Channel 4 Television - 'Who Speaks for Muslims?'
21st March 2002
Ms Dorothy Byrne
Commissioning Editor, News Current Affairs & Business
Channel 4 Television
124 Horseferry Road
Dear Ms Byrne,
Re: Who Speaks For Muslims?
Further to our earlier correspondence, I write again to express my concerns about the screening of the documentary "Who Speaks For Muslims?" broadcast on Channel 4 on 15th March 2002.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) welcomes debate and constructive criticism of its policies, and the media play an important role in that. However, in our view your programme fell short of acceptable standards and constituted a deliberate attempt to discredit Muslim organisations in general, and the MCB in particular. The clear underlying message of the documentary was that the British Muslim leadership is untrustworthy with sinister agendas. False messages like this can only generate anti-Muslim sentiments and play into the hands of racists (witness the reference to your programme on the National Front's website, labelling Muslims as traitors). We feel such programmes are extremely unhelpful in the development of a multi-cultural society, particularly in the present climate. We did not see any reference being made to the substantial positive work undertaken by the MCB to represent Muslims over last 4 years.
Your programme also contained inaccuracies about the MCB. We address some of these below:
a) The MCB was certainly not formed as a result of a "diktat" from New Labour. This is factually incorrect. The process of setting-up the MCB started in 1994 with a wide-ranging consultation exercise involving a large number of organisations across the country. This process was wholly independent of any political party. The MCB was finally inaugurated in November 1997.
b) The MCB has over 350 affiliated national, regional and local organisations and institutions across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Many of these affiliated national organisations themselves have their own branches around the country. If these were all added up the MCB would have over 800 organisations represented in it - making it by far the most representative Muslim body in the country.
c) The documentary stated that the MCB had been on government-sponsored trips abroad. In this respect the Hajj visits were made by representatives of major Muslim organisations in the UK. This was a service being offered by our government for the benefit of 20,000 British citizens going for the annual Hajj.
d) We reject any attempt to equate our criticism of Israel's military occupation of Palestine and its racist treatment of Palestinians as constituting anti-Semitism. Muslims have a long and honourable record in defending persecuted Jews and we would wish to be in the vanguard of eliminating all forms of racism.
e) The MCB is a democratic organisation. The Secretary-General is not "appointed" but directly elected by the Central Working Committee of the MCB - which in turn is elected by all our affiliated organisations. The next elections are due to take place 28th April 2002.
f) The Secretary General's attendance at the Tehran Conference in April 2001 was clearly mentioned in the MCB 2001 Annual Report - both in the Introduction (page 9) and the section on International Affairs (page 34). This report is circulated to all government departments, including the Prime Minister's Office. A copy was also given to Mr Herman.
Finally, I should like to say the MCB welcomes enquiries from journalists who engage in fair and honest reporting. Based on the evidence of the programme that was screened on 15th March 2002, we believe that when it comes to examining the embryonic political development of the British Muslim community, Mr David Herman the Producer was, regrettably, neither.
Yousuf Bhailok Secretary General