The truth about Andrew Gilligan

The Telegraph man’s links to Iran.

As predictably as night follows day, Andrew Gilligan has responded on his Telegraph blog to my interview with the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, last week. I suspected he wouldn't be able to resist.

For those of you who haven't followed Gilligan's illustrious career since his role in "outing" Dr David Kelly, it's worth being aware that, these days, the former BBC reporter is obsessed with "Islamists" and, in particular, Rahman. By my count, he has published about 15 blog posts on Rahman on the Telegraph website over the past month: that's a ratio of one post every two days.

Obsession, perhaps, is an understatement. The man who came to global prominence by helping to expose the British government's lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is now "cyber-stalking" a local politician in the East End of London. How the mighty fall.

I'll come on to Gilligan's own links in a moment, but first, let me quickly deal with his blog post about my interview. Gilligan mocks what he describes as my "fearless and probing interview" of Rahman. If he and his friends in the right-wing, Islam-obsessed, McCarthyite blogosphere bothered to read the magazine, they'd know that the weekly "NS Interview" isn't designed to be Paxman-esque. It's a Q&A format that caters for interviewees as diverse as Rahman and Osama Bin Laden's son, on the one hand, to Russell Brand and Sienna Miller, on the other.

And the truth is, as the transcript of the full interview with Rahman shows, I still managed to question the mayor on all the main allegations against him (from his religious beliefs to his alleged links to "extremism" to the smear campaign against his Labour opponent) and, for the first time, we hear the man himself respond to each and every claim. But I guess Gilligan and his friends don't want to hear the mayor put his side of the story, or defend gay rights, or publicly confirm his belief in secularism; they'd rather stick their fingers in their ears and chant, "La la la la, we can't hear him!" Why bother with debate or discussion, when caricatures and smears serve you better?

In fact, on the secularism point, Gilligan chooses to quote selectively from the interview (I guess nothing's changed since the Kelly affair), writing on his blog:

Sample extract:

Q: Do you believe in a secular Britain?

A: I do.

Phew! So that's all right, then!

Umm. That's not a "sample extract". This is:

Do you believe in a secular Britain?

I do. I live in a society based on a clear division of powers between the church and the state. Yes, I absolutely believe in a secular society.

But what else should we expect, I suppose, from a journalist who long ago became a propagandist for Boris Johnson and the Tories and has since been accused of "sockpuppeting", ie, creating, in the words of Wikipedia, "a false identity through which a member of an internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person". (See here, here and here for details.)

Gilligan says on his blog that I have "form on defending the IFE [Islamic Forum of Europe]" even though I clearly stated, in a debate with Gilligan on Sky News over the summer, that I didn't agree with the IFE agenda but that I'd rather trust the opinion of grass-roots groups such as London Citizens, which work with and support the IFE, than his own biased and selective "journalism". I also challenged Gilligan to define Islamism in a coherent or consistent manner, live on air, which he was (surprise, surprise) unable to do.

In fact, in a previous blog post, in March, Gilligan included me among the "allies of Islamism". I'm not sure how many allies of Islamism have criticised the concept of an "Islamic state", denounced suicide bombings in Palestine and questioned Islam's illiberal apostasy laws, but here's a question: if I'm an ally of Islamism, then what's Andrew Gilligan? Lest we forget, the man is a paid employee of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He hosts his own show on the state-funded English-language Iranian broadcaster, Press TV. (For the record, let me just point out here that, like Oliver Kamm, Iain Dale, Martin Bright and others, I have also occasionally appeared as a guest on Press TV – but not as a presenter! And, of course, I don't spend my whole life hunting for Islamists, as Gilligan seems to.)

Here he is, interviewing his old enemy Ken Livingstone on Press TV:

As even the Spectator's Rod Liddle, Gilligan's friend, supporter and former boss, wrote in July 2009:

So what's he doing – Gilligan – working for Press TV, the international propaganda channel run by the Iranian government?

