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Part 2. A Nest of Vipers: BBC cover-ups over anti-Muslim corruption

From e-mails between senior management stating a no-hijab policy for Muslim newsreaders, the refusal to tackle racist and Islamophobic harassment campaigns by TV celebrities, to senior managers knowingly sanctioning blacklists; the BBC has a problem with Muslims. More than that, it has a serious problem tackling anti-Muslim corruption which seems to be rife in the organisation and the production companies through which they commission work.

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The BBC is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation and by far the largest with over 20,000 staff. Like any large organisation they have their problems. They have been struggling to embrace a diverse workforce, changing consumer demographics and to tackle bad management practices. And then of course there are the paedophiles. BBC staff I have spoken to have felt in fear of their positions and unable to challenge or speak-up about anti-Muslim practices.

By late 2012, I had done a few regular stints on the BBC. Some regional television, lots of regular radio talking politics, religion and I think on one occasion, how we should stop feeding our cats tuna due to the overfishing crisis. I had also started regular appearances on Sunday morning religious and ethics debates. I wasn’t very well known (arguably not now either, before you shout) but I was a visible or audible Muslim presence on our national broadcaster. I never intended it to be that way, these things just sort of happen. It was an enjoyable time as I  tried to balance community activism, charity work, my equalities consulting and family life. I had just taken a six-figure settlement from my former employer, signed a confidentiality agreement and gone on my way. I had become a self-funded super-community organiser, doing everything from painting the mosque, to building cabinets, organising conferences, tidying the shoes, chaplaincy and counselling, school governance, public speaking, education, supporting a trans-charity, training and engagement for faith communities. I didn’t say no to anything. No task was too small. None too big. It was my way of helping to fix the world a little bit.

All the whilst, I never shied away from my Islamic identity. The beard. The robes. The hat. A selection of natty scarves. It was all part of who I genuinely felt myself to be at the time and an expression of my faith. Presumably due to the higher profile broadcasting work, I was contacted by an employee of the BBC and forwarded, confidentially, an exchange of e-mails between BBC senior managers and staff. In these emails, senior management were being challenged by staff over anti-Muslim policies. It was apparent that within the organisation, news teams and staff were aware that there was in place a policy to refuse to employ women who wore the headscarf, particularly for front of camera positions. When I became aware of these emails, having checked with the whistle-blower and agreeing to anonymity, I contacted three people: someone who works on BBC Five Live, a producer in the Newsnight team and a BBC national news journalist and presenter who focuses on ethnic minority reporting. All three of these individuals are senior people, at least two of whom are award-winning broadcast journalists. All still work for the organisation.

In that email exchange I was sent on the matter of women and head coverings, senior management stated the following:

“individuals who hold that point of view should not be watching or working for an international news broadcaster like the BBC”

With the use of that phrase ‘watching or working for’ it clearly wasn’t enough to merely limit the progression and opportunities for these kinds of Muslim women, but if you wanted to get on, take the scarf off. Even more sinister was the suggestion that the world’s largest broadcaster, was seeking to deter orthodox mainstream Muslims (the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain hold relatively conservative views) from within its viewership. That’s quite a staggering idea.

Also within that email was something of an unusual invitation to the news staff.

“I would encourage you to make sure you come to one of the staff awaydays that I am currently holding every Monday and Wednesday… After that you will be in a better position to decide if it is the kind of channel where your skills are best employed”

I laugh every time I read it. It sounds like something from a John Morton script for Twenty Twelve with Hugh Bonneville and Jess Hynes. Or probably more accurately now, W1A. In any modern corporate setting in the UK, staff have to learn to read between the lines. It would be reasonable to assume that any of the staff seeking to challenge the “no-hijab policy” would be asked to leave the organisation, forced out, or in the very least have their card marked. The BBC senior managers involved were clear about what sort of output they sought to produce both at that time and in the future. It was a BBC future that did not include women with hijabs being in front of the camera… or even in their viewership.

