West Midlands Police Explains Ofcom Complaint over Exposé of Islamic Extremism

Filmed extremists “stretched the limits, but it was hyped”

Abu Usamah “the last buffer” for radicalised Muslims

The BBC’s Newsnight has an interesting follow-up on Undercover Mosque, the Channel 4 documentary about Islamic extremism at a prominent Birmingham mosque and some other locations. The West Midlands Police spent thousands of pounds reviewing unused footage from the documentary, at first to see if any of those featured the programme had committed any offences. As I blogged at the time, one speaker was shown making joking pig-snorting noises as he suggested all Jews should be killed, while Saudi-trained Abu Usamah was seen telling listeners that:

…No one loves the kuffaar! Not a single person here from the Muslims loves the kuffaar. Whether those kuffaar are from the UK or from the US. We love the people of Islam and we hate the people of kuffaar. We hate the kuffaar!

Newsnight highlights some other footage of Abu Usamah, in which he opines that although he disagrees with the “methodology” of Osama bin Laden, he is worth “a million George Bushes” because he is a Muslim, and that non-Muslims are “pathological liars”.

However, the police decided that there was insufficient evidence to act, and instead decided to investigate whether the programme was “distorted”. The result was that the police force asked the Crown Prosecution Service to consider prosecuting the programme-makers for stirring-up racial hatred under the 1986 Public Order Act; CPS lawyer Bethan David advised them that this would have no chance of success, and instead suggested that they should complain to Ofcom, the UK television regulator.

The police complaint to Ofcom was unprecedented, and according to barrister Sarah Palin it was an act which went beyond police’s remit (Palin co-represented the BBC at the Hutton enquiry, alongside the QC who successfully represented journalist Donal MacIntyre in his libel case against Kent Police. She has also acted in a number of libel cases, and has written an article against the secrecy surrounding family courts). In the opinion of Newsnight, which reviewed transcripts of the unseen footage, the programme “wasn’t distorted”.

Newsnight journalist Peter Marshall explains why the complaint was made, revealing a political context:

Sources in the West Midlands force told me, “What some speakers said in that film stretched the limits, but it was hyped. If that’s all Channel 4 got in months filming undercover, it wasn’t very good.”

They also said the police are keen to maintain good relations with the mosque, and with characters like Abu Usamah, because they’re against terrorism.

The sources describe them as “the last buffer before radicalised people fall off into the abyss. It’s not so much the police wanting to keep in with them, as with keep talking and understanding”.

Maintaining “good relations” apparently includes trying to intimidate critical investigative journalists with legal threats and making complaints about the quality of TV programmes.

It’s good to see BBC Newsnight looking closely at a Channel 4 documentary on Islamism, since they could learn a thing or two: last year Newsnight conducted an exposé of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut Tahrir, relying heavily on material derived from VIGIL, a private and shadowy investigative group. Alas, it was later shown that VIGIL and those associated with it have a rather weird agenda of their own.

(Hat-tip: MediaWatchWatch)

Name variation: Abu Usama