How complaining about the media doesn’t work

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{jathumbnailoff}IHRC has argued for many years about the need for there to be a sea change in the way media operates in the UK.  In its seminal work The British Media and Muslim Representation: The Ideology of Demonisation by Saied R. Ameli, Syed Mohammed Marandi, Sameera Ahmed, Seyfeddin Kara and Arzu Merali (2000), the authors argue that just as views on other minorities, whether ethnic or religious, or defined by gender or sexuality, so too a significant shift is required vis a vis Muslims but also other groups who still face direct and indirect discrimination, demonisation and marginalisation by the media in the way they are represented.

Overt and direct discrimination and demonisation

This  occurs when Muslim individuals, historical and religious personalities, groups and organisations are misrepresented.  This can occur in many ways.

IHRC’s various reports (Ameli et al, 2004a, 204b, 2006, 2007 and Ansari, 2006) picked up that many of those arrested under Anti-terrorism laws (most of whom were released without charge), were often named in newspapers and on TV at the time of their arrest, but no or little coverage given of their release. 

Indirect discrimination and inherent demonisation

This occurs when stereotyping is implicit in the manner of questioning, the framing of arguments or representation of Muslims and their beliefs (often generalised to be Islam per se without diversity), in the case of Muslims in a racialised / Islamophobic manner e.g.

  • all Muslims share the same agenda by virtue of sharing the same religion and / or ethnicity
  • all Muslims are inherently untrustworthy
  • all Muslims are implicitly violent
  • all Muslims are backward / Islam is a backward culture compared to the west
  • etc.

Complaining about misrepresentation and demonisation

Not only is the unbalanced reporting of anti-terror arrests something that results in encoding negative images about Muslims in the general psyche, making complaints about this type of misrepresentation whether as an aggrieved member of the public and / or member of the Muslim community, but as the person or group represented is fraught with problems.

In the case of those arrested and released under anti-terrorism laws, despite being innocent of any charge, and also victims of discriminatory police and / or law, these men and women found themselves labelled and faced loss of livelihood, stigmatisation and many other problems.  Most had no access to the funds required to launch legal proceeding against media institutions who had genuinely libelled them, others who did complain using existing media complaints mechanisms were often advised that the coverage of their arrests were legitimate new stories and so no complaint could be upheld.

Other issues that both those directly targeted and those who are aggrieved viewers / listeners/ readers confront include claims of extremism and fundamentalism, stereotypical portrayals that suggest that Muslims are inherently violent, misogynistic, untrustworthy, homophobic etc.  These representations do not exist in a vacuum and can be both deliberate and malign or done without intent.  The latter can be the case because the level of prejudice that imbues both the institutional structures of a media organisation, AND the inherent bias of representation. 

Organisations, particularly religious and civil society organisation again find themselves in situations where spurious accusations against them, their work and belief are made often with no basis.  Legal proceedings are often too costly and too time consuming.  Existing complaints procedures within media institutions and through watchdogs are often inaccessible or not fit for purpose.  Organisations, individuals and groups face many obstacles in trying to seek redress.  Even when they do receive an apology or win damages, the reporting of this does not match or have the same reach as the original misrepresentation.

For aggrieved viewers / listeners, we quote the 2007 work of Ameli et al for IHRC (pp77-78):

“Another interesting finding of the interviews is that most of those who are distressed with the negative portrayal of Muslims in the media showed no interest in complaining about them. When they are asked why their answers highlight their alienation from society.

Sadly enough I never have………… basically because I don’t think I would actually get any kind of response….. (Female, 30, Oldham)

No what’s the point (Female, 28, Bradford)

No, I did not because I thought it would not make any difference or they would not listen.  (Male, 35, Bradford)

The accounts of those who did complain about the negative portrayals support the pessimism of those who have never made any complaint. Almost all of them failed to get a response.

