Cllr Peter Golds is Leader of the Conservative Group on Tower Hamlets Council
It is fair to say that Tower Hamlets Council, that is Lutfur Rahman for he is Tower Hamlets Council, operates a ferocious and very effective media operation.
Last week the Rahman administration generated much publicity. On Friday the readers, watchers and listeners of influential media in Tower Hamlets were aware of the following major news stories. These included that the “BBC had apologised over racist Panorama”; “Lutfur Rahman welcomes Price Waterhouse Auditors”;” Labour’s Hate Campaign”, “Brave Lutfur Rahman” and the most investigative of all “Panorama allegations don’t add up”
Many of you will not recognise what happened in this borough last week in these headlines, and they are headlines. These are all direct quotes from the powerful Bangladeshi media that circulates widely in Tower Hamlets.
One third of the population of Tower Hamlets is of Bangladeshi origin. Many of these rely for information on the Bangladeshi media which is heavily focussed towards Tower Hamlets and its Bangladeshi personalities.
These papers are not subject to the PCC and can and often do say almost anything. In October 2010 London Bangla, included a false advertisement alleging that Hellal Abbas, the Labour Mayoral candidate was a “wife beater”. This advert gave details of a rally which never took place, arranged by an organisation which did not exist and giving a contact number which was false.
This edition of this “newspaper” was widely distributed by hand, but in particular to addresses where residents were non Bangladeshi. In fact this was so targeted to white voters that there must have been considerable organisation in achieving this, as it has never been seen in these areas since.
The outcome was to further reduce non Bangladeshi participation in the Mayoral election, which can be proven by even a cursory examination of the post poll marked register.
I recently asked in council as to why funding for street cleaning had been reduced by Rahman. London Bangla took this up writing that if I wanted my streets cleaned then I should use my council allowance to pay for it. They did not, of course ask me for a comment or even consider what I pay council tax for.
I did, however recently receive one irate call from a representative of this media recently. This was to find out why I had not provided a testimonial for a Knighthood for Lutfur Rahman. Lutfur Rahman is very keen on references and testimonials, particularly when his friends are up before a Judge.
For their part, their “reporters” are never seen at the town hall and never attend council meetings. Their main source of information is handouts from the Rahman support staff and at press conferences which they like to be held in restaurants in the Brick Lane area.
You should know that these journals and the similar TV channels are well looked after by Lutfur Rahman financially.
At least £39,500 of taxpayer’s money has been given to Bengali media organisations in the current year. No other media organisations receive any funding. Here is the list of recipients and the total awards:
Bangla Mirror £9,500
London Bangla Press Club £11,000
British Bangla Media Association £2,000
British Bangladeshi Media Association £1,000
Channel S Television Ltd £5,000
Bangla TV £4,000
Jagonari – Advert Grant £2,000
Betar Bangla Radio £4,000
- The London Bangla Press Club received £8,000 for “equipment, business plan, fund raising training” and a further £3,000 for group to organise an event to “highlight the important role of the Bangladeshi led media organisations”
- The Bangla Mirror has received grant of £4,500 towards a gala dinner at the launch of their annual British Bangladeshi “Who’s who” publication. This follows £5,000 for the same purpose last year. When published as a grant the date given was 2012 despite the application being for 2013, suggesting cut and paste and a surprising lack of checking by the legal officer, Jill Bell.
- Channel S, a Bengali language channel with whom the council’s relationship has been repeatedly criticised, received £5,000 for an “awards ceremony and dinner with the most prominent members of the Asian community” which would be broadcast live on Sky.
- £4,000 has been given to Bangla TV to host a Mela and concert.
- The British Bangla Media Association received £2,000 to support capacity building training and Practical Quality Assurance System for Small Organization accreditation, and a further grant of £1,000 towards an amateur photography competition.
- The Jagonari Women’s Educational Resource Centre was awarded £2,000 for the specific purpose of launching a commercial on Channel S about Domestic Abuse.
- Betar Bangla Radio was awarded a £4,000 grant from Tower Hamlets. This was despite a recommendation from council officers that as a commercial organisation, a grant from the taxpayer was not appropriate. Rahman overruled this recommendation, in secret of course, although he gave them just £4,000 as opposed to the £5,000 that they had requested.
An example as to how the Bangladeshi media, under Rahman, is oblivious to the actual demographics of the borough can be seen in the invitation below from ATN Bangla to a political discussion as to the “need for Bengali Mayoral candidates from all parties in Tower Hamlets.”
Subject: Invitation to ATN Bangla UK on 28th of February 2013
Dear Sir/ Madam,
ATN Bangla UK is arranging a live talk show on 28th of February at 8pm involving live audience. The programme Alapcharita will host the show and the topic of the show is – ” Need for Bengali Mayoral candidates from all parties in Tower Hamlets at the next mayor election”.
The objective of the programme is to offer a platform to the local Bengali community to hold a dialogue with the respective party representative to put forward their views and aspirations for a Bengali Mayor at the next election.
We are inviting one representative from all major political parties to participate in the show. We are also inviting friends of all major political parties to participate in the programme as audience who would have the opportunity to place questions or comments to the panel members.
Please confirm whether you would be able to provide a local representative from your party to the show
All participants need to be at the studio by 7.30pm as the show will start at 8pm sharp
Looking forward to your prompt response.
ATN Bangla UK
3/5 Hillstone Court
Even ATN Bangla eventually realised that this might be a broadcast too far.