In my conversations with those BBC journalists, I was keen to make sure that there was no backlash on the whistle-blower and that the issues were addressed. I was interested to know, especially from the Newsnight team at the time, if they were in a position to report on internal racism and corruption, or if there would be pressure to drop the story. These conversations continued well into 2013. From a diversity and inclusion perspective, if the BBC had been managing-out Muslim women with hijabs, or men with beards for that matter, that was a major problem. What was not in doubt, was that senior managers had anti-Muslim policies in place. That there was prejudice. The maximum extent of these policies were unknown; after all, most of an iceberg sits beneath the water. This doesn’t mean they sought to exclude all Muslims but rather that the BBC was looking to separate Muslims into two camps (quite regardless of their personal views, or potential extremisms should that be the case) to create a false image to its viewership, which in no way reflects or represents either the staff working for the corporation, or the customers it sought to serve under a BBC Charter. Furthermore, to promote the idea both internally and to the outside world, that certain kinds of Muslims were more acceptable – more equal  – than others. It was a theme that I would come to understand only with the fullness of time.

The story, incidentally, never saw the light of day. It was spiked. I’m lead to believe from other sources that the senior managers were moved on – without sanction.

*****

After my BBC documentary spending eighteen months with the domestic far right, we had managed to facilitate Tommy leaving the EDL. It had taken best part of a year to figure out how. On the one hand Tommy was concerned that he couldn’t earn a living and no one would give him a job. The only solution was to broker a financial deal between him and the UK government. He had to turn supergrass and give up the far right. He had to denounce extremism. More of this later. My subsequent media profile meant that I was now beginning to more and more regularly be put under pressure from senior people in the UK media landscape, journalists and in particular from one person at the BBC, Savile’s protégé, to alter my views. He would send me books on atheism and science from anti-theists ordered from Amazon. He was constantly emailing and messaging. He was bringing me into his inner circle. Even to this day, I don’t know how systems within the corporatiom work but there would be weekly phone calls with Radio Wales, Five Live, regional and national programs. It was a constant stream of requests for my punditry. In early 2014, things came to a head as the pressure mounted.

The more I learned about the Quilliam Foundation and work of Maajid Nawaz – both of whom I had been rather ambivalent towards – the more I was having a problem with it. Spying on Muslims. Othering them. Bullying and harassing people. Being gatekeepers. Supporting Muslim haters. Taking dirty money and not disclosing it. Broken policies feeding extremism in government. Deciding who was and wasn’t OK as a Muslim – that some were more equal than others and that the overwhelming majority of Muslims had to change. This was brutal, intolerant and wrong. That’s not how we do things in Britain, is it? A few times, I had stayed up virtually all night with Adil Ray in debate about these things. Adil was clear. He wanted to change Islam. So did Maajid, who was his friend. My argument was that we had to change Muslims, to a more authentic and accurate reading of Islam – this is about spiritual renewal and renovation. We don’t get to mess around with the core texts. We don’t get to reform Islam. As most Muslims will testify, Islam is itself considered complete; it was in fact the reformation of Judaism and Christianity. There was one chain of Prophets, one message and a series of texts. Islam completed the theological jigsaw puzzle. Simples. We don’t get to change it. If people are ignorant – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, we educate them.

Adil was certain, there was an Islam where you detach beliefs from behaviours, and he and Maajid were going to promote that. I simply couldn’t agree. Despite my support for the early stages of his program Citizen Khan and going to the Pump Room for the first set of rehearsals, and my early sympathies with the efforts of Quilliam; these guys now seemed to be nasty pieces of work. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t just happy to live their lives and let other people live theirs. Why were they crossing the road to my side, to tell me and people like me, we were doing things wrong? With disrespect not entirely unintended, they were ignorant, intolerant and as it now transpired, Citizen Khan was nothing more than a vehicle for main-streaming their agenda. When Matthew Wright, Kevin O’Sullivan and me were slating the program and its racism on social media, Savile’s protégé jumped in to send private messages to Matthew, warning him to stay away from me. To Matthew’s credit he hasn’t done and he subsequently told me that it was one thing to be told lies, another thing to believe them. I always liked him; a good Catholic boy.

On Newsnight, Mehdi Hasan and me took on Maajid and made it clear that there was a total and utter rejection from Muslim communities up and down the country, over Quilliam’s (and his) views, policies and practices. However, I was learning that there was a deep agenda here. And Muslims rejected it. The likes of Adil Ray, kept their agenda hidden and instead talked about traditions of comedy. That wasn’t his intention as far as I was concerned, and the conversations we had before his program came out. It was also becoming clear that this agenda had supporters – media sponsors – who were going to do whatever they could to bring Muslims from the mainstream body of communities to join their ranks. To get people to sell-out.