No use – nothing’s ever done. Complained ages ago about a programme on channel 4 which portrayed Islam in a negative way – heard nothing about it.  (Female, 23, London)

I complained about the 9/11 documentary on BBC but did not receive any response.  (Female, 23, Bow, London)

Emailed concerning reports in news report which were misleading and wrong. No reply. (Male, 22, Halifax)

Yes – channel 4, Marie Claire (Female, 18, London)

Yes T&A Bradford No response (Male, 25, Bradford)

I have complained about newspaper articles but never got any return communications.  (Male, 35, Gillingham)

No response. (Female, 21, London)”

BBC Radio 4’s The Report, 29 December 2011 ‘Iran’s Soft Power’

IHRC presents below a case study to highlight the above, some 6 years after the publication of its research into structural problems within the media.  It focuses on the treatment it received from BBC Radio 4’s The Report programme by one of its producers, Lucy Proctor.

In order to do so, we highlight the problems with the line of questioning employed by Ms Proctor when approaching  IHRC, a statement from the chair of IHRC recording the contents of telephone calls he received from Ms. Proctor at the time, and a transcript of the final broadcast show.  The line of questioning that developed highlights both pre-existing prejudice, stereotyping and encoded demonised ideas about Islam and Muslims, but also a desire to replicate these, and an unwillingness to research the claims made to her and repeated by her.

In addition to highlighting the points above regarding overt and indirect discrimination and demonisation, IHRC also felt that the original approach by Ms. Proctor was misleading, that she changed her story regarding the nature of the programme, its content and the reasons she wanted to speak with the Chair of IHRC. 

Just like those people interviewed for its 2007 work, IHRC complained to the BBC using its procedures.  It received an automated response followed by en email from Ms. Proctor saying that the complaint had been forwarded to her to be dealt with, that she did not know what the cause of the complaint was (despite the complaints being listed to her throughout the process of correspondence with her) and that she trusted we were happy with the programme.  No further communication was received from the BBC.

Background and timeline

The Chair of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh, received a call from Lucy Proctor, the producer / researcher of The Report on BBC Radio 4 around 9 December 2011.  She also emailed.  She initially addressed her enquiry to Mr. Shadjareh based on his ethnicity as Iranian and framed the content of the programme and his requested participation as reflecting the impact on the Iranian community of the expulsion of Iranian diplomats.

Mr. Shadjareh declined stating that he was not an expert on the subject, and gave her the contact of someone else who might be able to help.  Even at this stage, Mr. Shadjareh was concerned that the reason he was deemed suitable for interview was based on his ethnicity as opposed to his expertise.  In other words it was assumed that as an Iranian he would be competent to speak about any matter relating to Iranians, even when in this case he clearly felt he was unqualified to do so.  This in itself is a form of racialised stereotyping, assuming that everyone from a (real or perceived) group shares the same experience, understanding and viewpoint.

When it became clear that he was declining the interview, the nature of the request changed and Ms. Proctor then stated that Mr. Shadjareh may have to do an interview as IHRC has been mentioned in an interview and therefore she needed to give IHRC the right of reply.  It then transpired that Proctor wanted to investigate alleged connections between IHRC and Iran, herself suggesting IHRC was an Iranian organisation.

The correspondence between Shadjareh and Proctor follows, Shadjareh’s statement at that time recalling the telephone conversations.

STATEMENT from Massoud Shadjareh

“Following my receipt of a number of emails from Lucy Proctor of BBC Radio Four, I received a phone call from her in which she reemphasised that she was trying to make a programme that would highlight, after the breakdown of diplomatic relations and the closure of embassies between the two countries, what institutions will remain that would link the UK and Iran and would provide support for Iranians in the UK, naming Press TV as one.

“I pointed out to her that I did not know where we could start, as the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) is not an Iranian organisation, nor am I an expert on Iran or Iranians in this country. She responded that I am an Iranian and therefore could give them my opinion. I highlighted that her assertion is absurd, as it would be ridiculous for me to expect her to comment on issues pertaining to, say, Cameron’s recent confrontation with the EU simply because she is British.

