29 May 2017
The Muslim Council of Britain has written to the BBC highlighting its concern that the BBC Sunday Politics programme chose to give airtime to Douglas Murray, a commentator known for his anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic views.
PO BOX 1922
Darlington DL3 0UR
29 May 2017
BBC Sunday Politics 28 May 2017
I am writing to submit a formal complaint about Douglas Murray’s video and his subsequent appearance on BBC Sunday Politics on 28 May 2017. This complaint is on behalf of the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest umbrella body of Muslim organisations in the UK and is concerning a number of breaches of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, specifically related to accuracy and impartiality.
In his video, Mr Murray made an inaccurate factual assertion on a controversial topic that was allowed to air without challenge. He stated: “Eastern Europe does not have a problem with Islamic terrorism because it does not have much Islam.” To clarify, Eastern Europe is actually the only part of Europe with Muslim-majority countries (Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Azerbaijan) and states such as Macedonia with 40% Muslim population – significantly higher than any country in Western Europe. This false allegation was the central pillar of his controversial opinion. Whilst it is of course important to allow freedom of expression for those from a variety of standpoints, inaccuracy is in clear breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. In addition to this inaccuracy, his view that “Less Islam in general is obviously a good thing”, is in sharp contrast to the view of our security services who state that there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation (see here). At best, this position would be considered controversial, yet it was not rigorously challenged in the video, nor sufficiently in the subsequent interview.
Furthermore, Mr Murray himself is known to be a hugely controversial figure on this topic, as someone who said “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board” and has often been called an apologist for torture. Even the Conservative front bench broke off relations with him many years ago, yet he was introduced without any reference to his controversial background.
The inaccuracy, which was not challenged in the subsequent discussion, and the lack of introduction constitute serious breaches of a number of BBC’s accuracy and impartiality guidelines (3.4.11, 3.4.12, 4.4.7, 4.4.8, 4.4.14 and 4.4.18 as listed below) – breaches whose seriousness are only exacerbated given the video had been seen in advance and gone through the internal editorial processes with sufficient time for due diligence.
Mr Murray also misled BBC Sunday Politics’ audience in the subsequent interview by claiming that two thirds of British Muslims would not report a family member they found to be involved in extremism to the police. This is hugely misleading for three reasons:
- His summary does not reflect the actual poll: The poll question asks: “If you thought someone close to you was getting involved with people who supported terrorism in Syria, what would you do?” Given the question is about someone close to you, it is not surprising that people say: “I would talk to them directly to dissuade them” (26%) or “I would talk to family/friends” (20%), as well as “I would report to the police” (52%). The bracketed figures are the proportions of Muslims who gave each of those answers (see page 61 of the report here).
- Given the question, those who are not Muslim seem to act in a worse way than Muslims with even fewer reporting yet Mr Murray seems to imply Muslims are particularly bad: Whilst in this report, the control group figures are hidden and the underlying ICM poll data is not disclosed, when the same question was asked to a control group in the last ICM/Channel 4 poll (see page 549 here), a whopping 70% of Britons would not report extremism.
- The last time this question was asked in a simple way (as might have been inferred from what Mr Murray said) to British Muslims, 94% would report to the police (see Page 22 of the BBC Comres poll here). This is not a question of picking and choosing polls but choosing ones that have simple questions.
Therefore, once again Mr Murray made a false factual assertion on a controversial topic and was not challenged, despite it being well known that in each case of terrorism in recent years, Muslim communities have reported the perpetrator to the police from the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby to the Westminster attacker Khalid Masood and the subsequent attempted attack 5 weeks later, and Salman Abedi in Manchester.
It is hugely disappointing to see Mr Murray being invited onto the BBC and spouting such views without being challenged – in particular inaccuracies that have huge ramifications to communities across the country.
Given the BBC’s role as a national broadcaster for all, we hope that the Editorial Guidelines can be followed and appropriate action can be taken to resolve the complaint.
Look forward to hearing from you
Harun Rashid Khan
Accuracy and impartiality guidelines breached
3.4.11: “We must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences with our content.”
3.4.12: “We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”
4.4.7 “When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active. Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”
4.4.8 “Due impartiality normally allows for programmes and other output to explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed. When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’ this should be clearly signposted, should acknowledge that a range of views exists and the weight of those views, and should not misrepresent them. Consideration should be given to the appropriate timeframe for reflecting other perspectives and whether or not they need to be included in connected and signposted output. If such output contains serious allegations, a right of reply may be required, either as part of the same output, or in a connected and clearly signposted alternative.”
4.4.14 “We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
4.4.18: “Contributors expressing contentious views, either through an interview or other means, must be rigorously tested while being given a fair chance to set out their full response to questions. Minority views should be given appropriate space in our output; it is not for the BBC to suppress discussion”