A Note on Tommy Robinson vs Panorama: Part II

From the Independent:

Tommy Robinson played footage from his wedding day to thousands of protesters outside BBC headquarters after the video he wanted to show failed to load.

Supporters, some wearing hi-visibility vests with “Free Tommy” written on them, gathered from 11am on Saturday in the car park in Salford‘s Media City as the right-wing leader prepared to show clips from a new film.

…Canadian musician Kelly Day gave two performances of a version of Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah”, with the lyrics changed to reflect the story of Robinson’s court case and a chorus of “how they rule ya”.

Robinson also played a video clip showing him declaring himself “king of the whole Islam race”, which was reported on earlier this month, though he omitted the parts where he boasted about scoring drugs and used a racial slur.

Robinson did eventually manage to show his video Panodrama, a critique and supposed exposé of the BBC documentary strand Panorama which he is confident will explode an investigation into him – indeed, he appears to believe that the scandal is so great that the BBC itself will fall.

On social media there is some frustration among Robinson’s supporters that media coverage has so far focused on the extended warm-up act rather than the substance of the video. However, this is Robinson’s own fault: he presided over a distracting spectacle that overshadowed the main event; he hasn’t provided a detailed summary in writing; and a promised upload has failed to materialise. Currently, the only way to see the thing is to find near-inaudible camera recordings uploaded by random attendees.

The only substantive write-up of the video itself has been provided by Robinson’s allies at Breitbart, in an article by Jack Montgomery. Montgomery expands on Panorama reporter John Sweeney’s lubricated indiscretions that were trailed last week, and he recounts claims made by Robinson’s sometime videographer Caolan Robertson about how he was approached by the documentary makers. As written up by Montgomery, Robertson “appear[ed] to suggest HOPE Not Hate claimed they were ‘steering’ the BBC documentary” and “were present at meetings between himself and the BBC”.

More bizarrely, Caolan Robertson also “alleged they [Hope Not Hate] engaged in intimidation and sexual impropriety” – claims that Montgomery notes have been rejected by Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles, who says Robertson had retracted before the video was shown; lawyers are now involved, and this may have something to do with the lack of any official upload. From what I’ve seen of the video, Robertson alleged that the “intimidation” consisted of Hope Not Hate investigators advising Robertson and his associates that they may be in trouble with the police unless they cooperated in providing information.


The fieriest section of Robinson’s documentary comes when he confronts Sweeney about a clip which, Robinson believes, showed Sweeney suggest that a past dispute with [Lucy] Brown could be clipped in a misleading way.

Robinson also claimed one of Sweeney’s statements indicated that he intended to create an impression of some “sexual” misconduct by him — which Sweeney denied was the case, claiming Robinson had “mischaracterised” him.

It was Brown who filmed Sweeney’s liquid lunch, during which we now know that he used the terms “honky” and “woofter”, and expressed admiration for the late Martin McGuinness. That seems to have been the only “undercover” segment of the video.

The video also shows that Sweeney was taken in by a fake text message that Brown sent to her herself via FakeMyTextMessage, to give the impression that Tommy Robinson had threatened her – this was an exercise to show how easy it is to concoct fake evidence that is then taken seriously. Presumably Sweeney was unaware that a text message could be faked, but the message – “If u have anything to do wiv the Panorama doc I will fucking bury you you bitch” – was such a perfect gift that Sweeney ought to have been suspicious of it.

How significant is all this? Sweeney’s lunch discourse is personally embarrassing but not much more than that; and the fact that newsgathering is sometimes an ugly and pushy business that may be compromised by bad actors offering false information is not much of a revelation either. However, allegedly discussing how a clip might be presented in a deliberately misleading way goes beyond the normal journalistic instinct for sensation and ought to be taken seriously by the BBC, even if such a ploy would perhaps not have withstood the editorial path to broadcast.

Currently, there is no indication that the BBC is planning to pull the Panorama episode, despite Robinson’s boasts – indeed, Panorama has issued a statement asserting that it intends to continue – and it will be interesting to see what it has to offer that Robertson hasn’t been talking about.