Liddle continues:

"I'm not going to give you my reasons if you're just going to rip the piss out of them," he says on the phone from his holiday in the West Country.

"Well, how can I know if I'm going to rip the piss out of them before I've heard them, Andrew?"

He sighs a lot. I hope he is sighing because he knows he's done a bad thing rather than because he's been found out. He explains that at first he thought that Press TV was an agreeable symptom of social change and greater openness in Iran, though he adds, "I may have been wrong about that." He says he has not worked for Press TV since the election and that its post-election coverage has been "flawed" (no kidding, dude). He "might" not work for it ever again. And how much did they pay you, Andrew?

"Not that much."

How much, exactly?

"I'm not going to tell you that."

Why not?

"Because I don't want to. It's private."

Sources at Press TV tell me Gilligan is among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, employee at the channel. So, let's get this straight. Gilligan is a journalist who makes lots of money from "outing" as many British Muslims as he can as "Islamists" or "extremists", often on deeply dubious grounds, and with the aid of selective quotation, yet at the same time also makes lots and lots of money working for a foreign country that is explicitly, openly and proudly Islamist and based on the rule of the clerics and a version of sharia law.

In the aforementioned quote in the Spectator, by the way, from June 2009, Gilligan says he "might" not work for the channel ever again. But, of course, he didn't stop working for the channel. The above YouTube clip is from a Gilligan show broadcast on Press TV this year, in the run-up to the general election.

Isn't that ironic? The man who obsesses about Islamists under every British bed is himself a paid, high-profile employee of an an openly Islamist government: the mullahocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hilarious. And, of course, deeply hypocritical. (Unless, of course, Gilligan believes that the Tower Hamlets council under the leadership of Lutfur Rahman is more "extreme" or dangerous than the Iranian state. Judging by the volume of his blog posts on the subject, perhaps he does. But I, for one, haven't yet spotted anyone being stoned to death on the streets of east London.)

So, Andrew, I ask you: when will you quit your lucrative job at Iranian-owned Press TV? And, until you do so, how can any of us take seriously your repeated complaints about the advance of "Islamism" in Britain? Feel free to leave your answers (excuses?) in the comment thread below the line – either as yourself, or perhaps in sockpuppet form. Cheers.

UPDATE:

I want to make a correction to this post. Andrew Gilligan has been in touch to make clear that he quit as a Press TV employee in December 2009 and no longer works for the channel – apart from two one-off shows that he presented for them in the run-up to this year's general election.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Low fat, full fat: why the diet industry keeps changing its mind

A new report illustrates just how disillusioned the diet industry has become, at the expense of everyone else.

Another year, another wave of dietary fads. Most seem to surface in the summer, when new nutritional advice claims to provide the panacea to everyone’s health woes: “Eat clean get lean!” “The simple secret of intermittent fasting!” “The paleo way is the only way!” “Six weeks to a super you!”

However, despite the barrage of diet books, the expansion of nutrition research and the growth of education about healthy living, global obesity has more than doubled since 1980.

It may be that this is due to the conflicting information constantly issued from the diet industry. “Eat lots of protein – it’ll speed up your metabolism!” “Too much protein will damage your kidneys – reduce your protein intake!” “Superfoods are a vital source of antioxidants!” “Superfoods aren’t so super at all!” “Don’t snack it will make you pile on the pounds!” “You should snack – it’ll stop you from binge eating!” It’s no wonder people aren’t sure what to eat.

The UK launched its first dietary guidelines in 1994, which have since been continuously revised to form the guide now known as “The Eatwell Plate”. The dietary guidelines recommend plentiful carbohydrates “such as rice, bread, pasta and potatoes”, at least five portions of fruits and vegetables, some protein, some milk, some dairy and minimal saturated fat.

However, a recent report serves to highlight the confusion consumers face when it comes to food: it claims that the official advice on low-fat diets is outright wrong, even damaging.

