious than his megaphone.

It is of course precisely that factor which has over the years prompted repeated criticism of the BBC’s frequent showcasing of Choudary. A recent article in the Telegraph notes that:

“…Choudary became a regular on many of the corporation’s flagship news programmes including Newsnight and Radio 4’s Today.

During his trial Choudary described how he would “bait” the media with controversial statements and relished appearing on air.

The court heard how he had hundreds of media contacts who he would tip off before high profile demonstrations and stunts, including 31 journalists from the BBC.

Last night Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said: “The BBC has given this man hours of airtime down the years providing him with a platform to express his views.

“It was never with the intention of adding to the debate but simply for shock value. “Choudary TV news

But if the BBC’s funding public is under the impression that this case will perhaps prompt some overdue introspection on the topic of the corporation’s provision of platforms for extremists, a response from a BBC spokesman which appears in a Daily Mail article may indicate that such hopes are premature.

“A BBC spokesperson said: ‘This interview took place 3 years before today’s court ruling. It is important to acknowledge that such opinions exist within the UK, throughout the segment Anjem Choudry’s views were robustly challenged by our presenter and countered by Lord Carlile, the government’s former anti-terrorism adviser.'”

Obviously some at the BBC still don’t get it.

Related Articles:

Anjem Choudary’s BBC appearances ignored in reports on his arrest

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The BBC, ‘democratic principles’ and the Jihadist recruiter

BBC interviewee’s group noted in terrorism study

As readers who do not confine their news consumption to the BBC may already be aware, the Times (among others) recently reported on a new study by Raffaello Pantucci of RUSI. Choudary  

“One single Islamic extremist network emerges as the dominant force in big terror attacks and plots in Britain over the past 20 years, a new study shows.

The al-Muhajiroun organisation, which targets young Muslims, has been so successful in radicalising jihadists that its influence can be seen in about half of atrocities committed or planned by Britons at home and abroad. The group has been banned but gets around the law by changing its name. […]

Al-Muhajiroun was founded by Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian refugee who settled in Britain in 1986 and then emigrated to Lebanon. Subsequently, its leading figure was Anjem Choudary, a radical London activist, who has 28,600 Twitter followers.”

Anjem Choudary is of course a familiar figure to BBC audiences. One has to wonder whether the findings of this study will have any effect on the BBC’s existing opinion that giving airtime to his views provides “insight” to the licence fee-paying public. 

Anjem Choudary’s BBC appearances ignored in reports on his arrest

The ‘England’ page of the BBC News website published a report titled “Anjem Choudary held in London terror raids” on September 25th  in which Choudary is described as a “radical Islamist preacher”. Given that most readers will naturally associate the use of the word ‘preacher’ with some sort of religious qualification, the accuracy of the BBC’s description is questionable – as Mehdi Hasan noted in 2010:

“Is Choudary an Islamic scholar whose views merit attention or consideration? No. Has he studied under leading Islamic scholars? Nope. Does he have any Islamic qualifications or credentials? None whatsoever.”

The article also included the following analysis from the BBC’s Home Affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani:Choudary arrest

“Anjem Choudary is a deeply controversial Islamic figure, a man who many Muslims despise because they believe he causes enormous damage to their position in British society.

Alongside another now-banned cleric, he once spearheaded al-Muhajiroun, a group that argued that the West is fighting a war against Muslims and Islam.

When the government banned the group, some of its former members founded new organisations, including Islam4UK and Muslims Against Crusades – which were also later banned.

The latter group’s protests against British soldiers returning from Afghanistan, led to counter-protests and the subsequent formation of the English Defence League.

Mr Choudary has always denied allegations that he has either incited or glorified acts of terrorism.”

Despite his promotion of Choudary’s denials, Casciani made no attempt to provide readers with an in-depth view of the actual agenda of Choudary’s various groups or of the nature of his opinions – such as his recent statement of support for ISIS and the practice of crucifixion.

The following day – September 26th – the BBC News website produced an additional report titled “Radical preacher Anjem Choudary released from custody” which once again included multiple descriptions of Choudary as a “preacher” and context-free amplification of his outlandish claims.

