In August, the Crown Prosecution Service and the West Midlands police referred Channel 4 to Ofcom over a Dispatches documentary, "Undercover Mosque", broadcast last January. Last week Channel 4 was exonerated.
The programme had shown a preacher at the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham declaring that Christians and Jews are the enemies of Muslims, that gays should be thrown off mountains, and that women are created "deficient" by Allah. A CPS lawyer, Bethan David, argued that the documentary had spliced together "extracts from longer speeches" and appeared "to have completely distorted what the speakers were saying".
There was a great deal of media coverage when the CPS and the police made their complaint. Some was sympathetic, pointing out that there was nothing abnormal about editing down 56 hours of footage into an hour-long programme. The Sun ran a leader defending Channel 4, something that does not happen very often. Other reports were less sympathetic, notably on BBC television news, which took the complaint very seriously even though it was pretty obviously tendentious.
Last week's exoneration by Ofcom received much less notice. I could find no report in the London Evening Standard and only a paragraph in The Independent, even though both newspapers covered the original complaint at some length. The Sun, once so exercised, was silent. In large measure the rather scant press coverage probably reflected media values. "Channel 4 let off" is considered less sexy than "Channel 4 taken to the cleaners by Ofcom and fined squillions of pounds".
Nonetheless, these priorities can hardly fully explain the BBC's very different treatment of the story between August and last week. Three months ago the BBC suggested that "Undercover Mosque" might be one more example of television manipulating the facts to suit its agenda. An overexcited Nick Higham, the BBC's media correspondent, even used the word "fakery" on The 10 O'Clock News. Last week, neither that bulletin nor The Six O'Clock News made any mention of Ofcom's judgment, though BBC 2's more independent-minded Newsnight did run an item.
Conceivably there was a degree of professional rivalry: the BBC, having gloried in Channel 4's difficulties, ignored its moment of triumph. That would be bad enough, but there is another possible explanation that is worse. Has the BBC borrowed the Government's new habit of deliberately not associating Muslims by name with any questionable behaviour? It is all right to pillory Channel 4, but wrong – because it may upset Muslim leaders – to draw attention to imams spouting illiberal nonsense. Incidentally, the Saudi Arabian government complained about the programme not only to Ofcom but also to the Foreign Office. Isn't that rather sinister?
Whatever the explanation of the underplaying of the story, it was not the BBC's finest hour. I would be suspicious in any circumstances of attempts by the CPS and police to knobble journalists; as it was, it was clear in August that "Undercover Mosque" was a well-researched and highly respectable piece of journalism produced by reporters who did not have any kind of anti-Muslim agenda. Last week's judgment by Ofcom was a triumph for free speech, and it is shameful that the BBC could not bring itself to report it.
The Prof has got this one wrong
That ubiquitous media sage Professor Roy Campbell-Greenslade writes that my piece last week about Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, "merits deconstruction." Might I say the same about Roy's?
According to him, I would have "surely not dared to write in such a manner ... [without] an inkling that some kind of statement [was] imminent" about Mr Dacre's future. His implication is that a media commentator would not risk offending his employer. (I write a column for the Mail.) Roy also appeared surprised when I recently criticised Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent, after this newspaper had reprinted a Foreign Office memo without attribution.
His assumption that there must be collusion before a media commentator writes about an editor for whom he works may illuminate his own modus operandi. During his long years as The Guardian's press columnist, he rarely, if ever, criticised that paper, and you will search in vain for a harsh word about the London Evening Standard, where he also writes. Roy recently failed to offer any meaningful analysis in his Media Guardian blog of the sacking of Roger Alton, editor of The Observer, The Guardian's sister paper.
Perhaps all media columns are corrupt, controlled by strings the reader does not see. But shouldn't we at least try to be independent? Roy kindly mentioned my "many professional failings" last week, and doubtless they are legion. It was he, of course, who generously agreed, when editor of the Daily Mirror, to move the football in a spot-the-ball competition to save Robert Maxwell money. Was it his love of independence that earned him the sobriquet of Campbell-Greenslade?
For the record, in answer to a question from a reporter last week, Peter Williams, finance director of the Daily Mail and General Trust, said Mr Dacre "has no intention of stepping down".
Embattled MacLennan is a hero under fire
Spare a thought for our old friend Murdoch MacLennan, the chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group and apparently the victim of missile attacks by two former editors.
About 10 days ago, Charles Moore, a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, was quoted by Media Guardian as saying, in a speech, that a former staff member was leaving the paper "to devote more time to journalism". Mr Moore has subsequently suggested that his remark was taken out of context, and accused Media Guardian of "making mischief", so perhaps Mr MacLennan can breathe again.
But then Dominic Lawson, a former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, described my hero to a House of Lords select committee as "a genius with print works" without any journalistic background who was guilty of a "degree of interference".
Oh dear. Is there to be no peace for the architect of The Daily Telegraph's editorial renaissance?Reuse content