Blasphemy @ the BBC

The BBC issues lengthy apology for “disgraceful” tweet which asked what the “right punishment for blasphemy” should be

Last week, the BBC Asian Network – which hosts the lively Big Debate radio programme – asked Twitter users to say what they thought was the “right punishment for blasphemy.”


Maryam Namazie, a prominent ex-Muslim and civil rights campaigner, called the question “disgraceful,” and labelled the British broadcaster the “Ayatollah BBC.”


On Saturday, I asked the BBC – which is funded by public money – if it believed that blasphemy should be punishable.

Today, I received this lengthy apology from the BBC Complaints Team:

From: bbc_complaints_website <>
To: Dean Jones <****>
Subject: BBC Complaints – Case Number CAS­-4274202­-VR2YRX
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:07

Dear Mr. Jones

Thank you for contacting us regarding our programme, Asian Network’s Big Debate. We understand that you felt it was inappropriate to pose the question ‘What is the right punishment for blasphemy?’

Asian Network’s Big Debate is a live daily news and magazine programme. The first hour of the programme poses a question that the audience discusses on the phone, over emails and on social media. We regularly ask difficult and provocative questions on a wide range of issues that are relevant to a mainly British Asian audience usually on the basis of events in the news in the UK or South Asia.

The question was prompted by reports that Pakistan had asked Facebook to help investigate ‘blasphemous content’ posted by people in the country. Despite widespread condemnation, blasphemy is illegal in Pakistan, in some cases it is punishable with the death penalty.

We apologise for the poorly worded question and the way it was posted on social media, it was never our intention to imply that blasphemy should be punished. We agree that the question should have been better phrased and put properly into context.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team

Shortly after, I also received this separate response from the BBC Asian Network:

From: Asian Network Enquiries <>
To: **** <****>
Subject: RE: Quick question regarding “clumsily worded” blasphemy tweet
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:05

Hi Dean,

The Asian Network’s Big Debate asks difficult and provocative questions every day. This programme was an engaging discussion on the subject of blasphemy, but we admit that the question could have been phrased better and have since made this clear.

Kind Regards,

The Asian Network Team

It isn’t the first time the BBC has apologised for asking “clickbait rhetorical questions” and “legitimizing an indefensible POV – as award-winning British author Joanne Harris (MBE) charged in response to this September 2016 tweet by BBC Newsbeat re: video of US reality television star Kim Kardashian being accosted by “vile” Ukrainian prankster Vitalii Sediuk.


When I asked about the offending tweet, BBC Newsbeat said it had intended to “provoke conversation” but did not mean to legitimise Sediuk’s “prank.”

Last year, the BBC made over three billion pounds from publicly generated funding.


Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick denies my request for more info about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors

Last month, I blogged about a purported hoax on British daily newspaper the Guardian by serial media prankster Godfrey Elfwick.

In November, the paper had published an anonymous opinion piece about how its left-wing author was nearly turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, Elfwick – who had previously duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to denounce Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast – claimed authorship of the article.

Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning US writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to nearly becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

This led to a high-profile Twitter spat between Harris and eminent US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”


Harris later used Elfwick’s unsubstantiated claims to demand an apology from Greenwald.


When I asked Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick about Elfwick’s claims, he insisted his paper was “confident about the authorship of the article,” and that he saw “no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.”

In a follow-up e-mail, I asked Chadwick about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <>
To: **** <****>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

An “Extremist” Fights Back

Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Salman Butt launches legal challenge against misleading government report labelling him a non-violent “extremist”

Dr. Salman Butt, a prominent Muslim activist, has launched a legal challenge against the UK government’s Prevent strategy, claiming it breached his free speech rights.

Last year, Dr. Butt was one of six so-called “hate speakers” singled out by Downing Street as “expressing views contrary to British values.”

Muslim activist Dr. Salman Butt (source)

The claims were made via Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release, titled “PM’s Extremism Taskforce: tackling extremism in universities and colleges top of the agenda.”


Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release (source)

Citing work by Whitehall’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), Downing Street claimed that in 2014 there were “70 events involving speakers who are known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy.”

However, e-mails recently obtained via a public records request (click to read) show that much of the data attributed to the EAU in the press release – including information used to “name and shame” universities – was taken from a misleading July 2015 report by Student Rights, an arm of “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society.


July 2015 report by Student Rights director Rupert Sutton (source)

As the e-mails show, Downing Street was still in the process of collecting case studies to support the updated strategy the morning prior to publication, and appears to have ignored a request from an internal fact-checker to amend figures about the number of events featuring “hate speakers” held on university campuses in 2014.

The e-mails also show that, despite having supposedly dropped plans for an statutory ban on so-called “extremist” speakers in March of last year, the government was still toying with the idea of a ban right up until September 16, 2015, just five days before the updated guidance officially came into force.

Via BBC News, Dr. Butt denied holding views contrary to British values, and expressed his intention to shine a light on the inner workings of government policy:

“I’m a father of three, I’m a British Muslim, a writer, an activist. I am not an extremist, either violent or non-violent.

“Being labelled as some kind of extremist does have a stigmatising effect. I have not spoken at any universities since I was named in the [Downing Street] press release.

“My aim isn’t just to clear my name, it is to bring transparency to the hidden processes by which individuals are tarnished with the label of an extremist, to ensure it is brought into the scrutiny of the courts.”

Saimo Chahal QC, partner and human rights lawyer at Bindmans LLP, said that Dr. Butt’s challenge is a test case.

Human rights lawyer Saimo Chahal QC (source)

Via BBC News:

“The Prevent duty guidance issued to higher education institutions is flawed because it conflicts with the right to free speech which is enshrined in the Education Act for higher education institutions,” [Chahal] said.

“The challenge, if successful, could have major implications for the controversial policy as it applies to universities and higher education,” she added.

According to the BBC, Dr. Butt’s lawyers will be challenging part of the strategy that aims to stop people from becoming or supporting terrorists, as well as challenging the government’s definition of “extremism,” which they say is ill-defined.

Additionally, they have been given permission to challenge the way the government’s EAU collected information about Dr. Butt, arguing the process lacks transparency, and that the procedure for identifying people as “extremists” is flawed and in breach of the law.

See also: “The Tyranny of Values,” my October 23 item re: Downing Street’s unattributed use of data from “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society to “name and shame” universities that host “extremist” speakers.