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BMTV Under Fire After Guest Presenters’ Degrading Comments At Women

BMTV Under Fire After Guest Presenters’ Degrading Comments At Women

British Muslim TV (BMTV) has been criticised by activists and leading Muslim voices after two guest presenters made numerous degrading comments about women on live-TV without realising that they were live.

Subsequently, both BMTV and the presenters have issued an apology message. However, critics have pointed out that the presenters merely made excuses for their comments as well as minimising them as “banter”. The BMTV apology was similarly criticised as insincere after it was revealed that the presenters continued their involvement with the channel.

The incident has since gained traction among activists who warn that the issue highlights a general attitude of misogyny in the media and NGO sectors where such behaviour is often excused.

“A brother called them and asked for an apology and they laughed and cut the call”

The incident took place in the early hours of 28th April 2020, during a Ramadan fundraiser broadcast presented by two guest presenters The pair took a break during which they did not realise they were still on air. Their discussion about drinks soon turned to comments about how they used to have “sisters” to bring them beverages and fix their microphones, with one of them expressing excitement about the times he got a “cheeky little boob graze”. These comments elicited criticisms from callers during the broadcast, with one male caller asking for an apology and being disconnected by the pair. Despite the incident, the pair continued to appear on BMTV shows.

The pair continued the fundraiser show which was, ironically, for Global One, a women-led international development charity headed by Dr Husna Ahmad OBE.

Apologies issued by BMTV and the presenters criticised as non-apologies

In the following days, BMTV has issued an apology, clarifying that the pair were guest presenters and do not represent the channel and its values. They added that they condemn such actions and apologised to the viewers. In a Twitter post, they added that they take the issue very seriously.

However, critics warned that the pair continued to be allowed on BMTV even after the incident, suggesting that the apology was an insincere PR exercise.

Critics were further aggravated by the attempted apology made by the pair. The pair claimed that the whole thing was misconstrued and the presenters claimed that they were simply making “banter”, mentioning that none of the producers are Muslim in what was an apparent attempt to exonerate themselves. They admitted they are not perfect people but said that Allah knows what their intentions are.

The pair also made a subsequent appearance on BMTV during which they discussed the matter of forgiveness. Referencing numerous hadiths and the concept of tawba and explained that in Islam, it is encouraged to hide another’s failings and sins. This footage was sent by BMTV to numerous social media personalities raising the issue.

To this, critics have accused them of twisting hadiths to their desires, adding that hiding the “sins” only refers to private and personal failings where there are no victims and nobody else’s rights, including those of animals, have been violated.

Indeed, in the Holy Qur’an itself, there is a whole chapter on tawba and apology in al-Nawawi’s Riyad al-Salihin which stipulates that an offender should ask for sincere forgiveness from those offended, and only then turn to Allah for forgiveness.

For the critics, the justifications by the presenters, seemingly endorsed by BMTV, have made a mockery of common decency and of the Prophet’s hadiths themselves.

The controversy has launched a discussion on general attitudes towards women in media and NGOs

Since the incident became public, Global One has issued a message, accepting the apologies of the pair in the spirit on the Holy Month. However, the nature of the “apologies”, both by the channel and the presenters has shed light on a more general problem regarding attitudes towards women in media and NGOs.

Notably, despite presenting and raising funds for a women-led charity, the presenters, as well as much of the production team were men, with the only female panellist involved at any point reportedly the boss of the presenters. The fact that many commenters and supporters of the presenters also tried to justify the pair’s behaviour on grounds of “harmless banter” despite the heavily sexual nature of some of the comments has further highlighted this culture of impunity. A number of commenters of Twitter even suggested that sisters should watch out when interacting with men too close.

Media professionals commenting on the matter noted that a professional production team that adhered to OfCom standards would not have allowed such comments to take place and would have taken appropriate actions instead of re-inviting them onto the show several times following the incident.

The problem also highlights a general issue of sexism in the NGO sector which remains very much a “boy’s club”. Although the UK fares much better than the rest of the world in terms of NGOs led by women, where the global average hovers around 12%. Women in NGOs often face the twin challenges of being deemed indecisive when taking a co-creative model and too aggressive when leading solo, leaving little room for progress and plenty room for criticism. A side-lining of women NGO leaders can lead to the side-lining of women’s issues in the arenas where NGOs are involved as a whole, potentially harming women even more.

In this context, the acceptance of the apology by Global One is unsurprising in a situation where attempting to challenge the status quo could harm the cause of the organisation even more. However, the impunity in which the presenters behaved and the many attempts at excusing their behaviour is a problem that should be confronted by all.

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