“She still insisted that ’surely’ I can. I responded that if she wanted an expert on such matters, she should contact Prof Abbas Edalat of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII).

“She asked me to explain who he is and what he does, which I did, and I provided her with his contact details.

“She still continued to insist that I really should allow her to interview me. When I told her that I could just not see how I could contribute to the discussion, either as an individual or as the chair of IHRC, she then said there are people who allege that IHRC is an Iranian organisation. I was so shocked by this assertion and I pointed out that the most IHRC had been accused of by some Zionists, such as Melanie Philips, was that it was pro certain positions, but no one has claimed anything other than IHRC being a British organisation with consultative status with the UN. I also pointed out that what motivates Melanie Philips, when it comes to matters concerning Islam and Muslims, is always driven by her biases and never by fact. Lucy replied that there are things that Melanie Philips says that “make a lot of sense.”

“I told her again that I cannot help her, to which she responded, “well, where are the Iranian organisations?” I told her there is the Islamic Centre in Maida Vale, Babul Murad Centre in Wembley, and the Islamic Universal Association in Holland Park, all of which represent the offices of different Iranian Islamic scholars in London.

“Lucy then asked me if I could make contact with the Islamic Centre, as she was finding it difficult to get it touch with them. I informed her that unfortunately I  do not know who the current press officer is and that I therefore would be unable to help her in that regard, and that she should contact them on their main phone line.

“She insisted again that I should make a contribution to the programme.

“Again, I declined. She then said that she had obtained information that IHRC is an Iranian organisation and that her source was a Kurdish blogger who had contacted us to highlight the case of Kurdish individuals detained in Iran and that we had failed to do so, and also that IHRC is one of the organisers of the annual Al-Quds Day. I explained that we have a policy on how to take cases and that we do not have the resources to deal with every case. As for Al-Quds Day, I explained that IHRC is one of many organisations that contribute to organising the annual Al-Quds Day event, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and secular organisations, and that Al-Quds Day is an international day commemorated all around the globe. Her response to this was that the idea behind Al-Quds Day had originated in Iran. I commented that democracy had originated in Greece, so, by this logic, anyone who supports democracy must obviously be Greek!

“I expressed that I do not see any point in continuing the discussion.

“She replied implying that she either already has recorded, or that she will record, accusations of IHRC being an Iranian organisation and that IHRC must therefore respond.

“By this time, it had been made very clear that Lucy was either driven by extreme prejudice and stereotyping, or by extreme ignorance, or, most worryingly, by a lethal combination of both, at which point I had no choice but to end the conversation.”

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From: Lucy Proctor […]

Sent: 14 December 2011 10:02
To: Raza Kazim
Subject: BBC Radio 4 – The Report – UK-Iran relations

Dear Mr Kazim,

I am working on a BBC Radio 4 programme about UK-Iran relations in the UK for a series called The Report.

I have spoken to Mr Massoud about conducting an interview but he is leaving the country today and feels unhappy about the questions I would like to ask, but suggested I get in touch with you.

I spoke to Mr Massoud on Monday. I then emailed him a couple of times and tried to call yesterday. As I have done further research and emails in between these conversations and emails, it has become clear to me that the IHRC has ties with the Islamic Centre of England – both organisations have had Mr Saied Reza Ameli as director and the IHRC held it 2010 fundraiser at the ICEL. I have also interviewed a blogger, Fazel Harwamy, who suggests that the IHRC is reluctant to talk about human rights in Iran because of this link.

This is not an expose of any kind – the Islamic Centre of England is clear that it is a cultural and religious centre and its links with the Iranian government are open and public. The programme simply aims to map the various relationships in the UK and ask what they mean for UK-Iranian relations.

I would like to interview someone at the IHRC. I am making a half-hour documentary and am keen to explore the subject of UK-Iran relations accurately. I would like to hear about the IHRC’s focus, its history, its campaigns on human rights and Al Quds day. I do not intend to suggest that the IHRC is an Iranian institution itself and I am not suggesting that to have links with Iranian institutions is a negative thing in itself.

