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Tuesday, November 20, 2007 

The clearing of Undercover Mosque and a certain law firm's involvement.

As widely predicted, Channel 4's Undercover Mosque programme was cleared by Ofcom of any breaches of the broadcasting code (PDF), including West Midlands Police's complaint that the editing of the programme had "completely distorted" what the speakers featured had said. Unlike some of the unfair criticism thrown at the police which claimed they had no evidence whatsoever on which to make such allegations, the Ofcom report features five examples (page 12) which the police gave which they said proved that the speakers' lectures had been misquoted. In the event, all are rather flimsy, and seem to more than give the benefit of the doubt to those featured whom in some cases were using bloodcurdling rhetoric which the police never disputed.

The 4th sequence the police included in their evidence that those featured had their views distorted is especially laughable, referring to Abdul Basit, who said that "the hero of Islam is the one who separated his head from his shoulders", talking of how a tabloid newspaper had praised a Muslim soldier who died with the headline "Hero of Islam". WMP's complaint wasn't that Basit hadn't said exactly that; it was that the comment had come from a far longer speech. It's hard not to be sympathetic towards Channel 4's dismissive comment on the WMP's complaint that the force had a "fundamental misunderstanding of the editing process" and betrayed "staggering naivety" about television production in general.

If the police felt they had to get involved, and on the basis of the evidence they produced their reasons for doing so were far from open and shut, the very last thing they ought to have done is go about it in the way they did, going straight to the media with what they were about to do rather than even bothering to consult Channel 4 and seek an explanation from them. It's become something of a practice for the police to run to the newspapers whenever they've got what they think is a "hot story", and especially considering their past record in doing just that in terrorism cases, you can't help but feel that this time round it's badly backfired. While the police have every right to complain about what they personally felt was a misleading and distorted documentary, the message sent by their actions was that those who were caught making highly offensive and extreme statements in places of worship were at best being defended by the police, with at worst giving the impression that they were above the law. In my view, the Crown Prosecution Service came to the right conclusion that no one should have been prosecuted for the views expressed in the programme; however condemnable and despicable the speeches were, they were not inciting racial hatred or violence, although in the case of "take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain" they came close. By their joint actions with the police however the distinct impression will have been sent that Channel 4 were the ones who should have been under the microscope.

David Davis goes a little over the top in suggesting that the police's actions risked "impeding freedom of speech", but it certainly merits asking the West Midlands police why they broadened their initial investigation from that of what was said on the programme onto those who made it. Some will and have cried political correctness, but considering that the CPS did consider whether any laws had been breached that hardly stands up to scrutiny. The most damage the police attitude will have done however is to the cause of moderates within the Muslim community: we need those who are spreading and disseminating such views in mosques to be exposed and shown up for how unrepresentative they are, and this is exactly what Undercover Mosque did. We also need to learn how to deal with such views when they are expressed in order to fight back against them; for the police to in effect accuse Channel 4 of being the ones in the wrong will have only have given those expressing such virulent viewpoints the feeling of impunity.

The most unexpected but revealing fact is left until near the end of the Ofcom bulletin (page 44). As well as the police complaining, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia" also authorised a legal firm to moan for them. Just who were the fine upstanding body of lawyers who took the money off those who stand in charge of a system which sentences a rape victim to 200 lashes and six months imprisonment? You've got it, Schillings. This would be the same Schillings who last week co-signed a letter to the Grauniad calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the lawyers in Pakistan caught up in Musharraf's declaration of emergency purge, rights which those in the same position in Saudi Arabia have never had. Strangely, the cases involving the tyrants of Saudi Arabia and lying oligarchs like Alisher Usmanov aren't featured on Schillings' client press releases page, although it is shouting about its successful defense of footballer Anton Ferdinand.

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