Livingstone: Channel 4 Dispatches was a 'hatchet job' - Press Gazette

Livingstone: Channel 4 Dispatches was a 'hatchet job'

London Mayor Ken Livingstone claims he was the victim of a “hatchet job” by a Channel 4 documentary aired last night

The Dispatches programme was highly critical of Livingstone’s eight-year tenure in office.

But in a statement issued ahead of the programme – made by New Statesman political editor Martin Bright – a spokesman for the Ken Livingstone campaign denounced its claims as “ludicrous” and accused it of “smearing” the Mayor.

The statement claimed that Dispatches had been “totally discredited” after controversial documentaries on Aids and climate change.

“It has been pointed out to Channel 4 in the clearest possible terms that the allegations against Ken Livingstone, in the hatchet job on him by journalist Martin Bright for Dispatches, are equally ludicrous,” it said.

It is reported that the interviewees for the programme include the mayor’s former senior adviser on Asian issues, Atma Singh.

In an article for Times Online, written ahead of the programme, Singh said that many of the mayor’s senior advisers were members of a Trotskyite faction called Socialist Action which plotted to turn London into a “socialist city state”.

“Socialist Action decided to operate as an ‘entryist’ organisation,” he said.

“Ken Livingstone wanted political power. Socialist Action organised his campaigns successfully and dealt with spin. Livingstone was never a member of SA but he was close to the group – almost like the leader.”

The Livingstone campaign spokesman dismissed Singh as an “embittered ex-employee” who had been removed from his post.

He said that Singh was dismissed after he failed to respond to a written request for assistance from the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist squad in February 2005, and then failed to report the request to the Greater London Authority.

He said that Singh also failed to contact City Hall following the terrorist bombings on July 7 2005 and the attempted attacks two weeks later.

A Channel 4 spokesman said: “Dispatches is subject to strict editorial and legal guidelines to ensure that all its investigations are fair and balanced.

“The Mayor has been given ample opportunity to respond to the criticisms made against him into tonight’s film.

“Although he has declined this offer we are confident that the programme will fully comply with the Ofcom code.

“The programme will be shown as normal tonight.”

The documentary made detailed claims about the mayor drinking alcohol both at a public meeting and while being quizzed by London Assembly members.

It was claimed his amber drink, which resembled whisky, contained more than 40 per cent alcohol when tested by researchers.

The programme also accused the mayor of cronyism and lack of care with distributing public money.

According to researchers, many of the businesses given money by the mayor’s office were registered neither as businesses nor with the charities commission.

The programme makers claimed Livingstone was seen drinking what was believed to be alcohol in City Hall at 10am on November 14.

Afterwards, an undercover reporter said to the mayor: “You must be punch drunk after that.”

Livingstone is said to have responded: “It’s the whisky that keeps me going, otherwise I just cough.”

The second alleged drinking incident was said to have taken place at a question-and-answer session in Ilford on the evening of October 25.

A spokesman for Livingstone said the programme was “grossly biased in its reporting and extremely shoddy in its research”.

He said the programme makers were guilty of interfering in the election and should apologise.

He said: “It is clear that such a programme should not have been broadcast in the run-up to an election without balancing programmes on the other candidates.”

“The dire quality of its research is evident. Martin Bright even claims that the mayor has to resign before each election in order to campaign. This is simply untrue.

“The political balance of the programme was equally ludicrous. Neither the mayor, nor anybody representing him was invited to appear on the programme to answer an hour of politically-motivated attacks on him.

“The programme was simply a crude, and ineffectual, attempt at a hatchet job on Ken Livingstone by a totally biased journalist who has openly declared that his aim is to persuade people not to re-elect Mr Livingstone as Mayor of London.

“Channel 4 should apologise to Londoners for this gross attempt to interfere in its mayoral election.”