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A published response

Peter Barron | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 17 December 2007

Newsnight logoThe Daily Telegraph's Charles Moore wrote in the paper on Saturday criticising Newsnight for our coverage of the Policy Exchange story. Today the paper has published our account of what happened - you can read an unedited version here.

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Charles Moore's attack on Newsnight's investigation into a report by Policy Exchange is a distortion of the truth and does him no credit. Newsnight has regularly investigated Islamic extremism in Britain. In October we planned to broadcast the findings of the report entitled "The Hijacking of British Islam" which said that hate literature was available for sale in 26 of the 100 British mosques they surveyed. Policy Exchange offered the report to Newsnight and to corroborate their claims provided a bundle of receipts proving where the books had been bought.

On the planned day of broadcast our reporter Richard Watson told me he had approached one of the accused mosques and shown them the receipt. They denied selling the literature and said the receipt was not genuine. I asked to see all the receipts and we quickly identified five or six which looked suspicious - not "one or two" as Mr Moore suggests. They appeared to have been created and printed on a PC, they included mistakes such as incorrect addresses, and two of them - purportedly from different mosques - appeared to have been filled in with the same handwriting.

Mr Moore says the right thing to have done at this point would have been to "broadcast Policy Exchange's findings at once, allowing the mosques to have their say". I disagree. I concluded it would be wholly wrong to give such prominence to the report without resolving these doubts.

That day we tried to clear up the discrepancies. I spoke, in a conference call with Policy Exchange, to one (not two) of the researchers involved in gathering the receipts. I also spoke to the project coordinator. It has not subsequently been possible to speak to any of the researchers. The conversation did not reassure me, nor have Policy Exchange's subsequent explanations for how the discrepancies might have occurred.

Mr Moore is misleadingly selective about the forensic analyst's findings. Her clear conclusion is that there is "strong evidence" that two receipts from separate mosques were written by the same person and that "the possibility of more than one person being responsible is unlikely."

Mr Moore accuses us of chasing a "small story" and says we chose, in effect, to side with extremists. Newsnight does not side with anyone. We simply took care to check the evidence Policy Exchange gave us to support their report's very serious accusations. Our report acknowledged that extreme literature is available in some of the mosques. But Newsnight checked five receipts and in all five there were serious doubts about authenticity. In my book that's a story.

Mr Moore blusters, but barely deals with the question of authenticity. Will he answer this? Given that Policy Exchange's report was based on the testimony of the researchers who provided the receipts, does he, and Policy Exchange, think all of the receipts are genuine?

Peter Barron
Editor, Newsnight

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 11:11 AM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

What I find astonishing about Charles Moore's article is that he thinks [as a journalist!] that things like evidence are so unimportant.

If one made accusations in a court of law, which were then found by the jury to be unsupportable by the evidence, then a person could walk away from the court an innocent man or woman with not a stain on their character. And if one made those accusations again, one could be in very hot water indeed.

So if the Policy Exchange are taking this as seriously as they maintain, does that mean they will no longer be '100%' behind their report, and will be removing it from their website until their internal investigation has been completed ?

Rather as for their threat of 'legal action', I am not holding my breath..

  • 2.
  • At 12:58 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Elliot Spencer wrote:

I find Charles Moore's points more convincing than your rebuttal - especially as you have avoided responding to his most serious charge, that you (and the BBC) ignored a large story to concentrate on a small one. Whatever the rights and wrongs of some of the receipts you do not say that the majority were forged, logically you must then believe that they are correct and this would seem to underpin the Policy Exchange points.

It seems that the BBC makes every effort to avoid offence only when Islam is involved. Once would be forgivable, twice a coincidence - but nearly always acting to avoid any criticism of Islam and its madder proponents smacks of cowardice or worse.

  • 3.
  • At 01:07 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Rob Clark wrote:

Mr Barron,
If you felt the 5 receipts weren’t genuine, then fair enough you made a judgment call not to run with the story. I quite accept that’s your prerogative, even though it only represents 20% of the receipts with which you were prevented.

Nevertheless, this is clearly a subject which warrants further investigation. The story isn’t about whether a percentage of the evidence looked suspicious, it’s about whether this ‘hate literature’ is still available in Britain. If it is, then that’s news.