There was an exchange of SMS texts between me and Savile’s protégé . I had said that I was not going to change my view of Islam. I knew who I was, where I was from, and what I was about. I’d been forwarded emails from other Muslims who were doing television regularly and it was evident that he had been trying to draw people in to support his agenda and Quilliam. He was just copying and pasting the same messages to each of us. Lazy. Crap. In my texts, I told him that his attitude had changed and that I wasn’t going along with it. This was about my view of my religion and I wasn’t interested in supporting their agenda. He was good friends with a Times journalist who I had met for lunch and with whom I was familiar. Both of them had began to turn the screws.

Within a matter of days, soon after my film with Russell Brand, a smear campaign was launched across print, online and social media channels. At the heart of it, Savile’s protégé had been working with (at this point I’m not sure what to call them, they’re certainly not journalists, so let’s call them paki-bashing smear mongers) to create a repository of false information to use against me. He then feigned surprise when I was falsely ‘outed’ as some kind of charlatan. Dirty tricks, by even dirtier people. This was done in conjunction with the same BBC figure going out of his way to contact broadcasters, newsreaders, radio presenters, even trainee researchers contacting me on Twitter – to tell them to stay away. To put me out in the cold. To disenfranchise me. Sadly for this person, people have come forward to tell me. I remember during one television news discussion, as we went to the break, the news presenter turned to me and said

“why is <Savile’s protégé> looking to smear you with all this information.. he’s been sending me all kinds of private messages”

We later corresponded and I told him to send me what he had. There really wasn’t a lot of time during a 2 minute break to discuss matters fully. But he knew it was bullshit. That was a start.

*****

I met Bob Shennan on a sunny morning in his office next to Chris Evans’ studio at Western House on Gildea St. It was totally rock and roll with gold discs adorning the walls and memorabilia everywhere. A genuinely cool office and unlike any of the other BBC’s corporate spaces. I sat there in my Muslimy robes and hat. He and Mark Strippel had agreed to meet with me to discuss the blacklists that were being run inside the BBC. I had wanted to know how they operated and what they were going to do to stop them from being used. I had wanted to know why Bobby Friction was supporting Maajid Nawaz and abusing and harassing me on social media. There must be policies, right? I had wanted to know what was being done. The smear campaign had been going on for months and from weekly phone ins on BBC Asian Network, Five Live and Radio Wales, there was now nothing. Bob had previously written to me as Controller of BBC Radio 2, 6 Music and Asian Network. We had been corresponding for a few months and were on reasonably good terms. At the end of 2014, Bob had given assurances saying

“there is absolutely no sense that you are being excluded from our News output”

He had promised that there were no blacklists operating and that normal service would be resumed. I had made it clear that there were several BBC staff on television and radio, some with central contracts and who were freelancers, others making programs and connected to the organisation through production companies, that were involved in a harassment campaign which was designed to disseminate false information about me. That this was connected to my faith (and potentially race) and was designed to cause reputational harm and to marginalise me. Bob’s comments were pretty hard to rationalise, since for the majority of that year, and since Savile’s protégé and the cabal of interests on the Right (the Paki-bashing smear mongers), had decided that as a lefty Muslim who wasn’t going to compromise his faith for them and join their club, I was going to be smeared, harassed and chased out of town. Apparently, there were policies; freelancers not directly employed by the BBC could use social media in their own right – even to smear, defame and harass. That also meant by extension, BBC staff using BBC connected accounts without any disclaimers would be in serious problems.

Clearly the organisation and its scale meant that Controller Bob had to rely on Mark and an uncontrollable raft of producers and editors to do the right thing – to make sure there was no manifestation, continuation and extension of the harassment campaign. Since Bob had given assurances, why weren’t staff doing the right thing? I had been waiting, like an idiot lover being stood up in the restaurant munching bread-sticks at the bar, for the BBC to do the right thing. To lift the embargo. There was clearly one in place – even the Twitter trolls were revelling in it. On the plus side, it was nice to bump into Claudia Winkleman that day. She is as lovely as you might imagine. And quite tiny.

