Lutfur Rahman, the fundamentalist sympathiser standing for mayor of Tower Hamlets, hasn’t always done terribly well on television. This encounter with me on Channel 4 was, frankly, a bit of a car crash.
Luckily, in his latest electoral struggle, Lutfur has what amounts to his own personal TV station. Channel S, one of the main British Bangla-language digital channels, flickers away in the corners of many Tower Hamlets living rooms. The channel was founded (and is still closely influenced by) a convicted fraudster and hosts regular appeals for the hardline East London Mosque – home to Lutfur’s biggest backers, the Muslim supremacists of the Islamic Forum of Europe. Another of Lutfur’s main backers is closely involved with the channel.
Channel S has form as long as your arm for blatant and repeated breaches of virtually every part of the broadcasting code on fairness, advertising, accuracy and political impartiality. In December 2008, the regulator, Ofcom, fined it £40,000 for broadcasting a party-political advert for the Liberal Democrats during that year’s mayoral election (one of its presenters, Ajmol Masroor, was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Bethnal Green and Bow at this year’s general election.)
In 2008 Ofcom also censured them for three further breaches: for airing sponsored news bulletins, for running more than the permitted amount of advertising, and for plugging the products of a show’s sponsor during the show, which is banned.
The regulator stated: “Ofcom is seriously concerned about the compliance ability of these licensees…Ofcom has informed these licensees that they must attend a meeting to discuss the compliance structures they have in place and how they will ensure future compliance.” It didn’t seem to make much difference to Channel S: they had to be censured again by Ofcom in August 2009.
Channel S has also been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority (three times) for broadcasting banned adverts. An ASA adjudication of 29 March 2009 says: “This was the third time Channel S TV Group channels had not complied with a previous ASA adjudication… Channel S… showed a complete disregard for the [Advertising] Code and their obligations as an Ofcom licensee.”
In keeping with this noble heritage, Channel S’s news programmes during the mayoral election have duly become flagrant and laughable Lutfur propaganda exercises. Here is the video of how the channel’s seekers after truth reported Lutfur’s decision to stand as an independent candidate the other week, and here is a rough translation:
Reporter: Initially, they [Labour] didn’t want him to stand. They removed him from the shortlist then had to pay £35,000 in his legal fees and take him back again.
Ken Clark, Labour Party regional organiser: Labour’s candidate is Lutfur Rahman. (Cheers)
Reporter: There were celebrations for him. He got a majority of the votes. All the others added together got the same amount of votes that he alone got. Even though he won by so many votes, the question is: why did they try to stop him? Helal Abbas [leader of Tower Hamlets council; rival for the nomination] congratulated him and said we’ll all work together.
Helal Abbas: congratulating Lutfur.
Reporter: But the drama didn’t stop there. This was just the beginning. Helal Abbas, the loser, appealed to the [Labour Party] National Executive Committee. Through the NEC, they put Helal Abbas back on track and took the other man out without any democratic mandate.
Helal Abbas: There have been a number of concerns reported to the Labour Party nationally, and as a result they felt the result wasn’t safe. And they had to make a difficult decision, and that’s the decision they have made and the decision I hope every Labour member will carry forward.
Reporter: Everybody agreed to his [Lutfur’s] winning, then Abbas put his appeal to the NEC. And without any substantial proof, they deselected Rahman and imposed Abbas. He has his own little campaign and is gathering with his little clique of people. People, including senior members of the Labour Party, are finding it difficult to accept. After the decision by the NEC, a lot of Labour councillors stood by Lutfur Rahman, and they cannot accept the decsision that was made. The saga played out in a very sharp manner in six [London-based] Bangla newspapers. People questioned the very democratic nature of the party.
Monsur Uddin, Surma newspaper: The whole process, from beginning to end, of the Labour Party selection in truth is just a charade. More than that, the Labour leadership, the NEC, has disgruntled the whole of the Bangladeshi community.
Another Surma journalist: Lutfur won the election but they made the invalid, valid. It’s a sham and disgrace to democracy. Anything in the papers about the Labour Party seems to be big news, they want Lutfur Rahman in, they want Lutfur Rahman out. Sometimes Labour want him, sometimes they don’t want him.
Emdadul Haque Choudhury, journalist: The unconditional loyalty that there was between Labour and the general public is going to be questioned now because of the discriminatory and racist acts of the Labour leadership. The fact they can behave like this proves they can go to any lengths. I wouldn’t have any hestitation in believing it if they did.
Taysir Mahmood, Notun Din newspaper: It’s not very democratic to impose a leader from the centre when that’s not what the people voted for.
Tariq Choudhury, Notun Din: I’m not bothered what the Labour leadership said, I’m going to accept what the democratic process said. If forty people say it, it means the fruit tree is mine [a Bengali proverb roughly translated as ‘whatever the people decide, that’s the legitimate result.’] It’s up to the people to decide who is needed by the community.
You will notice the complete absence of any supporters of anyone other than Lutfur in the film, or any attempt to explain why he was sacked as Labour candidate (just the false claim that there is “no proof” against him), or the presence of the Tory, Lib Dem or Green candidates.
Like all TV stations, Channel S has a legal obligation under the Broadcasting Act 2003 to “strictly maintain… due impartiality” during an election period, to offer all candidates the opportunity to appear in any report it carries about the election.
By these tests, Channel S’s loaded and at some points lying report is quite clearly illegal. The channel has already been reported to Ofcom by the Tory leader, Peter Golds. This station might pass completely beneath the radar of the political and broadcasting establishment, but it is hugely influential with a large part of the Tower Hamlets electorate. Some time in the next few days, we’ll know whether the regulator is content to allow Channel S to remain above the law.