I am recording this week.

Best regards,

Lucy Proctor

Lucy Proctor 
BBC Radio Current Affairs 

BBC White City 
201 Wood Lane 
London W12 7TS



From: Raza Kazim [mailto:…] 
Sent: 14 December 2011 20:42
To: Lucy Proctor
Subject: RE: BBC Radio 4 – The Report – UK-Iran relations

Dear Ms Proctor,

I have looked at your correspondence with Mr Shadjareh and it seems clear that you have an issue about ethnicity and ethnic stereotyping. Your original focus appeared to be Mr. Shadjareh’s ethnicity and now it is Mr. Ameli’s. 

I am also confused when you state that both Islamic Centre of England and IHRC have had Mr. Ameli as director. Mr. Ameli has never been the director of IHRC. He is one of the directors of the registered company IHRC. He is also a well respected academic whose academic oversight of and input into some of IHRC’s research projects has been invaluable and noted by us publically. 

We have held several events at ICEL not just one. We have also regularly held events at the House of Lords, London Muslim Centre (indeed our 10 year anniversary event was held there), SOAS and the Foreign Press Association to name a few. We also regularly hold events at the United Nations in Geneva. We have also regularly participated in events at and organised by these venues and many, many more. Are you suggesting that IHRC has ties and links to all these venues based on the shared ethnicity of some of the directors or senior figures at IHRC and equivalent figures at these instutions?

Your line of questioning is frankly absurd.

We have directors of various ethnicities, and they may have personal, religious, voluntary, cultural and / or professional affiliations with other organisations. This is typical of civil society activists and workers. I appreciate that a blogger may not understand that context, and s/he may also feel disappointed if their case or cause was not taken on by us. However, I would expect a journalist to understand or at least reasearch if s/he is unaware of a certain field or area. Sadly this does not seem to be the case here and at best is very unprofessional.

If IHRC is to be mentioned in the programme, please send me a list of questions and I will endeavour to get some written responses sent to you. Otherwise, as Mr. Shadjareh has already stated we do not feel that you have approached the organisation in a professional manner, or been candid about the context of your programme and we will not participate.

Yours sincerely,

Raza Kazim

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From: Raza Kazim 

Sent: 19 December 2011 17:52
To: ‘Lucy Proctor’
Subject: RE: BBC Radio 4 – The Report – UK-Iran relations

Dear Ms. Proctor,

Here are responses to the questions you have sent.  The responses are from IHRC as an organisation rather than a named individual from the organisation.

All of these questions are answered in the context that we believe you have misrepresented yourself in the way you approached first Mr Shadjareh and then IHRC for particpation, and that your line of questioning is based on ethnic stereotyping.  We are still unclear as to what your focus in the programme is given your various changes of story and believe that despite having explained repeatedly that your questions are deeply problematic in that they reveal discriminatory tendencies.

We also note that the programme is listed (at 18 December 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jkr1q/episodes/upcoming) on the The Report webpage as ‘Iran’s Soft Power’.  This is not a phrase you have used with us or even intimated was the focus of your programme.  Yet more misrepresentation.

In answer to your question of 15 December:

Secondly, please could you explain what is going on in this clip? 

http://www.spittoon.org/archives/7838

We trust that you have sourced this video and found that it comes from the youtube account 1plus2minus3.  The context to the clip above is that Mr. Shadjareh was approached at the 2010 demonstration  by someone coming across from the counterdemonstration who asked the questions  you hear at the end of the clip.  Mr. Shadjareh did not want to engage with someone approaching from a counter-rally engaged in racist chanting and abuse, and therefore dismissed the protestor with these answers.    

We are sure you will have noted that the cameraman of this piece has 7 videos he has posted of that year’s Al-Quds Day.  We are sure you will have also noted that  he has cast racist apserations against the majority of demonstrators whom he deems to be  Pakistanis not Iranians as not being able to understand the chants at the demonstration which are in English.

