Police and prosecutors have made a formal complaint to the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, over a Channel 4 programme about extremism in mosques which allegedly “completely distorted” the views of those involved.
The complaint was made after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded there was insufficient evidence to bring a charge against the broadcaster under the 1986 Public Order Act, following an inquiry by West Midlands Police.
The CPS also found there was not enough evidence to support charges against those featured in Undercover Mosque, which was shown in the Dispatches slot in January.
Police expanded the initial inquiry into those featured in the programme to investigate those who made it.
In a joint statement, the force and the CPS said a formal complaint about the documentary had been lodged with Ofcom.
This prompted a robust response from Channel 4, which said: “We believe the offensive views expressed by the people revealed in the programme speak for themselves. We didn’t put these words into people’s mouths and all extracts were carefully contextualised.
Additional parts of this documentary on the ‘Religion of Peace’
“The West Midlands Police have provided no evidence whatsoever to support their allegations.”
The latest police-media dispute centres on a programme made for Channel 4 by an independent programme company, Hardcash Productions.
On its website, Hardcash said it had shown that “a message of hatred and segregation is being spread throughout the UK.” It featured preachers at mosques, including Sparkbrook mosque in Birmingham.
West Midlands Police launched an investigation into whether any criminal offences had been committed by three speakers at the mosque.
The joint statement said: “West Midlands Police acknowledge the concerns that some parts of the programme may have been considered offensive. However, when analysed in their full context there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges against any individual.”
Assistant Chief Constable Anil Patani said: “As a result of our initial findings, the investigation was then extended to include issues relating to the editing and portrayal of the documentary.
“The priority for police has been to investigate the documentary and its making with as much rigour as the extremism the programme sought to portray.”
The CPS reviewing lawyer, Bethan David, considered 56 hours of media footage “of which only a small part was used in the programme.”
She said: “The splicing together of extracts from longer speeches appears to have completely distorted what the speakers were saying.
“The CPS has demonstrated that it will not hesitate to prosecute those responsible for criminal incitement. But in this case we have been dealing with a heavily-edited television programme, apparently taking out of context aspects of speeches which in their totality could never provide a realistic prospect of any convictions.”
The statement added that the CPS “was also asked by the police to consider whether a prosecution under the Public Order Act 1986 should be brought against Channel 4 for broadcasting a programme including material likely to stir up racial hatred.”
Miss David advised that “on the evidence available, there was insufficient evidence that racial hatred had been stirred up as a direct consequence of the programme.”
West Midlands Police “have taken account of this advice and explored options available to them and has now referred the matter to the broadcasting regulators Ofcom as a formal complaint.”
The latest dispute over the contents of television documentaries comes after the BBC was forced to apologise to the Queen for wrongly implying in a trailer for a documentary that she had stormed out of a picture sitting with the US celebrity photographer, Annie Leibovitz.
ITV has appointed lawyers to conduct an inquiry into how a documentary was advertised as showing an Alzheimer’s patient “passing away” when he died three days after the so called death scene.
Last week, Channel 4 axed all profit-making phone-in competitions after admitting that almost three million people had telephoned on premium rate numbers with no chance of winning.