Police have been accused of trying to censor efforts to expose Islamist extremists after television watchdogs cleared broadcasters of distorting the views of “preachers of hate”.
Ofcom dismissed a complaint from West Midlands Police against a Channel 4 documentary, Undercover Mosque.
The ruling triggered an avalanche of criticism of the police decision – backed by the Crown Prosecution Service – to refer the Dispatches programme to the regulator.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said the police “risked impeding freedom of speech”.
After the programme was shown in January, West Midlands Police held a lengthy inquiry into comments made by Muslim preachers at mosques in Birmingham.
But in August, the police decided not to prosecute anyone. Instead, they referred the programme-makers to Ofcom, alleging distortion in the editing of 50 hours of videotape.
The complaint alleged that Dispatches had misrepresented the views of Muslim clerics and risked undermining “community cohesion”.
Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat media spokesman, said: “This raises serious questions about West Midlands Police and the CPS in what appears to be an attempt to censor television, stifle investigative journalism and inhibit open debate.”
Kevin Sutcliffe, Channel 4’s deputy head of news and current affairs, who oversees Dispatches, said: “This was a rigorous investigation. All the preachers featured were offered a right to reply and none of these individuals complained to Ofcom.
“In these circumstances it seems perverse that Hardcash [the programme makers] and Channel 4 should have found themselves the subject of a police investigation. In the view of various commentators, their action gave legitimacy to people preaching a message of hate to British citizens.”
Ofcom also rejected 364 complaints from viewers that it said appeared to be part of a campaign.
A separate complaint – also dismissed – was lodged by the Saudi Arabian government over suggestions that “the message of hatred and segregation is €¦ influenced by the religious establishment of Saudi Arabia”.
The ruling raised fresh questions over whether the police and prosecutors were serious about dealing with extremist ideologues fomenting hatred of the West and other religions.
The police complaint was prompted by concerns that the programme was “likely to undermine feelings of public safety” in Muslim communities.
The ruling said there was no evidence the documentary misled the audience or was likely to incite criminal activity.
The programme makers filmed imams making comments alleged to be homophobic, anti-Semitic and sexist.
One cleric in Birmingham said the killer of a British Muslim soldier in Afghanistan was a “hero of Islam”.
Abu Usamah, a preacher at the Green Lane mosque, was secretly filmed saying: “If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that is my freedom of speech.”
Quotes from speakers in Undercover Mosques:
“Allah created the woman deficient”.
“€¦it takes two witnesses of a woman to equal the one witness of the man”.
“By the age of ten, it becomes an obligation on us to force her [young girls] to wear hijab, and if she doesn’t wear hijab, we hit her”.
“€¦take that homosexual and throw him off the mountain”.
“Whoever changes his religion from Al Islam to anything else – kill him in the Islamic state”.
“There will be a House of Commons but they will decide every issue in accordance with the Book of Allah and the example of the Prophet.”
“The time that is fastly approaching where the tables are going to turn and the Muslims are going to be in a position of being uppermost in strength, and when that happens, people won’t get killed – unjustly”.
“There was an individual who was killed in Afghanistan recently€¦it was a Muslim name. He came from a Pakistani family and do you know what they’ve written in the tabloid newspaper, ‘Hero of Islam’….The hero of Islam is the one who separated his head from his shoulders”.