BBC defends reporting of Muslims survey

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The BBC has defended its coverage of a survey that showed that more than a quarter of British Muslims have some sympathy for the motives behind last month’s Islamic extremist murders in Paris.

The News Letter asked the corporation why it highlighted other findings from the ComRes poll for Radio Four’s Today programme ahead of the finding of 27 per cent sympathy for the motives for the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Wednesday’s 7am Radio Four news report on the survey first mentioned the fact that two-thirds of British Muslims oppose violence against those who publish offensive images without any immediately accompanying reference to the 24 per cent who did not oppose violence.

The news bulletin then went to a reporter who led off on the fact that almost all of those questioned feel a loyalty to Britain, and want British laws to be obeyed.

She then mentioned that just under half of respondents felt that Britain is becoming less tolerant of Muslims.

Then the reporter mentioned the level of sympathy for violence, and put an emphasis on the qualifying word “some” before the word sympathy.

The flagship 8am bulletin had the exact same sequence.

Since Wednesday morning the BBC online report has led on the fact that most British Muslims opposed cartoon reprisals.

Yet the poll had numerous alarming findings, such as the fact that 11 per cent of those questioned expressed sympathy for those who want to fight against the Western interest.

It found that almost half of British Muslims, 45 per cent, were unable to agree with the notion that Muslim clerics who preach that violence against the West can be justified are out of touch with mainstream Muslim opinion.

A quarter of the people surveyed (24 per cent) disagreed with the statement that acts of violence against those publishing images of the Prophet can never be justified.

In response to our query about the presentation of the findings, a BBC spokeswoman said: “The poll produced a variety of findings – all of which were covered extensively in different ways across the BBC. It is the job of the BBC to present the findings in full and allow our audiences to draw their own conclusions.”

She said that the statistics were included prominently throughout Wednesday’s Today programme. The spokeswoman said that they did not lead on the exact same statistic in each bulletin.

The BBC’s handing of the survey was criticised by several politicians.

The Ulster-born Tory MP Conor Burns accused the BBC of “celebrating” the findings.

The Labour MP John Mann said that the BBC has “given credibility to extremism” and says your “ignoring reality is poor journalism”.

The BBC was not alone in its presentation of the findings.

The Press Association news agency led off on the fact that almost half of Muslims living in Britain believe that prejudice against Islam makes it difficult for them to follow their faith in the country.

It then mentioned that 46 per cent of respondents believe that the nation is becoming less tolerant of Muslims, and added: “Despite their unease almost all, 95 per cent, said they felt a loyalty to the country ...”.

In a strong attack on the angle that the BBC took on the survey, the Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover wrote: “Imagine if you read a headline which said ‘Most people oppose the blowing up of Parliament’. That’s not news. It’s what you would expect. But a headline which stated that ‘A quarter of Britons would be sympathetic to the bombing of Parliament’ would be absolutely terrifying.”

The former faith and communities minister Baroness Warsi described as “worrying” the level of sympathy for the motives behind the Charlie Hebdo attack.

The murders in Paris sparked global revulsion, and triggered demonstrations which both commemorated the dead and defended free speech in numerous cities.

Morning View: BBC poll showed worrying ambivalence to Islamic violence