James Forsyth

A victory for press freedom that leaves West Midlands Police in the dock

A victory for press freedom that leaves West Midlands Police in the dock
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The decision by Ofcom to clear Channel 4 completely over the programme Undercover Mosque is welcome news. To recap, the documentary featured various preachers spouting hateful rhetoric about women, gays and the West. Several viewers referred it to the police. West Midlands Police, however, chose not to investigate the preachers but the film itself. Turning themselves into television critics, they charged that the program had been a gross distortion and while no criminal charges for stirring up hatred could be brought they took the unprecedented step of referring it to Ofcom. This was a particularly bizarre decision as all those whose words were broadcast in the film were offered the right of reply while the program makers also went to great lengths to stress that these statements were a perversion of Islam.

The news that Ofcom has cleared Channel 4 entirely leaves West Midlands Police with several questions to answer including who decided to shift the focus of the investigation away from the preachers and onto the program makers and who authorised the complaint to Ofcom? Those in the West Midlands force responsible for this gross waste of police time and this cack-handed attempt to silence independent journalism need to be held to account. While what the preachers said might not have been criminal it was certainly hateful and Channel 4 had an entirely legitimate right to expose them. The reaction of West Midlands Police revealed a mindset that views the exposure of a problem as more of a problem than the problem itself.

In a summer where TV fakery so dominated the news many will have been inclined to think the worse when they heard of the police’s unhappiness. Much credit must go to Channel 4 for standing up for itself and to Paul Goodman, the shadow minister for Community Cohesion, who pursued this issue relentlessly.  

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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