I look forward to ongoing investigations by your excellent team…

  • 4.
  • At 01:14 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • dave t wrote:

And will Newsnight admit that these books ARE on sale since they showed one in the background during their report!??

BBC Newsnight - you KNOW you got it wrong which is why Paxo looked so bloody embarrassed!

  • 5.
  • At 01:29 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Quevoni wrote:

Peter,

Are you going to ask the conservatives about jumping on the bandwagon that the report (see its title) was trying to lead; and the cynical arrogant PR that cameron and co. were jumping on re: raising it with the saudi's.


Best,

Quevoni

"The problem with ideology"

  • 6.
  • At 01:44 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Simon Stephenson wrote:

Mr Barron

You are seeking to restrict the scope of this discussion to the specific things that occurred in respect of this Report and this programme. You are looking to restrict in this way because you know that you have a position that is defensible - AS LONG AS the subject under discussion is not extended to cover the consistency, or otherwise, between the approach you have adopted in this case, and that which you have adopted in testing the validity of other areas of discussion.

The BBC stands accused of adopting a triple-standard approach to story presentation:-

1. Where what is being portrayed is both mainstream and in accordance with your general philosophy, you will seek supporting evidence purely for the purposes of corroborating your pre-conceived view. That the evidence is not deliberately falsified may be true, but what is also true is that there is really no attempt made to ensure that what is presented is fairly representative of the actual situation. The production path therefore is opinion to evidence, not, as would be more correct, the other way round.

2. Where the portrayal is mainstream but contrary to your own perception, your investigation will be designed to conclude that the judgement is an open question. You consider it inappropriate to come out firmly against a position inhabited by much of the mainstream, but with which you disagree. So you don't attempt to demonstrate the position to be definitely wrong - you seek instead to establish a view that it can't be proved to be right, but that it is held by reputable people who have in this instance may have got something wrong.

3. Where a portrayal is out of the mainstream it will by definition also be contrary to your philosophy. This time your goal is to smash this viewpoint at all costs; no matter what fallacies of argument you use; no matter how true, in actuality, the viewpoint is, it MUST be discredited because it is not mainstream. And those holding the view must also be discredited, because, by believing something that isn't mainstream, they are displaying an independence of thought that is too dangerous to be acceptable to the power elite, of which you form part.

Can you defend yourself against THESE accusations, not just the one for which you know you have a damage-quelling answer?

  • 7.
  • At 01:50 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Jeanette Eccles NW London wrote:

As Shakespeare said in Hamlet

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks".

In sum: A minority of publications available in a minority of mosques contain matter offensive to a majority of folk.

Or

In a 3 to 1 majority of mosques, NO offensive literature was discovered by 'researchers' who were apparently very keen to find such material.

Does that amount to Islam being "Hijacked"?

Salaam/Shalom/Shanthi
ed

  • 9.
  • At 05:12 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Andy Weir wrote:

I think it's deeply unfair for people to be pointing the finger at BBC Newsnight for apparently choosing to ignore a big story in favour of a smaller one to save face.

However, if we all take a deep breath and a step back, and perhaps entertain some notion of reason in all this, we can deal with the actual facts of which we are certain.

Newsnight looked at five or six of the receipts that had come into their posession, and all of those were of questionable authenticity. Newsnight made a responsible decision to delay going ahead with the story while these authentication issues were dealt with.

I don't think anyone could reasonably say that this was a bad decision. To have run the story with so many doubts undermining the supporting evidence for it would have been socially irresponsible, and there would no doubt have been a much greater outcry if the BBC had done this.

For reasons that are still unclear, Policy Exchange decided to pick a fight with the BBC for failing to run the story, despite the fact that holding back was clearly the responsible thing to do. No good reasons have been given by Policy Exchange for their salacious words towards the BBC, nor their curious lack of cooperation in the BBC's own investigations into the issues of authenticity with the receipts.

Policy Exchange has also failed to publicly answer the very valid questions of how these 'fake' receipts came into their possession, nor why their authenticity was not called into question sooner.

To my knowledge, BBC Newsnight has not excluded the possibility of running the original story - about mosques purchasing so-called 'hate literature' - and to any reasonable observer, there are clearly a number of issues that need to be explored and explained before the BBC can responsibly broadcast the story.

