Lutfur Rahman and IFE: Ofcom rejects all complaints about our Channel 4 documentary

Very attentive readers might remember the campaign the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) and its allies waged to bombard the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom,  with complaints against my Channel 4 Dispatches programme on them. On February 22, nearly a week before the film was even broadcast, the IFE’s president, Musleh Faradhi, circulated an email saying: “We need to ensure Channel 4 receives a strong message from the community by being inundated with complaints.”

Sizzling, oven-ready template letters were helpfully provided (“I write to express my disgust and disappointment at Channel 4’s wholly inaccurate and defamatory accusations … The documentary is Islamophobic in nature … uses emotive and provocative language … is part of a series of organised, vindictive and orchestrated witch-hunts”) about a programme that no-one had, at that point, even seen.

Sadly, the community didn’t rise up against the evil Channel 4 Islamophobes in quite the numbers the IFE hoped – Ofcom got 205 complaints. Even worse (it must have actually watched the programme!) the regulator yesterday comprehensively rejected every one of those complaints (see page 29 of this PDF.) It describes our film as a “serious documentary focusing on an important issue of public interest,” calling our allegations “legitimate” and “presented with due impartiality.”

One of the most helpful things Ofcom has done is to reject a number of complaints that the programme was “inaccurate,” specifically in describing the IFE as “fundamentalist” and “extremist.” It states that our allegations were “supported by recorded clips, or actual quotes” and that all who featured were given fair opportunity to respond. There was therefore, said Ofcom, “no evidence that viewers were materially misled.”

It has also kiboshed one of the IFE’s favourite arguments – endlessly made over the last eight months – that any attack on them is an “Islamophobic” attack on all Muslims. As Ofcom put it, the programme “made clear that the allegations made related to the IFE only and were not representative of all Muslims… Nor did the programme suggest at any point that all or many Muslims or Muslim organisations or their members were in general extremist or fundamentalist.”

Another common tactic in the face of our allegations, from the fundamentalists and their sympathisers, is not actually to deny our claims, but to say that they are “unsubstantiated” or have “never been put” to them. Lutfur Rahman, the IFE’s little helper at Tower Hamlets council, is particularly fond of this.

It is nonsense, of course: we would not have been able to broadcast or publish unsubstantiated allegations. And all the allegations were exhaustively put to all concerned, as Ofcom also acknowledges.

Ofcom’s latest ruling comes two weeks after it rejected another complaint by the IFE activist, Abjol Miah, ruling that we had indeed presented good evidence that he was active in the IFE. Abjol is also one of a number of people who has lost (or withdrawn) complaints against me at the Press Complaints Commisson over this story.

Everyone who covers Islamist extremists knows how disputatious and litigious they are; the East London Mosque and IFE have the libel lawyers Carter-Ruck on a hair trigger. So this programme was extremely carefully researched. That is why it has successfully withstood all challenge.

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