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BBC found not to have made defamatory comments against extremist speaker

Shakeel Begg v BBC [2016] EWHC 2688

The High Court held that comments made by a BBC presenter were not defamatory.  The allegations that the claimant was an extremist speaker who promoted jihad were found to be substantially true.

The facts were that on 3rd November 2013, the Sunday Politics programme included a discussion on whether mosques were doing enough to counter extremism.  While interviewing a representative of the Muslim Council of Britain, the BBC presenter, Andrew Neill stated that the East London Mosque was a venue for a number of extremist speakers and that Shakeel Begg spoke there and hailed jihad as ‘the greatest of deeds.’  He also referred to a number of other speakers at the mosque, who had made derogatory comments about Christians and Jews, who were jihadist supporters of the Taliban and asked why nothing was done about such extremists.  The claimant had not made this statement at the East London mosque, although had made other previous statements.

Shakeel Begg complained to the BBC about these remarks which were dismissed and he issued libel proceedings.  The BBC raised a justification defence to assert the substantial truth of Andrew Neill’s comments.  The claimant challenged the suggestion that he was an extremist and emphasised his standing in the community, interfaith work and work with the police.  The BBC’s justification defence depended on the correct interpretation of the claimant’s previous statements.  The test was whether a section of the audience would reasonably take the words spoken to convey a particular message. 

The judge considered what could be regarded as extremist positions and found that in several of the speeches relied on by the BBC, the claimant had promoted and/ or encouraged religious violence including armed jihad.  The substantial truth of this allegation was not affected by the BBC having inaccurately stated that the claimant had made such a statement at East London Mosque.

Read Inforrm article here.