Tonight’s Panorama programme raised a number of concerns about the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. It was suggested that a paper produced by the council, East End Life, was used as a vehicle for inappropriate political advertising, and also that the mayor had an overly cosy relationship with Channel S, a digital channel aimed at the Bengali community. This claim would seem to be confirmed by Ofcom rulings.
The second half of the programme focused on Rahman’s interventions in favour of projects which would benefit Somali and Bengali groups. Apparently the mayor supported applications not initially backed by his advisors, whereas those they had recommended for funding were sometimes overlooked. It was suggested that this apparent slant was designed to attract Bengali voters, and it was reported that the council might be vulnerable to a legal challenge on this account. Another complaint was that Rahman had failed to attend meetings of an oversight and scrutiny committee, and was generally unresponsive to questions about his decisions.
John Ware told viewers that a Bengali ‘whistleblower’, a temporary researcher, had accused the programme of being racist and biased – whereas in fact many of those making allegations were themselves Bengali. You can read her own perspective here.
The programme raised legitimate concerns. Some were accusing the BBC of being racist or anti-Muslim before even seeing it. However, given the importance of making a distinction between reasonable criticisms of Mayor Rahman and bigoted, disproportionate scrutiny, it was perhaps unhelpful that, very early in the programme, we heard a Muslim campaigner exclaim:
We will fight for it until Allah is satisfied
It would be good to do everything possible to discourage reactions like this:
Panorama. Lol, telling us all what goes on with a Muslim in charge. Like you didn’t need to guess. At least BBC pushed it out.
And, by contrast, ensure that responses such as this are completely unearned.
In so far as I have a ‘confirmation bias’ on this issue, it’s not in Rahman’s favour. However there were things about the tone and emphasis of the programme which grated, just slightly, and distracted from the objective points being made.