By 2015, the documentary evidence had been compiled into a dossier on Savile’s protégé. HR had been shown a copy, and meetings had taken place. There had been numerous conversations with Kully Khaila who had taken over as the Executive Editor of Sunday Morning Live when it stopped being made in Belfast and moved to what is the new One Show studios at New Broadcasting House. There had been emails to Helen Boaden, who was at the time Director of BBC News, then becoming Director of BBC Radio. There were several letters. They included the complaints about the harassment campaign, later also the dossier of evidence, and made clear reference to the fact that BBC Trust and Compliance were covering-up this anti-Muslim corruption and were refusing to disclose evidence. The BBC was circling its wagons around “talent”.

I did what you’re meant to do – contact BBC Trust. File complaints. Fill out reports. Pay fees for Data Protection disclosures. They had information relating to me as a contracted BBC contributor. I was entitled to that. They had evidence relating to anti-Muslim corruption, harassment and defamation. I was entitled to that. They refused to give it. In a galactically ballsy move, they actually wrote out and say it didn’t fall within the scope of the Data Protection Act.

“We are an incredibly busy unit and although your SAR was a priority we were unable to solely devote the time it demanded to reach the conclusion that the information did not fall within scope of the Act.”

In a following letter to BBC Director Helen Boaden, I had told her the following:

It appears that producers, presenters or other staff, as previously suspected, have been ostensibly maintaining a blacklist (whether written or otherwise), which still persists. This provides an explanation as to why, aside from this week, I have not been used at all by AN in 2014, despite Bob Shennan’s assurance in January that my relationship with AN would improve in “coming months”.

There are a number of deeply offensive and inaccurate narratives in the public sphere relating to me – and I appreciate that this is a thing people in the public eye must face – but if there was any significant question relating to my credibility, I would expect to be either invited in for a coffee and to discuss matters as a professional courtesy, or to be contacted in some other way to offer and opportunity to respond. The BBC must be more robust than to allow personal agendas and smear campaigns to influence programming. At the same time, after my public condemnation of the Woolwich attacks, my family and I have suffered a great deal. I have continued to be outspoken, at some personal cost.

There are too few Muslim commentators in an increasingly difficult and rarefied sector but for BBC employees to be effectively maintaining blacklists, contrary to senior management assurances, and for them to be collaborating to undermine my reputation and credibility to remove my public platform, is a grave matter and a breach of the public trust.

I appreciate the pressures on your time, in particular with efficiencies that need to be delivered, however I believe this sufficiently serious such that you will investigate matters as a matter of urgency.

Yours faithfully,

Mohammed Ansar

Also included to Helen Boaden was a copy of my letter to BBC Information Policy and Compliance. It stated the following, making clear why information didn’t meet the exemptions under s32, and that they had to, by law, give me that disclosure.

Thank you for your letter dated today.

Below is a summary of the correspondence and Data Protection Act / FOIA disclosure requests sent to the BBC.

7th May 2014 – email to BBC Trust, complaint relating to the misconduct of {redacted}
8th May 2014 – email to BBC Data Protection Enquiries team, request for DPA disclosure
2nd October 2014 – complaint emailed to BBC Trust, no responses/ disclosures made
8th October 2014 – complaint emailed to Helen Boaden, evidence of further misconduct from {redacted}
14th January 2015 – correspondence with BBC Data Protection Enquiries and BBC Trust team, no disclosures made to date, response to s32 defence

Principle seven of the Data Protection Act which handles “unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data” is not exempt under s32, which applies to all data processing by the BBC. The s32 exemption applies to personal data “with a view to publication”.

Personal data not subject to a “view to publication” is fully subject to the act and there is no protection under s32 and no exemption applies. Personal data must be processed “fairly and lawfully”. There is significant evidence of behaviour from {redacted} which is commensurate with harassment, defamation or otherwise potentially unlawful behaviour under the Communications Act 2003. Under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 there is no requirement for the message to necessarily reach the recipient; it must merely have been sent, delivered or transmitted. All of this information is subject to Data Protection Act requests and disclosures; furthermore, no exemption under s32 can be applicable.

Any exemptions under s32 are only intended to apply up to the point of publication (re: Naomi Campbell case). In the case of the Mentorn production when “Tommy Met Mo”, transmission date was October 2013, and so no s32 exemption applies after this date. This area of the law has been rigorously explored and you are, unequivocally, subject to a statutory framework which has been legally tested.

