The BBC Panorama Special – some background

John WareThe BBC Panorama Special that provided the hook for the Observer‘s witch-hunt of the Muslim Council of Britain was originally scheduled to be broadcast on 14 August but has been postponed for a week. It will now be shown next Sunday at 10.15pm.

The BBC has announced that its intrepid reporter John Ware “spent the weeks since the London bombs traveling to Britain’s Muslim communities, to discover whether their leaders can tackle the growth of extremism in their midst”. (See here.)

It was in fact Ware’s hostile questioning of Iqbal Sacranie during the making of the programme that was the immediate cause of the MCB’s complaint to the BBC. The MCB have claimed that Ware devoted the interview almost exclusively to questions concerning the attitude of the MCB and its affiliates towards the Palestine-Israel conflict. (See here – pdf.)

This is not the first contentious Panorama programme that Ware has been centrally involved in. In July 2003 he was the writer and presenter of another Panorama Special, in this case dealing with alleged abuse of the asylum system. On the day of the broadcast, Ware published an article in the Daily Mail (23 July 2003) based on and publicising his programme. It was headlined: “For years the Mail has been attacked for its refusal to be silent on the asylum crisis. Tonight’s Panorama says we were utterly justified.”

Hailing the programme for supposedly having broken “a 35-year taboo on discussing the topic of immigration” that had followed Enoch Powell’s 1968 rivers of blood speech, Ware wrote: “If you, as a taxpayer, have been waiting in a queue for a house, a hospital appointment or a place for your child at a school, and someone from another country who has paid no taxes jumps ahead, you would have to be saintly not to feel resentful.” Particularly so, “if the queue-jumper had fooled the immigration authorities into believing he had been persecuted, when he hadn’t, and when his real purpose was to get here for a better life”.

The BBC was condemned by the then home secretary, David Blunkett, for “pursuing a Powellite anti-immigration agenda”. To quote the Guardian report, Blunkett “singled out for criticism the BBC1 Panorama special, the Asylum Game, and its writer and presenter, John Ware, for producing a ‘poorly researched and overspun documentary’ which repeated unchallenged the claims of ‘the rightwing anti-immigration pressure group, Migration Watch’.” (See here and here.)

However, both the programme and Ware’s article were applauded by Anthony Browne in the Spectator. (See here.)

It seems that Ware is much admired by Browne, who has achieved notoriety for his own provocative attacks on migrants in general and Muslims in particular – just recently, during the furore over his Times article accusing MAB and Yusuf al-Qaradawi of being “Islamic fascists”, Browne was exposed as having contributed to a racist US website. (See here and here.)

In the Times article Browne portrayed the Panorama reporter as a victim of political correctness, complaining that “John Ware, one of the BBC’s most-respected reporters, spent years trying to make a programme on Islamic fundamentalism in Britain, but was repeatedly blocked by senior editors who feared it was too sensitive”. (See here.)

It would now appear that Ware has got his way, and that he has made a documentary exposing Islamic “fundamentalism” in the form of an attack on Britain’s most mainstream Muslim organisation, the MCB.

Of course, we can’t say for sure till we’ve seen the programme. However, Ware did give us a foretaste of his approach when he persuaded Radio 4’s Today programme to broadcast an item on the MCB last month. This gave only a passing mention to the organisation’s role in combating extremism in Britain and instead concentrated on attacking the MCB over its attitude towards suicide bombings in Israel. (See here.)

So, when the MCB complains that “nearly all the questions that were put to Sir Iqbal Sacranie by the Panorama team were directly or indirectly about Israel. These included questions to do with the Holocaust Memorial Day, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Shaykh Ahmad Yasin”, judging by the Today broadcast we can only conclude that their accusation is entirely accurate.