Tower Hamlets mayor accuses BBC Panorama of racism and Islamophobia

Ex mayor Luftur Rahman

The mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has accused BBC Panorama of Islamophobia and racism ahead of a programme about him which is due to be broadcast this evening.

In a statement on his website Rahman said that a “criminal investigation” is now underway after a BBC Panorama whistle-blower revealed racism and Islamophobia behind the programme on Tower Hamlets.

He said: “I believe the programme is being used for political campaigning and electioneering purposes just weeks before local and Mayoral elections in May. A dossier passed to us by a BBC whistle-blower has revealed it to be in total breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines as a public broadcaster. It has clear racist and Islamophobic overtones targeting the Bangladeshi Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.

“The BBC and the undercover production company, Films of Record, have also been referred to the Information Commissioner and there is now a criminal investigation underway. Sadly this programme is already being used for political campaigning by politicians from Tower Hamlets Labour Party and promoted by right wing journalists. The BBC’s targeting of our borough is nothing short of a direct intervention in the outcome of an election.”

He added: “I’m proud that with your support I have been able to deliver some of the most progressive policies of any council in the country, whether that’s building the most homes; supporting our young people; providing free school meals to all primary school children; protecting our heritage; looking after our elderly or improving our environment. I’ll let the people of Tower Hamlets judge my record in office – not by a programme with a clear political bias, broadcasting for Tower Hamlets Labour Party.

Meanwhile, the BBC has emphatically denied Mayor Rahman’s accusations.

In a statement the corporation said: “The BBC emphatically rejects any suggestion that its investigation into Lutfur Rahman’s administration was either politically or racially motivated.

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“We can confirm that there has been a breach of data protection at an independent production company working with the BBC on a Panorama investigation as a result of unauthorised disclosure by a former researcher on the production team, in breach of her obligation of confidentiality.

“This breach includes material relating to the programme’s confidential sources. Our primary concern is to protect our sources and we are urgently investigating the matter. We have also notified the ICO.”


This evening at 8.30pm Panorama will examine Rahman’s record and those of other directly elected town hall chiefs.

A solicitor specialising in family law, Bangladesh-born but Tower Hamlets-raised, he describes himself as a liberal and a social democrat.

In 2010, Rahman, who had briefly led the council for Labour before the mayoral system was introduced, twice failed to make the party’s panel-picked shortlist for mayoral candidates, but was added to it after taking legal action. He won the subsequent selection ballot of Tower Hamlets party members handsomely, only to be dumped by Labour’s national executive committee.

He ended up fighting the borough’s first mayoral contest as an independent, thrashing the fellow Bangladeshi installed to replace him into a distant second place, and beginning a four-year term that will come to an end when he seeks re-election in May.

Yet unflattering media attention has constantly dogged him. There have been recurring unproven accusations of dubious relationships with dodgy businessmen, voting improprieties, dirty campaign tactics, lack of transparency and the giving of grants to community organisations in the tacit expectation of en bloc ballot box support. His supporters say these are just politically motivated slurs.


Panorama says it will investigate claims that Rahman has “used public funds both to promote himself and to create a political power base” and says that it has evidence “suggesting” the mayor has refused “to answer opposition questions about spending decisions involving millions of pounds of public money”.

Rahman’s core support is substantially among his fellow Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis, who comprise around 30% of the borough’s population. The council argues that grants for community projects represent a tiny part of its budget and that those to Bangladeshi schemes are rightly supporting some of the borough’s most disadvantaged residents.
The Labour party’s challenger this time is John Biggs, another former leader of the council, who now represents Tower Hamlets and two other east London boroughs on the London Assembly. He offers a measured view of his opponent, acknowledging that many in the Bangladeshi community see Rahman as their wronged champion, fighting hardship and discrimination.

His central case is that Rahman isn’t up to the job of mayor, characterising him as inward-looking, weak and doing too little to help Tower Hamlets be the opposite.

But he also accuses the mayor of being “big on patronage”, preoccupied with nurturing his bedrock backers and so risking sowing division in a culturally diverse borough. Unlike the first Tower Hamlets mayoral election, May’s will be held on the same day as the vote for borough councillors. Biggs hopes this will increaseboth the turnout and his chances.

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