We trust that your research of the Al-Quds Day demonstration has revealed that for the last 3 – 4 years there has been a counterdemonstration to the Al-Quds day march and rally.  This counterdemonstration is called by far right groups and is joined by supposeldy Iranian opposition members and pro-Israel sympathisers.  Photos of these  counterdemonstrations are widely available on the net, showing the distrsessingly racist, Islamophobic and xenophobioc nature of the counterdemonstrations. 

There are also videos available catching the racist and Islamophobic chanting from the counterdemonstration.

Please confirm that  you did research and source the video you cited, and that you are aware of the far-right counterdemosntrations that take place each year and the involvement of these groups in these counterdemonstrations. 

Your other question in your email of 15 December is:

Massoud and yourself have answered my question about Fazel Harwamy’s particular request to you – may I use what you have sent me on that in the script, or would you like to write a more formal response?

You have not actually posed a specific question from Mr. Harwamy and indeed your story as to what he has said has changed at various times so we cannot answer in a specific way.  As a result our comment on this matter, taking into account your varying representations of what Mr. Harwamy has said to you, is to reiterate that we understand why a blogger or activist would be disappointed that we did not take on his / her case or cause, and indeed that is their right.  Unfortunately we cannot take on every case and cause, and just as other human rights organisations we have to prioritise.  We are concerned that in changing your story again, you are now implying that it is Mr. Harwamy who is suggesting that the ethnicity of two senior people associated with IHRC is the cause of this.  We are concerned that you are now trying to pass the blame for this prejudiced line of questioning onto Mr. Harwamy.

 Below are the responses to your other questions sent on 14 December.

How does the IHRC choose which cases to campaign on?

IHRC, as with all human rights organsiations cannot take on each and every case and cause.  We have to prioritise based on many factors including financial and physical resources, good quality sources of information etc.  We also take into account whether a particular issue already has significant support from other civil society groups.  If so, we try not to duplicate work.

Does the IHRC avoid taking up cases of Iranian human rights?

We have explained above how we are forced to choose which cases to take on.  Nevertheless we have taken on some cases, though these are few and usually advocated through less public channels.  There are many countries on which we have done less or indeed no work, yet they do not figure in your questions.

Does the IHRC think human rights is a serious issue in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

IHRC believes that all countries have human rights issues and that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not an exception to this, however we believe its human rights records is better than other countries in the region,  and we have noted this publicly.

What is the difference between the IHRC as an organisation and the IHRC as a company listed on Companies House?

We asked you to clarify this question as follows:

What do you mean by the question:

What is the difference between the IHRC as an organisation and the IHRC as a company listed on Companies House?

Perhaps you can explain to us the meaning by explaining what difference you perceive between Amnesty International as an organisation and Amnesty International as a company listed at Companies House?

However you have declined to answer.  We can try to answer if you will clarify the question for us, as contrary to your insistence, it is not clear what you mean. 

Without clarification all we can say is that we are a well established civil society organisation regsitered in and operating in and from the UK.

How would the IHRC describe its relationship with the Islamic Centre of England?

IHRC has various types of relationships with many organisations in the UK and world-wide, and these are all documented in material available on our website.  We are concerned that your questions to us show that either you have not researched our organisation’s statements or have simply disregarded them in order to pursue an idea of ethnic conspiracy.  We are a diverse organisation which was set up and has always been run by people of different ethnic backgrounds, and we work with an equally diverse range of organisations.  We are concerned that you have picked up on the shared ethnicity of two senior people associated with IHRC and tried to single them out on the basis of their ethnicity. 

In civil society many activists are involved in multiple organisations, as volunteers, workers or simply as members of a congregation.  This applies to probably most people involved at IHRC of which there are many of different ethnic, cultural and sectarian backgrounds, yet you have chosen to focus on two who have Iranian heritage and this is at best poor journalism and worse prejudiced.

