The BBC has published a retraction of a statement made by BBC presenter Andrew Neil on BBC1’s This Week about a nationally and internationally prominent UK scholar, academic and jurist, Dr Haitham al-Haddad.
Mr Neil had stated on This Week on 5 March 2015 that Dr al-Haddad believes that Jews are descended from pigs. The statement was, it transpired, based on an inaccurate internet post attributing words to Dr al-Haddad that he had never in fact said. The BBC had not corroborated or checked the internet site with Dr al-Haddad before broadcasting Mr Neil’s statement as a statement of fact.
The published retraction and undertaking not to repeat the claim concludes long running litigation in which Saracens Solicitors, instructing Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers acted for Dr al-Haddad against the BBC Litigation Department, instructing Andrew Caldecott QC and Jonathan Scherbel-Ball.
The BBC’s statement, published on its website, states that the BBC accepts that Dr al-Haddad “has not stated that “Jews are descended from pigs”” and that “It has withdrawn this allegation and confirms that it will not repeat it.”
The BBC continued to broadcast the allegation on its website for almost three years while litigation continued, until it was required to halt ongoing publication last week pursuant to an undertaking as part of the settlement. At the point when Mr Neil’s statement was first broadcast on This Week, Dr al-Haddad had already confirmed on the record that he had never said those words. The BBC made no contact with Dr al-Haddad to verify the statement before broadcasting it on This Week.
Nishtar Saleem, Senior Partner at Saracens Solicitors and Dr al-Haddad’s solicitor, stated as follows:
Andrew Neil’s statement that my client believes that Jews are descended from pigs was, it turned out, based on nothing more than an inaccurate posting on a foreign website. The BBC breached its own accuracy rules by doing nothing to verify this uncorroborated internet source before broadcasting Andrew Neil’s claim as if it were established fact. Had it first done some elementary research, it would have seen, including from video online, that my client had confirmed that the report was indeed false and that he had never said such words. The BBC also breached its own guidance and Ofcom fairness rules and failed to respect basic principles of fair and responsible journalism by broadcasting this allegation without first making any approach to my client for comment.
Dr al-Haddad is horrified that the BBC relied on an unverified internet posting to broadcast such an allegation. In the course of the long battle to correct it since it was first broadcast, the BBC has produced not a shred of evidence to support the claim. To make this incendiary allegation against an Imam, scholar and jurist respected within the British Muslim community and abroad without any corroboration at all, undermines the trust that the community places in the BBC.
Dr al-Haddad was clear throughout these proceedings against the BBC that his aim was to win a public retraction of this allegation and a recognition that it was untrue, and to ensure that the BBC would stop broadcasting the allegation online and never repeat it. He is relieved to have finally achieved all these aims.
Dr al-Haddad remains deeply concerned that the BBC continued to broadcast Mr Neil’s allegation online for almost three years after he had confirmed directly to the BBC that it was relying on a false report. He very much regrets that he had to fight for so long to win a public retraction and a published acceptance that he had not said what was attributed to him, together with an undertaking not to repeat it, which finally halted all online publication on the BBC’s website and Facebook pages.
Proceedings were pending before Ofcom about the fairness of other statements made by Mr Neil on This Week which completely misrepresented Dr al-Haddad’s adherence to orthodox Islamic beliefs. Again, the BBC gave him no opportunity to correct them or respond before broadcasting. My client respects that people may disagree with Islamic principles, but they should not be distorted by the BBC in breach of fairness rules. Nicky Campbell had repeated similar statements, shortly afterwards, on BBC1’s Sunday morning programme, The Big Questions, also without approaching my client to obtain a response. The BBC itself partly upheld the complaint about The Big Questions.
Dr al-Haddad pursued a regulatory complaint about the statements on This Week which was still unresolved by the BBC Trust when it was abolished in April 2017. In January 2018, Ofcom agreed to take over the unresolved appeal and investigate on fairness grounds once this litigation ended.
The BBC however, sought an agreement from my client not to pursue any part of the regulatory proceedings about This Week as part of the settlement of the litigation which led to the published retraction and undertaking from the BBC. Having faced years of unresolved litigation with the prospect of years more if the matter was not settled, Dr al-Haddad was not prepared to risk further delaying a public retraction of the abhorrent claim that he believed that Jews were not human. Nor did he want to delay obtaining the undertaking from the BBC, by which it was required to halt the ongoing online broadcasting of the claim, which would otherwise continue to mislead audiences, who may not know that it was based purely on a false internet post of words that he had never said.
Dr al-Haddad therefore reluctantly agreed with the BBC to discontinue his regulatory complaint which has the effect of preventing Ofcom’s investigation proceeding. He is however surprised and disappointed that the BBC sought this undertaking which would halt the Ofcom investigation into whether Mr Neil’s statements about his Islamic beliefs breached Ofcom’s Fairness Code. The effect is to prevent these statements being exposed to the independent scrutiny that Ofcom was going to give them, and their fairness will therefore remain unresolved.
Mark Henderson of Doughty Street Chambers was instructed by Nishtar Saleem of Saracens Solicitors:
Click here for a link to the personal profile of Mark Henderson.
Click here for a link to the chamber’s website where you can find out more about their work.
The BBC’s retraction published in the following terms:
This Week, BBC One, 5 March 2015
During an episode of This Week broadcast by the BBC on 5 March 2015, the BBC made a number of statements about Dr Haitham al-Haddad. One was that Dr al-Haddad believed that Jews were descended from pigs. Dr al-Haddad has made clear to the BBC that he has never stated that Jews were descended from pigs and that the BBC had referenced an incorrectly attributed sermon. The BBC accepts Dr al-Haddad’s assurance that he has not stated that “Jews are descended from pigs”. It has withdrawn this allegation and confirms that it will not repeat it.
It is published [here] http://www.bbc.co.uk/helpandfeedback/corrections_clarifications/
The BBC’s earlier Finding in its complaints process partly upholding Dr al-Haddad’s complaint about The Big Questions is [here]