Between late December 2011 and January 2012 advertisements “promoting police and housing policy” in Tower Hamlets were screened on a number of the Bangladeshi TV channels. Channel S received £3,000 and Bangla TV, NTV and Channel I (Prime Bangla) received £2,000 each.
All of these channels were censured by Ofcom, as was Tower Hamlets Council, for placing the adverts. The problem was that it took to January 2013 to secure the censure.
Of these TV channels, nothing is more egregious than the biggest and most influential of these, Channel S, which broadcasts on Sky Channel 814.
Channel S is effectively owned by Mohammed Ferdhaus who in February 2014, was sentenced to prison for seven years, his second recent term of imprisonment, following his November 2013 conviction on charges of money laundering. Prior to sentencing “glowing” references from Lutfur Rahman and his deputy, Cllr Ohid Ahmed, on official council notepaper were presented to the court. Rahman and Ohid Ahmed fought to keep this secret, but the trial Judge released them into the public domain.
Mohammed Ferdhaus is also close to Baroness Uddin indeed she once drove into his car show room in a battered Honda and left with a BMW. She did not declare this gift to the House of Lords.
Channel S has been repeatedly criticised by Ofcom for its lack of balance and Lutfur Rahman appeared in a series of obsequious promotional interviews with Mohammed Ferdhaus as late as November 2013. These are quite extraordinary, in one Rahman says in Bengali, that: “he will provide large new houses for those who vote for him.
Ofcom are currently investigating these three Channel S broadcasts.
In 2012 Channel S were severely censured for using an appearance at a council sponsored event in the borough of Lutfur Rahman and Ken Livingstone as an advertorial for Livingstone’s failed election campaign of 2012. This event was screened some fifteen times in a matter of days.
Channel S has also received payments, running into thousands of pounds for screening so called awards ceremonies, which unsurprisingly showcase the Rahman administration. In the current financial year it is £5,000, although in 2012 it was £12,000.
An examination of the invoices for these events, obtained under FOI is extraordinary. The 2012 event showed, according to the invoices, the Mayor’s logo, interview opportunities and repeat shows after the broadcast with acknowledgement of the council as sponsor.
All this was arranged between the council’s Head of Communications and one Mohammed Jubair.
Mohammed Jubair is the main Channel S reporter within Tower Hamlets. He is also employed by Lutfur Rahman, at public expense, as an advisor on “community media matters”. This results in the strange situation of Mr Jubair being seen in the town hall and the borough, sometimes as a reporter and commentator, and others as a political spin doctor, representing the Executive Mayor, about whom he reports (extensively) for the TV channel which also employs him. The Tower Hamlets monitoring officer is of the view that there are sufficient “chinese walls” to prevent a conflict of interest.
In the current year this council payment, for his part time work on behalf of Lutfur Rahman is some £51,000. A look at his invoices suggests that he would find work as a mainstream reporter rather difficult.
The mainstream media that readers here would recognise, has a very difficult time in dealing with the Rahman administration.
The council has repeatedly attempted to have Ted Jeory, the promoter of a local blog, Trial by Jeory, sacked from his position on a national newspaper by writing to his editor to complain about the mere existence of this blog. Ted Jeory himself published the letter sent by Takki Sulaiman, the Head of Communications to his editor effectively calling for his sacking.
Giles Broadbent editor of another local paper, “The Wharf” has written about what happened when he accurately and properly reported the council agreeing a motion to investigate the serious stories of canvassers on behalf of Lutfur Rahman, claiming to represent bodies other than themselves.
“In December, I made the Mayor’s Office very angry. One of the disciples was quickly on the case, shouting a lot and accusing me of all sorts of devilry before slamming down the phone”
National newspapers fare no better, and the Rahman administration has been very effective in shutting down critical coverage. Just the threat of a massive lawsuit, funded by a local council, with access to huge sums of taxpayer’s money can close down a story.
Last weeks Panorama programme devoted to Lutfur Rahman and his financial grants and his cult of the personality, was subject to a council inspired firestorm. Council officers, city solicitors Taylor Wesson and PR company Chompillion were all used to do everything they could to prevent the programme. When Rahman was actually interviewed by Panorama an alternative film crew were also present to film the interview, which he is threatening to show publicly.
Before the programme was even broadcast it was being denounced as racist and Islamaphobic. Emails and text messages were fired from the council with exact details of how and where to complain to. The council website was alive with a line by line rebuttal of what was a carefully sourced and very moderate BBC programme.
Finally, as I noted above we have a lively blogosphere in this borough, led by Ted Jeory. There are always a number of pro-Rahman contributions on his Trial by Jeory blog. Many contributors to Trail by Jeory are very critical of opposition councillors in the borough. One regular contributor was called Steve O’Driscoll, who was, so he claimed, a genuine eastender, and a member of the Labour Party for over twenty years, who was now a Rahman supporter and very hostile to named opposition councillors. Another was Tom, also very critical of the opposition in Tower Hamlets.
Eventually Tom started attacking Ted Jeory personally, when it was revealed that he and Steve was actually Axel Landin, a student at Selwyn College Cambridge who is now in his fourth year and who works part time in Lutfur Rahman’s office. He is very keen on a career in the Labour Party, which makes his allegiance to Lutfur Rahman somewhat strange.
Amusing, but it shows to what depths the Rahman machine goes to take on opponents. Lutfur Rahman has a partisan blog on the council website, believed to be written by Steve or Tom. It does not allow comments of any kind.