I have enclosed for you the following:

  • Letter sent to Helen Boaden, dated 2nd October 2014
  • Dossier of communications issued by {redacted} updated January 2015

Both of the letter and the dossier contain evidence related to communications from {redacted} pertaining specifically to me. The nature of these messages requires you as the Data Controller, to disclose the requested data in full.

None of these matters now relate to an issue “up to the point of publication”. They relate to the misconduct and potentially ongoing unlawful conduct of an employee.

The BBC has breached the timescales for making disclosures under the DPA and has failed to produce the information at all. Meanwhile, the letter to Ms Boaden shows that the BBC has failed to protect me from harassment by {redacted}.

I trust you will provide these disclosures within 7 working days of receipt of this letter.

Yours faithfully,

Mohammed Ansar

Okay accepted, its a bit technical. Only a proper broadcasting twonk might really understand, I guess. The point is that Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection requests, and all the evidence related to that, was not being coughed-up. Even through they had to by law. They had breached statutory time scales. There was just radio silence.

There had been meetings with Kieron Collins, Editor of BBC Entertainment Production, and BBC Human Resources to stop the harassment. It didn’t stop. Savile’s protégé later helped put a smear piece in to Private Eye after I refused his bribe – that he would un-blacklist me and open all the channels if were only to drop things and stay quiet. But to stop the ongoing harassment and smears, the BBC was going to have to put things back as they were. The One Show had wanted a regular slot from me – that had since been dropped. There were agreements in principle to film documentaries – they had disappeared. There was talk of a radio current affairs newspaper review targeted towards the British Asian community – gone. There were broken promises for meetings with Head of News, Kevin Silverton and his team to bring me back from the cold. BBC Trust had failed to address the complaints of harassment. The BBC had effectively, covered up. I guess with Murdoch’s very own James Harding as Head of BBC News, what was I expecting?

It was time for the BBC to do the right thing and I had been willing to let bygones be bygones. But anti-Muslim corruption was rife and it clearly was a river that ran deep. Senior managers were asked to stop the harassment and to right the wrongs. Pleaded with. Time and again. BBC Trust failed. They had a problem with Muslims or more specifically, certain kinds of Muslims. And not just the screamy shouty extremist ones. The problem was with BBC staff and management that they were letting get away with murder.

And all they did was to cover-up and turn the other cheek.

Now tell me the BBC doesn’t need fixing. Charter Review, anyone?

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3 comments on “Part 2. A Nest of Vipers: BBC cover-ups over anti-Muslim corruption

  1. Scott
    16/05/2016

    Content aside, I would highly recommend you brush up on using correct punctuation. I had to stop at certain times and go back and read a passage over again – never a good sign in an essay or any piece of text – because the wrong punctuation was used. You use full stops where commas should be used, and commas and semicolons where non are needed.

    For instance:

    “Despite my support for the early stages of his program Citizen Khan and going to the Pump Room for the first set of rehearsals, and my early sympathies with the efforts of Quilliam; these guys now seemed to be nasty pieces of work.”

    You don’t need the semicolon there. Semicolons are often used in place of certain conjunctions or cohesive devices. Your use of “despite”, which lets the reader know that some kind of contradiction or contrast is coming, makes the semicolon redundant and so the sentence feels odd.

    Just letting you know

    Like

    • Mo Ansar
      20/05/2016

      I’m sorry you feel they’re not up to scratch. From my end, the use of ‘despite’ was precisely to allow the colon to be used but I do take your point. We can agree to differ but thanks for reading nonetheless. Let’s hope grammatical pedantry (my English master will kill me) doesn’t detract from the flow or more importantly, the substance – which is after all, what these pieces are about.

      Like

  2. Tariq K
    16/05/2016

    Adil Ray – no surprise whatsoever. It’s definitely clear he surrendered his own creation to a team of ‘comedy writers’ in a bid to get his show mainstream. His Youtube show was actually funny yet to get on the Beeb BBC1, he was assigned writers who, as expected, have made the show a ridiculous generalisation of British Muslims and hence, not even funny if you’re 12 years of age. No comedy writer gives up their creation so easily. Hilariously, he defends his show ‘well alot of people watch it’.

    Admittedly, I’ve noticed Mo’s appearances on the BBC drastically reduce over a few years. The most pertinent thing would have been to quiz him on any allegations rather than exclude asap considering they had been happy to commission a BBC programme. Answers are needed.

    Like

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This entry was posted on 15/05/2016 by in Diversity, Personal, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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