NOTE: We have lodged a detailed complaint with the Press Complaints Commission on the articles of the 2nd of June and the 9th of June and we are awaiting a judgement on those detailed submissions against the Andrew Gilligan articles.

The Focus – Tarring the Vehicle

Last week we put up our response to an article which was written by Andrew Gilligan for the Telegraph and we noted down the responses that we had made to the reporter on the phone. The full details can be found here. Today, at 1 pm, we received a text from Gilligan stating that he was writing a piece on TELL MAMA again and that he wanted to speak to us.

The Director of TELL MAMA, Fiyaz Mughal, contacted Andrew Gilligan and what ensued was quite a bizarre conversation with Andrew Gilligan where any response that did not fit into a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, was deemed as being something which was not denied. So, Andrew suggested that the Department for Communities & Local Government was not going to fund TELL MAMA due to the ‘figures’ and the methodology used in the project. Well, this was news to us since it has always been the case that funding from the Department would end in November 2013 and TELL MAMA has been actively looking at alternative private and public sources of funding. In fact, DCLG funding was never meant to be a reliant source of funding and this, rightly so, was always made clear to us by civil servants through 2012 and throughout this year. In the current age of austerity, alternative income sources are fundamental to sustainability. Anybody working in the voluntary and community sector knows this.

Put it in Writing

On numerous occasions, Gilligan was asked by the Director to put his questions in writing to which he suggested that this meant that TELL MAMA were not denying the thrust of the questions put to them. In other words, the story would read something along the lines of ‘Government pulls the plug on project due to data that is flawed.’ With it would be the word, ‘fact’ that Gilligan so liked that he splashed it across last week’s headlines.

Gilligan was asked repeatedly to send his queries in writing and which were not becoming queries over the phone, but targeted and aggressive statements. He replied again that this meant that TELL MAMA were not denying the charges that he was levelling. So, in effect, he was, over the phone, writing the story as he wanted to see it. It was pretty clear that if we were not going to respond there and then, he would list our response as not denying the thrust of the arguments that he had put forward.

This continued on for several minutes at which point the Director invited him to see how we worked and suggested that Gilligan was attempting to make a story out of a non-story. Gilligan refused to comment on visiting us, (by this we would assume that he is not denying a future visit or is he) and he finally agreed to send us questions in writing after a 3-4 minute conversation. This was after Gilligan seemed to get irritated on the phone and his voice took on a more aggressive tone.

Receipt of the E-mail

We received the e-mail at 2:44 pm and Gilligan asked for a response by 4:30 pm before the story would be filed. Was this a method of applying pressure on us – asking us for comments just before a story is filed, or was this something that was last genuinely last minute? All we know is that we had less than 2 hours to respond to a story and if staff members did not have access to e-mail, Gilligan may well have printed ‘our non-denials.’

So let us look at the facts as they stand through the responses that we provided by e-mail to the reporter. We have reproduced the whole text of the written e-mail response and any comments that we have subsequently added to the e-mail text are marked clearly in a blue font. (TELL MAMA replied to Gilligan at 4:05 pm today – 08/06/2013)

Text & Responses by E-mail

“Dear Fiyaz,

AG (Andrew Gilligan): Thank you for returning my calls. As I mentioned in our conversation just now, we have been told that you will not have your DCLG grant renewed and also that DCLG officials and Acpo have raised concerns about your methods. The DCLG has confirmed the first of these things and repeatedly refused to deny the second.

FM (Fiyaz Mughal): Funding for the project was provided on a year by year basis. Funding was never to be provided on a long term basis and the TELL MAMA project was never meant to be reliant on Government funding. It is only right where public funds are involved that project objectives are reviewed and we are clear about this. We cannot comment on the ‘concerns about our methods’ since we have not seen the statement. This is also the first time that we are hearing about this. Furthermore, at no point has ACPO been in touch with us about methodology and we have in fact, been pushing for data from them through a Memorandum of Understanding and on responses to cases that we put through their reporting system.

We continue to meet objectives and we continue to deliver a service that is much needed by Muslim communities and which counters hate against all communities. However, we are filling a gap which is needed in Muslim communities around hate incident/crime reporting and also building community confidence through informing Muslim communities around how they can report in targeted anti-Muslim prejudice.

Meetings were had with the Department regarding getting an independent body to evaluate data from the TELL MAMA project and to write up an end of year report on findings in 2012. Within that process, discussions were had around whether we could release interim figures which would show the work being undertaken and help to build public confidence in reporting in Islamophobic hate incidents and crimes. These were the discussions that took place. At no point did discussions centre around the methodology of TELL MAMA being questioned and in particular, the methodology was discussed on numerous occasions with civil servants. Also, at no point were queries raised on the methodology which were significant enough to warrant funding being pulled. Suggestions of such matters are just untrue.

