Poor Sister Yvonne

I don’t know why, but I’m kind of fond of Yvonne Ridley. Despite all the evidence to the contrary – and I admit, there is a lot of that – I can’t help thinking of her as essentially a Northern lass with a taste for troublemaking.

Anyhow, as some of you will remember, before taking up her present gig as a propagandist for the Iranian government, she was sacked by the Islam Channel. The CEO of the Islam Channel, Mohammed Ali, made the incredible suggestion that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had forced him to take Yvonne’s show off the air.

Yvonne’s explanation was that she was sacked because she had angered a Saudi prince, by refusing to shake his hand. She argues that the Islam Channel is funded by the Saudis, and that they accordingly take their orders from them. Ali says that this is not true.

The Industrial Tribunal is taking place at the moment. Apart from a small paragraph in the Metro, none of the mainstream papers appear to have reported on one appears to be an utter riot of a court case. Here’s an online report of the last week’s highlights:

George Galloway gave evidence to the tribunal to say Mr Ali had insulted Ms Ridley during an anti-war rally in February last year.

The firebrand MP, who has known both Ms Ridley and Mr Ali for years, said: “I found his attitude towards her became more and more implacable and the things he was saying about her grew nore extreme.

“For example in reply to my question as to whether she had been dismissed as had been reported for refusing to shake the hand of the Saudi prince, he replied, ‘No, anyway she does shake men’s hands and even kisses them’. I knew both these statements to be false.”

Ms Ridley, wearing a headscarf, said: “I really could hardly believe my ears when George Galloway told me what Mohammed Ali had said. I thought I was going to vomit. I felt really violated and insulted.

“If anyone took this seriously I would destroy my professional and personal life and even my marriage. It was bad enough it had been said by a Muslim, but for it to come from the mouth of the head of the Islam Channel was even more devastating.”

She added that her Algerian husband had been “outraged” by the alleged comment, calling it a slur on his family’s honour, and had phoned Mr Ali to demand an apology.

Ms Ridley joined the channel presenting her current affairs show Agenda in early 2006 and said she was immediately subjected to “offensive sexist remarks” and “openly threatening and intimidating bullying” by executive Faisal Bodi. But her grievances were ignored, she said.

The presenter soon got into trouble herself when she fell foul of media regulator Ofcom’s rules on political balance because she expressed her own views while campaigning as a Respect candidate in local elections in May 2006.

She was temporarily taken off air after Ofcom raised concerns, but she told the tribunal another presenter, Abdurahman Jafar, was allowed to continue presenting his show even though bosses knew he was a candidate for mayoral elections in Newham, east London, and a co-presenter had wished him good luck, a claer breach of rules.

She said she next incurred Mr Ali’s wrath because she had called for tolerance of homosexuals and had interviewed Shia Iraqis for the show.

She told the panel that “hostile” Mr Ali had vowed he “would never allow Shia on his channel again following the execution of Saddam Hussain” and had “called for gays to be thrown from tall buildings and killed for their activities”.

Later, in December 2006, she allegedly upset her boss again during a trip to cover the hajj pilgrimage because she had moved out of a “cramped” shared room with Mr Ali’s wife, where Mrs Ali was washing her husband’s underwear. Then at a function she refused to shake the prince’s hand.

When she returned to London she was told Agenda had been taken off the air, which she claims was part of a “campaign of jealousy and intimidation waged against me” by Mr Ali and others.

She told the panel: “In 30 years working in the rough and tumble of the media, ten years on Fleet Street, I had experienced nothing like this. I simply could not cope with the constant undermining, humiliation and manipulation. Nothing had prepared me for this treatment.

“I was amazed how easily I was crumbling under this pressure. In September 2001 I had been arrested and detained by the Taliban, an extrememly frightening experience but one which I was able to handle mentally because the lines of good and bad were so clearly defined, whereas in this atmosphere I had no idea whom I could trust.

“I became tearful and really stressed at my treatment. To the outside world I was ‘Sister Yvonne’ much respected by the Muslim community. Inside the Islam Channel I was constantly humiliated, over-ruled and undermined. The frustration was enormous.”

Ms Ridley said at one point the stress had made her vomit at work and she suffered jaw pain from constantly gnashing her teeth. She was signed off work for weeks by her GP. She quit the channel in April.

The Islam Channel says it did not want Ms Ridley to leave, but it was forced to suspend her show because her controversial antics live on air were threatening to get the channel closed down by the regulator. The channel was later fined £30,000 fine, partly because of Ms Ridley’s rule breeches.

Mr Ali said she had boasted to viewers that there were “no Zionists in the Respect Party, and if there are I will kick them out.” She had also encouraged a rabbi to burn an Israeli flag live on air, he said, adding: “I’m no fan of the state of Israel but that is not acceptable.”

The thing about Yvonne is that you can never quite tell what she’ll do next.