You have stated that you find it significant that we held an event at Islamic Centre of England last year i.e.our fundariser.  Had you gone through the events section of our website  you would have found that we have held many events there.  Indeed we had to advise you that we have held several events at that venue.  It is local to IHRC and a beautiful venue.  We find it of great concern that you find this more significant than our holding our 10 Year Anniversary event at the London Muslim Centre, or that any number of our events have been held at the House of Lords or the United Nations in Geneva and all the other venues we have used.

What is the history of the IHRC’s involvement in Al Quds day? What is the aim of Al Quds day? Is it fair to say it is an Iranian government event? Why does the IHRC think some people do see it as an Iranian government event?

There are hundreds of Al-Quds Day demonstrations and events in support of the Palestinian cause for liberation held around the world every year, of which one is held in London, UK in which IHRC participates and helps to organise.  The event in the UK is a long standing one, and preceded the existence of IHRC and indeed many if not most of the organisations currently involved in organising and supporting it by over a decade.   It is signficant that you overlook the fact that the London event has the support of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and secular organisations and indeed participants hail from so many backgrounds.

Al-Quds Day has its genesis in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution and is a symbolic event in support of the people of Palestine and has been taken on board by activists world-wide.  The genesis of the day is not a secret and is often expressed proudly at events around the world.  However this does not make it an Iranian government event anymore than world-wide 4th July Independence Day events  are US government events.

Sadly, the fact that such perceptions exist highlight the increasing level of racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.  It is the role of the fourth estate to expose such prejudices not perpetuate it.

—————————————————————————————

As you are aware we will be complaining about the way you misrepresented yourself to us and also about the discriminatory nature of your questioning.  To that end we would like you to respond to the question we have already asked you and which you have not even acknowledged:

[on 15 December] … please can you tell us whether until receipt of this email, you have read anything from our website and if so which documents and why you chose these pages.

Perhaps you can update us at to whether you have looked at our website since we asked this question.

Can you additionally explain why it is that you feel the ethnicity of Mr. Shadjareh and Professor Ameli is more important than the ethnciity of other senior people associated with IHRC in your mind.

From: Raza Kazim [mailto:…] 
Sent: 23 December 2011 17:03
To: Lucy Proctor
Subject: RE: BBC Radio 4 – The Report – UK-Iran relations

Dear Ms. Proctor,

I have yet to receive your response to the questions we have asked in our previous emails.

I trust you will be responding soon. 

Yours sincerely,

Raza Kazim

From: Lucy Proctor [mailto:] 
Sent: 23 December 2011 17:36
To: Raza Kazim
Subject: RE: BBC Radio 4 – The Report – UK-Iran relations

Dear Mr Kazim,

I am not under any obligation to answer any questions.

The programme goes out on December 29 at 8pm on Radio 4.

We have worked hard to produce a fair programme. I hope you will agree.

Best regards,

Lucy Proctor


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Shared ethnicity and the tropes of ethnic conspiracy

From the above correspondence a number of indirect stereotypes can be seen to be at play.  Firstly, at the point of initial contact and throughout the correspondence, Proctor’s focus and the evidence she uses for claiming that IHRC is an Iranian organisation is the ethnicity of IHRC’s chair, and one of the directors of IHRC (a company limited by guarantee) Saied Reza Ameli.  Ameli was the Director at one time of the Islamic Centre of England, which is an Iranian led centre.  She adds that, IHRC held its 2010 fundraiser at the venue.  So the ethnicity of two personalities out of a management team of over 10, the former employment of one of them and the use of a centre suggest to the researcher/ producer that an ethnic conspiracy of some sort is afoot.  A list of questions were eventually sent by Proctor to IHRC all of which had some connection with the ethnicity bar two, and failed to focus despite repeated correspondence first from Shadjareh and then his colleague Raza Kazim highlighting that the nature of questioning evidenced prejudice based on ethnic stereotyping and ideas of ethnic conspiracy.