I simply don't understand why some persons are choosing to point the finger at Newsnight for 'being wrong' or somehow backing down on an important story. The allegation that the BBC is somehow obsessed with the avoidance of offending Islam is pretty flimsy and insubstantial - it's an easy thing to say, although it would be lovely to see some 'evidence' of such spurious allegations - although I personally don't see this as a particularly negative prospect, given how socially contentious the discussion of Islamic affairs can be.

I think the BBC did the right thing here, and I hope to see both stories - about the alleged purchase of hate literature by mosques, and the alleged failures by Policy Exchange to provide authenticated information in support of a story of national significance that they were pushing - explored fully by Newsnight over the coming weeks.

  • 10.
  • At 08:01 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • fnusnuank wrote:

So the muslim researchers faked their receipts to ensure they got paid for the literature they purchased.

However, they bought the literature they said and in the places stated but it's all about the receipts.

If that sums it up you are pitiful.

  • 11.
  • At 08:03 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • fnusnuank wrote:

So the muslim researchers faked their receipts to ensure they got paid for the literature they purchased.

However, they bought the literature they said and in the places stated but it's all about the receipts.

If that sums it up you are pitiful.

  • 12.
  • At 08:23 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Jawed Iqbal wrote:

This great investigation by Newsnight proves that there are outfits out there who are on a mission of demonising Muslims in the UK.

This is no longer a claim or a conspiracy theory but has now been proven by Newsnight.

Newsnight needs to go further and investigate all such 'research' and polls that have come out recently which have claimed to show Muslim support of extremism.

One very obvious example is The Times poll which came out in the summer suggesting that a specific percentage of British Muslims supported the aims of al-Qaida.

I have always been suspicious of that poll. Come on Newsnight expose these people and more importantly get to the heart of it. Who is funding such 'research'? Who is behind all of this?

  • 13.
  • At 01:21 AM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • give over... wrote:

Spencer, Gelert etc.

the question here is as to the validity of the research. If it is open to doubt, then the whole house comes crashing down.

Claiming that, well only 20% are dubious, what about the rest(?), is IGNORING the problem.

If the report is to be taken as factual in nature and not just an opinion, then it requires evidence that can reviewed and found to be valid.

For policy exchange to claim it doesnt matter, strikes me as a bit like how a drunkard uses a lamp-post, more to support himself than to shed any light on the path. If the reciepts weren't important why fake them?????

BBC ignoring a large story to report a small one, surely not.

  • 15.
  • At 04:05 PM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • HERBERT LIKANDER wrote:

"Newsnight does not side with anyone" Editor..end quote.
Hey, I've just seen a whole mass of squadrons of piggies zooming in over Dover's white cliffs & they're all headed up the M20 towards BBC Broadcasting House...
Duck (no, piggy... no, ginger.. okay algie.. no, piggy I said & piggy porkies I mean) everyone... the smell reaching the nasal cavities is getting too much for any non-PC/Human Rights devotee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t think there was any misjudgement by Peter Barron. The BBC has a duty to report facts. If there are doubts of the integrity of information received the BBC has every right to suspend or cancel transmission of the story, and as in this story, to tell us about their findings.

For what it’s worth, I think that in this case, Richard Watson and Peter Barron have put the interests of viewers before those of interest/pressure groups and this should be applauded.

  • 17.
  • At 03:01 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Elliot Spencer wrote:

I see the beeboid trolls are once again pretending to be members of the (unwilling) telly-tax paying public, supporting their side and saying all is well in beeb-world.

The fact is that the report was broadly right, that the BBC reported next to nothing about it for the entire day (presumably leaving it clear for Newsnight to have the story) and then Newsnight did nothing about it - so the report was not covered by the Beeb at all! Given the spurious, unresearched, reports from leftie pressure and protest groups that form the basis of much of the "reporting" on Radio 4, 5 live and BBC News Online it is quite incredible that the BBC did nothing about a report that actually was researched (apparently at some risk to the researchers). Or it would be incredible if the BBC didn't have an ever-lengthening record of only reporting Islam in glowing terms and never challenging the hideous things done in its name.

Is it cowardice, or it it collusion?

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