Fury over BBC’s bias to Muslims; They pack TV terror debate with anti-British audience
By Martin Evans
Daily Express, 4 August 2005
BBC bosses faced a furious backlash last night after they were forced to admit that they packed a TV terror debate with Muslims.
Angry viewers complained that the programme was anti-British and failed to offer a balanced view on the danger posed by Islamic extremists.
They were incensed that the opinions and feelings of the victims of the London bombings, which claimed 52 innocent lives and left 700 injured, were not given enough airtime in BBC1’s Questions of Security.
Instead, the “news special”, which was watched by millions, was dominated by militant factions in the audience who were heavily critical of the police and security services.
BBC bosses admitted they deliberately set out to give Muslims a louder voice in the debate hosted by Huw Edwards.
One irate viewer told the BBC: “I felt that the audience for this programme was not representative of the British public.
“What methodology was used to recruit the audience? And why were the views and concerns of the victims of the bombings, as well as the public and commuters, so down-played?”
Another added: “I did not pay my licence fee to watch an unrepresentative Muslim audience like this.”
Despite Muslims making up only 2.7 per cent of Britain’s population, 15 per cent of the audience were from the Islamic community.
A BBC spokesman said the intention had been to ensure as “wide ranging a debate” as possible. But last night the Corporation was accused of insensitivity and failing in its duty to be impartial.
The criticism comes weeks after the BBC was roundly condemned, following reports that its news presenters had been told not to use the word “terrorist” when referring to the suicide bombers.
Shadow Culture Secretary Theresa May said last night: “At such a difficult and sensitive period, the BBC has a duty to present the issues in a scrupulously balanced manner.
“Undoubtedly there is a heightened sense of tension in all communities, and a great deal of distress and anguish for the victims and their relatives.
“The BBC has already faced criticism over its coverage of the terrorist attacks, and it must take the utmost care when dealing with these issues.”
John Beyer of the pressure group Mediawatch UK added: “It is plain that one has to talk about these issues, but the BBC is required under the Royal Charter to ensure that programmes are presented with due impartiality.
“If they have deliberately set out to have an audience which does not reflect society as a whole then one could legitimately ask whether it has fulfilled this important obligation.
“While it may make very entertaining and provocative television, broadcasters have a responsibility to create light as well as heat.”
More than 50 people complained to the BBC about the tone of the programme.
One said: “I felt that the audience for this programme was not representative of the British public.”
Another asked: “What methodology was used to recruit the audience? And why were the views and concerns of the victims of the bombings, as well as the wider public, commuters etc, so down-played?”
A third said: “I do not pay my licence fee to watch an unrepresentative Muslim audience like this.” In response to the criticism, Sue Inglish, head of political programmes, said the audience had been picked from a range of communities, particularly those most affected by the attacks of July 7 and July 21.
She said: “The audience was selected to ensure that there would be a wide-ranging discussion on the key issues, like police powers, the role of Muslim leaders in condemning the attacks and preventing more terror, the effect of the Iraq war, asylum procedures and so on.
“In order to ensure a range of voices on these issues, the studio audience contained a higher proportion of Muslims in the audience than in the population as a whole – around 15 per cent of the audience as opposed to 2.7 per cent in the country and 8.4 per cent in London according to the 2001 census.
“But the rest of the audience – around 85 per cent – included representatives of a number of different ethnic and religious groups including Christian, Hindu, Sikh, African Caribbean, English, Irish, Kashmiri and Turkish.
“The questions raised by the audience reflected the concerns of many people in the wake of the attacks and were robustly dealt with by the panel, which represented a wide range of views and voices.”
In 2001 the BBC was inundated with complaints after broadcasting an episode of Question Time in which strongly anti-American opinions were expressed two days after the September 11 attacks.
Greg Dyke, the Director General at the time, was forced to apologise and concede it had been inappropriate to screen the programme.