IHRC responded to all the questions and most were not used in the programme (see transcript PDF below).  All that was used was the following:

(21:35) Linda Presley: so Iran is competing in a market of ideas here in the UK. And arguably so too is the  Islamic Human Rights Commission, an influential organisation with consultative status in the UN. Fazal Hawami, an Iranian Kurdish commentator who’s made complaints against Press TV also has the IHRC in his sights.

(21:57) Fazal: Last year on the 9th of May 2010, 5 people were executed in Tehran in Evin prison. One of these people who was executed was a teacher and an activist. I tried to get Islamic Human Rights Commission to issue a statement. I get in touch with them i call them up i email them i’m in touch with them for about three months. Essentially they said we have an organisation, a human rights organisation in Iran, ask them to investigate this issue and they’ll get back to you. But they never got back to me, they dropped it.

(22:27) Linda Presley: and so what do you suspect is going on here then?

(22:31) Fazal: I believe that Islamic Human Rights Commission has a strong links with Iran. i haven’t seen any condemnations any Press releases about the executions of people in Iran

(21:42) Linda Presley: we wanted to interview someone from the Islamic Human Rights Commission, instead they gave us a statement

Unfortunately we can’t take every case and cause and like other human rights organisations we have to prioritize, the IHRC believes that all countries have human rights issues and that the Islamic republic of Iran is not an exception to this. However we believe its human rights record is better than other countries in the region. And we’ve noted this publicly.

(23:08) Linda Presley: Fazal Hawami isn’t alone in questioning the priorities of the IHRC. Last year an Iranian green movement activist tackled the head of the commission, also an Iranian, Massoud Shadjareh in London and video’d the exchange

(23:23) Iranian activist: Massoud one question, what about the opPression of the Iranian protestors in Iran, do you stand against that or are you for that?

(23:31) Massoud: I don’t know what you are talking about, we are talking about all the….

(23:35) activist: what about the protestors, the peaceful protestors in Iran who are being opPressed by brutal tactics. Torture, rape, have you got any words to say about that?

(23:44) Massoud: i don’t know what you’re talking about

(23:47) Linda Presley: and in response to this video clip, this is what the IHRC told us

Mr Shadjareh did not want to engage with someone approached from a counter rally, engaged in racist chanting and abuse. And therefore dismissed the protestor with these answers.

The disparity between the power relations in the correspondence highlight the problematique faced not just in the process of appealing unfair, misleading, biased or prejudiced reporting after the event, but during the process of information gathering.  In Proctor’s contact with Shadjareh first as an individual and then as IHRC, she highlighted that she seemed to be wilfully ignorant of IHRC’s structure, it’s work (including its breadth) or the personalities involved.  She focused on claims that IHRC did not speak about Iran despite there being (albeit little) material on human rights in Iran on our website, and our explanation of how we work on Iran.  IHRC asked her how she had researched IHRC and in particular if she had visited the IHRC website before contacting us or after contacting us, and if so, what material she has accessed.  IHRC also asked why she prioritised ‘the ethnicity of Mr. Shadjareh and Professor Ameli … than the ethnicity of other senior people associated with IHRC’. In response to this and other questions we asked, Proctor responded:

“I am not under any obligation to answer any questions.” 

If, as the disparity between her ideas as she expressed about IHRC’s body of work, its structure and remit suggest, she had not researched IHRC’s website, this is not only sloppy journalism, but of either an agenda in reporting about IHRC or a lack of care and rigour about accuracy because accusation, stereotyping and tropes of ethnic conspiracy were enough to make a case to be broadcast.

The clip of an exchange between Shadjareh and a Green Movement activist on Al-Quds Day 2010 was aired.  In our response, before the programme was put together, IHRC explained that the said activist had been part of the anti-Palestinian protestor group which included English fascist, Zionist and some Green Movement groups.  This counter-protest to Al-Quds Day had been chanting racist chants, and the activist himself was known to have prejudiced views, which were highlighted in the correspondence by IHRC for the researcher to take note of.  While the programme stated part of our response, it did not provide the entire context, thus making the IHRC response sound superficial and irrelevant.

