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12.01.2017

UK: BBC successfully defends itself against libel claims of an imam

by Ingo Beckendorf

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the public service broadcaster in the United Kingdom, has won a libel lawsuit against an imam from London.

The imam, who is the leader of an Islamic Center in the urban district of Lewisham in London, brought a libel action against the BBC due to comments made by a BBC reporter during a live interview in 2013. The BBC's Sunday Politics programme included a feature on whether mosques were doing enough to counter extremism, including an interview between a BBC reporter and the imam.

During the disputed interview, the BBC reporter made the following remarks: “The East London Mosque, which you personally and the MCB are closely associated with, is also the venue for a number of extremist speakers and speakers who espouse extremist positions. This year you spoke there and hailed jihad as 'the greatest of deeds'. In 2009, the mosque hosted a video presentation by somebody described by US security agencies as an Al-Quaeda supporter. You had another speaker there who in the past had described Christians and Jews as 'filth'. You’ve had a jihadist supporter of the Taliban there. Why do you do nothing to stop extremism, extremists like that, at this mosque with which you’re associated with?”

The imam raised a complaint about these remarks through the BBC’s complaints process. Following the dismissal of this complaint, the imam issued libel proceedings against the BBC. He contended that the remarks of the moderator were defamatory of him.

The England and Wales High Court dismissed the libel claim in its judgement from 28 October 2016 (Neutral Citation Number: [2016] EWHC 2688 (QB), Case No.: HQ14D04379).

By way of a judgment running to 92 pages, which involved the judge reading the entire Qur’an, he upheld the BBC’s justification defence and dismissed the claim. In the Court’s opinion, the imam expressed his extreme positions of Islamic faith already in several earlier speeches and sermons.

The Court analysed each of the imam’s speeches and other matters relied upon by the BBC in considerable detail. The texts of the speeches were quoted extensively in the Judgment. The imam’s audiences on each occasion included engaged young Muslims interested in learning more about Islam. The Court agreed with an expert of the BBC, whereas the cumulative effect of these speeches was consistent with an extremist Salafist Islamist worldview, with positions articulated on the particular issue of jihad that are violently extreme, and these speeches would be regarded also by the vast majority of the Muslim community as theologically extreme. The Court concluded that many of the imam’s previous statements contain evidence of his espousing extremist Islamic positions and promoting or encouraging religious violence including armed jihad.

While not doubting the high regard in which the claimant is held in his community, the Court labelled the imam a “Jekyll and Hyde character” who presents one liberal face to the local interfaith community and another ideologically extreme and intolerant face to receptive audiences. The Court found that the imam had been reckless and irresponsible in his use of language when speaking to predominantly Muslim audiences about the sensitive subject of jihad and, accordingly, any damages would, in any event, have been nil or nominal.

In addition, the Court found that it was all too easy for someone in the imam’s position of power and influence to plant the seed of Islamic extremism in a young mind, which is then liable to be propagated on the Internet. Since the Court considered the statements of the BBC reporter to be true, the Court dismissed the libe

Ingo Beckendorf works at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR) in Saarbrücken/Brüssel.


More

The decision of the England and Wales High Court from 28 October 2016 (Neutral Citation Number: [2016] EWHC 2688 (QB), Case No.: HQ14D04379) is available online.



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