Newsnight versus Policy Exchange

There is a a lot blogtivity regarding Newsnight’s investigation into the much publicised Policy Exchange report on extremist literature being sold inside British mosques. Briefly, Newsnight claimed that some of the evidence used or gathered by Policy Exchange was fabricated or of dubious origin, a claim Policy Exchange denies or deems irrelevant.

Dr. Gabriele Marranci (an anthropologist specialising in Muslim communities) had a post back in October when the report was first released questioning the methodology and approach of the report’s authors. This prompted a response from the report’s main author, Dr. Denis MacEoin (himself a specialist in Arab and Persian literature) [1, 2]. Another academic blogger at Remarks and culture had similar criticisms. Ministry of Truth, Obsolete [1, 2] and Brian Whitaker contribute with some analysis of their own. MacEoin’s own political viewpoints are noted by Garry Smith (1, 2), and a quick search of his name tells you a lot. (Indigo Jo, a keen reader of letters to the editor in newspapers, has come across MacEoin before.) Of course, MacEoin’s political viewpoints do not, in and of themselves discount, the findings of the report; but they provide context especially when the method and evidence is found to be suspect.

The general view from these and other bloggers seems to be that what is under question is not the availablity of ‘extremist literature’ at mosques which Policy Exchange researchers probably did find, but the presentation of the report as a rigorous academic exercise by the major media outlets in Britain. In other words, this Newsnight story is really about the standards (and perceptions) of journalism in Britain, which have taken something of a battering in the last few years, and not really about Muslims (although the Muslim institutions wrongfully implicated in the report have every right to feel aggrieved).

Interestingly, Dean Godson, the man wheeled out by the Policy Exchange to defend the report on Newsnight, was fired from the Telegraph back in 2004 when Conrad Black (now a convicted criminal) sold the paper to the Barclay brothers:

The Barclays[, says Martin Newland, then editor of the Telegraph,] have not laid down a clear political line. “There are occasional conversations. I might call about something. Normal, friendly conversations…” Nonetheless, the comment page has seen some of the biggest changes during the interregnum. “I soon came to recognise we were speaking a language on geopolitical events and even domestic events that was dictated too much from across the Atlantic. It’s OK to be pro-Israel, but not to be unbelievably pro-Likud Israel, it’s OK to be pro-American but not look as if you’re taking instructions from Washington. Dean Godson and Barbara Amiel were key departures.”

Spinwatch did an investigation into Godson’s ideological roots in September this year, which is very informative and provides a lot of context.

And, of course, Labour are seeking to profit from the suspicions cast over Policy Exchange, given the think-tank is linked to the Tory Party.

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