“He described his arrest as “politically motivated”, in order to silence him on the eve of the Parliamentary vote on military intervention in Iraq.”

The various reincarnations of Choudary’s extremist group under assorted titles have of course been common knowledge for a long time. Neither his prominent position in groups serially banned by the British government, his promotion of bigoted views nor his connections to the export of European Jihadists to the Middle East has, however, presented a barrier to Choudary’s regular invitations to appear on various BBC programmes.

Curiously, that fact was not reflected in either of the BBC’s reports concerning Choudary’s recent arrest.

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The BBC, ‘democratic principles’ and the Jihadist recruiter

One of the public purposes defined in the Charter which is the BBC’s constitutional basis is that of “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. According to the BBC Trust’s interpretation of that public purpose, it will be achieved through “high-quality and distinctive journalism that meets the highest standards of accuracy, fairness and impartiality”.

In the opening paragraphs of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality it is stated:

“Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” [emphasis added]

Needless to say, it would be perfectly obvious to most licence fee payers that “detachment from fundamental democratic principles” includes the promotion and amplification of the views of people to whom democracy is an anathema to be rejected on the basis of ideology. 

Nevertheless, the BBC once again found itself at the centre of wide-ranging public criticism towards the end of December 2013 when it chose to provide a platform for the views of just such an opponent to “fundamental democratic principles”.

On December 20th 2013 BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme conducted an interview with Anjem Choudary as part of its coverage of the sentencing of the murderers of British soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London last year.

“When asked by the Today presenter John Humphrys whether he condemned the killings, Choudary said: “I think that to talk about condemnation or to talk about how we feel is not the most important question now, and I’m not going to go down that road. I think that what is important is to learn lessons from what has taken place.

“Whether you agree or disagree with what took place, you cannot predict the actions of one individual among a population of 60 million when the government is clearly at war in Muslim countries. I condemn those who have caused what has taken place on the streets of London, and I believe that the cause of this is David Cameron and his foreign policy.” “

Of course there can be no doubt that the BBC editors who decided to interview Choudary for that programme knew in advance exactly what kind of responses they were going to get from him. After all, like the proprietors of some Victorian freak-show seeking to attract audiences by way of the ‘shock factor’, the BBC has been wheeling out Choudary and his template propaganda for over a decade, including a ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2003 in which he refused to condemn the Mike’s Place suicide bombers, another ‘Hardtalk’ interview from 2005 in which he likewise refused to condemn the London terror attacks, participation in ‘The Big Questions’ and ‘Newsnight’ and an appearance on ‘Newsnight’ in May 2013 (also promoted on the BBC News website) in which his stance on the brutal murder of Lee Rigby was made amply clear. 

Beyond his tawdry ‘shock factor’ which is exploited to the full by the BBC, Anjem Choudary does not represent one of those “significant stands of thought” which the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines pledge to reflect and represent. His bigoted rants and apologist attitude to terrorism reflect the views of no more than a minuscule proportion of British citizens and such views certainly are not embraced by the vast majority of people who share his faith. And yet, following the latest round of criticism in December, the BBC felt the need to defend its amplification of the abhorrent views of an anti-democratic supremacist.

“A BBC spokeswoman said: “We have given great consideration to our reporting of the Woolwich murder and the subsequent trial, and carried a wide range of views from across the political and religious spectrums.

“We have a responsibility to both report on the story and try to shed light on why it happened. We believe it is important to reflect the fact that such opinions exist and feel that Choudary’s comments may offer some insight into how this crime came about.”

It is of course nothing short of amazing that an organization with such a miserable record on the reporting of terrorism – so much so that it even self-censors the use of the word – believes that it has the credentials to offer its audiences anything which can honestly be described as relevant “insight” into the background to an act of terrorism.

But if that genuinely is the BBC’s intention, then rather than merely providing a sensationalist rating-magnet platform for the propagation of his ample hate, it could of course conduct some proper exposure of the nature of the activities of Choudary and his associates.

In contrast to its valueless amplification of Choudary’s bigoted and undemocratic views to millions, that would go some way towards sustaining the civil society – both in Britain and abroad – to which the BBC is supposedly committed.