Summary of concerns

  1.  The approach of the researcher/ producer was misleading.  Initially she claimed she wished to speak with Mr. Shadjareh as an individual Iranian on his thoughts on the impact of the closure of the Iranian Embassy on Iranians in the UK. 
  2. When the researcher / producer returned and asked about IHRC, she claimed that she was not alleging IHRC was an Iranian organisation, whilst the programme aired implies that this is the case.
  3. The researcher based part of her line or argument, according to her, that IHRC was ‘close to Iran’ on the claims of a blogger who based his claim on the fact that IHRC had not taken up a case in Iran.  If, as she claimed, the blogger made this claim, this lacks basic rigour on her part as a journalist to take such a claim seriously.  Would it then make IHRC and Indian organisation because it had (at that time) not taken up cases in Indian occupied Kashmir and some of its managers are of Indian heritage?  It is ludicrous claim to make based on this contention and shows that shared ethnicity is the basis of her judgment as enough of a connection.
  4. The researcher also based her line of argument on close association with Iran, by the shared ethnicity of the Chair of the organisation, and another senior person at IHRC. 
  5. She further argued that our holding one event at the Islamic Centre of England was further evidence of this (IHRC had to point out that we had held several events there), again making a link based on ethnicity.
  6. She further argued that our association with Al-Quds Day was further evidence because, Al-Quds Day originated in Iran.

Additionally, the programme when broadcast:

  1. Decontextualised the comments made by Mr. Shadjareh on audio by selectively quoting from our response.
  2. Followed directly on from the part about IHRC with a clip of a woman who feared for the  safety of Iranians in the UK:

‘Presenter: … But even here in the UK she doesn’t think all Iranians feel safe…’

While not directly saying that IHRC is part of a campaign to intimidate Iranians in the UK, it is at best sinister and associated with all the preceding organisations named, IHRC being the one directly preceding this comment, at worst it implies that IHRC is a cause of this fear amongst Iranians in the UK.

  1. The BBC did not investigate our complaint or even respond to it, simply passing the complaint onto the person we were complaining about who dismissed the complaint.

Conclusion

The case study presented above has been presented almost two years after the incident using contemporaneous documents and statements.  As with so many other organisation and individuals, IHRC had neither the physical or financial resources to take the matter beyond the complaint to the BBC which remains unanswered.

In a post-Leveson era, this briefing is presented in the hope that it highlights the type of problems Muslims and other minorities face in accessing fair representation in the media.  The IHRC research of 2007 called for a sea-change in representation of Muslims as with other out-groups:

“The UK has seen a sea change in its reporting and its cultural activity to (try to) overcome inherent racism as well as anti-Semitic and even anti-Catholic prejudice and bias towards non-conformists.  The portrayal of sexuality has also benefited from the operation of normative considerations at structural levels within cultural institutions from TV and radio companies to universities and art galleries. However just as many would argue that the struggle with regard to racism is far from won, anti-Muslim prejudice – the specificity of Islamophobic representation – has become a recognisable theme in representation that has yet to result in ethical re-evaluation at any serious level.

“From a human rights perspective this is disappointing and potentially disastrous.  Demonized representation is one of the deepest and most effective anti-human rights practices, as it has the potential not just to libel or demonize a particular person, but it can demonize all members of the represented community e.g. all Muslims or all British Muslims.”

Without:

  • serious re-evaluation of the underlying biases that inform society and thus cultural representation in the media;
  • an overhaul of procedures and accountability within organisations;
  • and the creation of effective watchdogs,

out-groups, whether on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, ability or age, (or an intersectionality of any number of these) will continue to be marginalised and disaffected, and the media in general, and large mainstream media organisations in particular, will remain the engine of societal disharmony and misrepresentation.