We must also add that the ACPO contact for TELL MAMA is one of the most experienced officers in the country on hate crime reporting. If he had concerns, he would have raised them directly with us whether orally or in writing. At no point has this taken place. Furthermore, ACPO have not been provided with our data in a statistical format. ACPO have received qualitative reports and victim statements from us so that they can disseminate the information to relevant forces. So the ACPO thrust of the argument is inaccurate.

Let us move onto the matter of the termination of funding. Funding was provided on a year on year basis as part of the Anti-Muslim Prejudice Working Group which is overseen by the Secretary of State, Baroness Warsi and the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office. The year on year funding structure was put in place to ensure that long term reliance on public funding did not occur and throughout the funding cycle, both TELL MAMA and DCLG were clear that Government support was merely to pump prime the project. This is why TELL MAMA has sought funding and continues to seek funding from other sources. Allegations that link the termination of funding to the data collection are mischevious and untrue.

AG: We are told that DCLG officials called you to a meeting before Woolwich to discuss these concerns; that the meeting went badly, with you losing your temper, and that you were subsequently called in by the minister, Don Foster, and told that there would be no more money.

FM: The meeting took place sometime before Woolwich and did not relate to methodology. It related to the publication of 2012 anti-Muslim prejudice figures and having an independent review of those figures which is good practice. This was agreed and has always been part of the process. The ‘loss of temper’ that you mention did not relate nor does it relate to the methodology of data collection. Furthermore, the accuracy of your information on the conversation with Minister Don Foster, has to be called into question. Discussions were not about the loss of funding and we were clear about the year’s funding support for 2013 in October 2012, not November 2012 as you suggested, which is when the contract started.

Discussions with Minister Don Foster included holding any further mention on 2012 stats on anti-Muslim prejudice from TELL MAMA until after the findings were published and analysed by an independent body. As suggested before, this was also based on ensuring good practice. Discussions also mentioned other private matters, not related to TELL MAMA data and the need to continuously fundraise. The Minister also agreed that the funding climate for community organisations was tough and that more than ever, voluntary and community groups needed to think about their future sustainability. The Minister was supportive of the work of TELL MAMA.

AG: We have two sources to this effect. I note that you did not deny these things in our conversation just now.

FM: No – I tried to explain and you suggested that I did not deny these things. That is what happened.

AG: Asked whether concerns had been expressed, you stated: “There are specific elements related to that that are not along the lines you said” and asked me to put my questions in writing. I would welcome any further statement you have to make.

FM: I have provided an explanation as above Andrew.

AG: I also asked whether it was appropriate for Tell Mama to issue legal threats against members of the public who expressed criticism of it on Twitter (not in any sort of racist or Islamophobic way) and whether it was appropriate to use public money for this purpose.

FM: Let me be clear. No public money has been used in a process where defamation of our project/staff has taken place. Any inference is simply wrong. Furthermore, we have received a barrage of libellous comments from being linked to Al Qaeda through to being anti-Israel supporters or in some instances, targeting people because they support Israel. These are simply untrue and very damaging since we counter hate incidences/crimes and would never target someone because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or any other personal identity. We will defend the right of all people to live free from fear and this means defending their right to express their identities and their support for countries and groups freely. However, we have the right to defend the integrity of our work when people broadcast comments that are simply untrue and highly damaging about us or which make us look as though we are prejudicial about people. Twitter is a broadcast to followers.

AG: I also asked how Tell Mama, or its solicitor, had obtained the private home addresses of the people it had threatened. Mark Lewis, the phone-hacking solicitor who is acting for one of the defendants, Ambrosine Chetrit, has reported this to the police as a possible breach of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act after failing to get an explanation of how you obtained his client’s home address. You declined to comment on all this, saying it was a legal issue. I would again welcome any further statement you have to make on this.

FM: There are on-going legal matters but we are happy to provide explanations as and where required but not through the press due to on-going legal matters. Rest assured that whatever we do, we do within the bounds of the law and with due diligence.

AG: Many thanks for your help. It’s for tomorrow’s paper, so a response by 4.30 would be very much appreciated.

FM: Thanks and response will be sent through by 4:30 pm

Keep the Focus the Victims, not TELL MAMA

We would also like to list the following comment Andrew. There are easier ways in life to make a living without being at the brunt end of daily threats, cyber-attacks against our servers, scurrilous articles about our work, being accused of playing to a ‘victim mentality’ and in working with a community that is suspicious of reporting in hate incidents and crimes. (Muslim communities have developed a fear that data may be collected as part of a wider data trawl for Prevent). The latter, we can assure the general public, is not the case given that this project is not Prevent funded, nor will we release the data of victims to third parties, unless to the Police and with the express authorisation of the victim. So, given the range of issues that we work through, a grant that barely covers our basic costs is hardly access to a ‘gravy train.’ The aim of this project is to support victims of anti-Muslim prejudice or Islamophobia and support for the victim is the primary focus of this project. Please let us all try and remember that.