The broadcast regulator Ofcom has found Islam Channel guilty of broadcasting antisemitic hate speech during a programme which dealt with Israel’s alleged distortion of the Quran.
The programme which was found in breach of the Ofcom Code – The Rightly Guided Khalifas – was narrated in Arabic with English subtitles. It stated that Israel had printed hundreds of thousands of distorted copies of the Quran in 1961 and distributed those copies in African and Asian countries with changed sentences, some letters deleted, and verses removed.
The English subtitles of a section of the programme read: “Keeping in mind that the Jews once tried to distort The Book (Al Quran) of Allah (Glory be to Him) when they printed hundreds of thousands of corrupted copies back in the year 1961. They distributed the corrupted copies in the African and Asian countries after they deleting certain letters and verses.
“Sheikh Al Azhar in Egypt wrote a letter in the previous century in which He said ‘the occupying state of Israel (the jews) which was formed on the basis of tyranny, oppression and assaulting the lands of wealth of others’ ‘is still living in this world with the same evil mind’ ‘and in their futile attempt to corrupt Al Quran they tried to destroy our beliefs and Religion’, ‘by doing so the new jews tried to do the same thing their ancestors did when they displaced words from (their) right places’.
“At that time an Islamic summit was held in order to uncover the crime. The jewish attempt was encountered with distributing recordings of recited Quran in the countries which the news tried to spread the corrupted copies and by so the jewish attempt failed for Allah will protect the Al Quran and He will bring His light to perfection even though the disbelievers hate (it)”.
Islam Channel apology
In its response, Islam Channel said that The Rightly Guided Khalifas series was produced by an overseas third party rather than in-house. It accepted that breaches of the Ofcom code had occurred, but argued that it would be disproportionate to consider the matter for statutory sanction.
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It added that “viewers [were] not encouraged to spread, incite or promote hatred” and that the programme did not “seek to justify hatred.” The channel also said that the content in question “account[ed] for a small part (less than 0.5%) of the whole series,” and that the series “neither promote[d] nor justifie[d] hatred or violence which would ultimately be upsetting to [viewers].”
Islam Channel said that it was “an ethical broadcaster who takes its responsibilities in protecting its audience seriously.” It added that it “takes great pride in its interfaith and community cohesion work,” citing work it had done with multi-cultural organisations.”
Islam Channel also addressed the matter of the English subtitles treating narration about Israel as comments about “the jews”, “the new jews” and “The jewish.” It said that this was explained by the fact that the subtitles were produced by an overseas producer and that “in the context of the Middle East conflict, Israel, Israelis and Jews, much like Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims are all used interchangeably.” However, it added that it did “not endorse this conflation”.
Islam Channel said that it had since decided to transmit a statement twice to offer an apology to viewers and stress that Islam Channel “unreservedly condemns all types of hate speech.”
Nevertheless, Ofcom decided that several elements of the programme, individually and in combination, met the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In particular:
- The subtitles stated that “the Jews … tried to distort [the Qur’an] when they printed hundreds of thousands of corrupted copies [in] 1961 … ‘and in their futile attempt to corrupt Al Quran they [modern-day Jewish people] tried to destroy our beliefs and religion’, ‘by doing so the new jews tried to do the same thing their ancestors [Jewish people in ancient times] did when they displaced words from (their) right places’ [of the Jewish Bible (Torah)]”.
Ofcom said there was conflation between Israel as a state, and the Jewish people, both in the Arabic and English language material broadcast.
It said: “In our view, the programme ascribed a perpetually negative characteristic to Jewish people; namely corrupting Holy Books and seeking the destruction of Islam in both ancient and more recent times. In addition, through the conflation of Israel and Jewish people the content characterised Jewish people as ‘tyrannical’ and having an ‘evil mind’ at least from the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 to the date of the Shaykh of Al Azhar’s letter (i.e. post December 1960).
“Given all these factors, our decision is that the content met Ofcom’s definition of hate speech. We considered these statements were expressions of hatred based on intolerance of Jewish people. In our view, their broadcast had the potential to promote, encourage and incite such intolerance among viewers.
“The broadcast of this potentially very harmful and highly offensive antisemitic content represents serious breaches of the Code. We are putting the Licensee on notice that we will consider these breaches for the imposition of a statutory sanction.”