Led by the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, the report (not peer-reviewed, it’s worth noting) attacked a host of official health proposals. It claims that “eating fat does not make you fat”, and criticises Eatwell Plate’s small fat allowance. The report also stated that saturated fats have been unfairly demonised, as there is allegedly little evidence to suggest that they cause heart disease. Meanwhile sugar consumption should be dialled down to zero, apparently, and calories shouldn’t be counted, as an abundance of them won’t cause obesity. Also, forget about the exercise - apparently a bad diet can’t be outrun, according to the report.

Professor David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “As a clinician, treating patients all day every day, I quickly realised that guidelines from on high, suggesting high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were the universal panacea, were deeply flawed. Current efforts have failed – the proof being that obesity levels are higher than they have ever been, and show no chance of reducing despite the best efforts of government and scientists.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, consultant cardiologist and founding member of the Public Health Collaboration reinforced this by saying the guidelines were “perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history, resulting in devastating consequences for public health.” Under current dietary guidelines, obesity levels have indeed increased in the UK, with nearly two-thirds of men and women overweight or obese, costing the economy more than £3bn per year.

In the face of such starkly opposed sides - both backed by seemingly reputable experts who claim all their research is based on empirical evidence - what are consumers meant to do?

The vilification of fat

In 1983, it was recommended that overall dietary fat consumption should make up only 30 per cent of total daily energy intake – 10 per cent of which, at most, should come from saturated fat.

The recommendations came from a number of research papers published at the time, which suggested a link between saturated fat intake and increased levels of LDL cholesterol – the cholesterol which has been connected to increased risk of heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis.

An even simpler reason for the suggestions boiled down to this: fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates – nine calories per gram versus four, to be exact. This shape to future official guidelines, and gave birth to the low-fat high-carbohydrate mantra. Fat was cemented as public enemy number one.

As a result, the fat eliminated from people’s diets was to be supplemented with an increased intake of carbohydrates. Tipping the scales in favour of carbohydrates were promises of weight loss as a result of higher fibre content, elevated levels of serotonin to aid sleep and boosts in mood from feeling fuller.

But obesity levels continued to soar, and health experts shifted their focus to the next culprit: carbs.

The low-carb era

An analysis by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition combined the results of 21 studies and found that “saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease”. Other studies demonstrated the positive effect on testosterone levels in men from increased saturated fat intake, and have noted increased levels of triglycerides (the stuff that makes you fat) from lower fat diets.

As a result, dieticians developed a deep suspicion of carbs, and sugar in particular, and diets like the Atkins regime became more and more popular.

In part, the report by the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration uses the research that propped up these low-carb high-fat diets as a means by which to attack the general consensus surrounding healthy eating. Dr Malhotra, who led the latest report, previously worked in a pressure group called Action on Sugar – a group that has tried to get the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar added to food.

The reasoning goes something like this: guidelines encouraging greater carbohydrate consumption are oblivious to the fact that sugars constitute a vast amount of refined carbohydrates. By cranking up the sugar intake we ratchet up the risk of type 2 diabetes; this in turn could spark further health problems including obesity.

The logic seems sound, and yet obesity levels have continued to soar in the face of this research. The notion that all sugar should be avoided also ignores the fact that our brains require a significant amount of glucose for optimal functioning.

Everything in moderation

In the face of an industry that can’t make up its mind about how people should eat, it’s no wonder obesity levels have grown to epidemic proportions. So what can be done?

Professor Susan Jebb, the government’s obesity adviser, believes that the current debate needs to expand beyond the battle between carbohydrates and fat. She said: “We’re eating too many calories – if we want to tackle obesity people do need to eat fewer calories and that means less fat and less sugar.” And she’s right. If decades of research have pointed to anything assertively, it’s that calories count, and paying attention to portion sizes could take us a long way.

Both fat and carbohydrates are necessary for our bodies to function. The solution? Enjoy everything in moderation. Eat fruits without fearing fructose, don’t throw away the egg yolk, get a decent amount of protein and yes, you should have your slice of cake too.