Court Case over “Censorship” of Electoral Broadcast

MediaWatchWatch draws attention to a statement from the Christian Legal Centre:

A LONDON Mayoral candidate is taking the BBC and ITV to the High Court for ‘censoring’ his Party Election Broadcasts in the run up to the May 1 elections.

The Christian Choice candidate, Alan Craig, has instructed the Christian Legal Centre to file papers this morning at the Royal Courts of Justice after BBC and ITV officials instructed him to remove parts of his Party Election Broadcast which was aired on Wednesday evening (23 April).

Craig had wanted to say that

“You may know about plans by a separatist Islamic group to build Europe’s biggest mosque next to the Olympics site in West Ham. I think it’s a bad idea that will bring division and I’m glad moderate Muslims support my stance in opposing it.”

According to the statement:

BBC didn’t like “separatist” (said it was libellous) or “moderate” (which implied that the unnamed Tablighi Jamaat were extremist).

I expect the BBC actually said it was “potentially libellous”, but the effect is the same.  Craig changed “separatist” to “controversial”; ITV then insisted that the word “controversial” should apply only to the plans for the “mega-mosque” rather than to the group, and that he should clarify that only “some” Muslim leaders agreed with his concerns.

As I have noted on this blog more than once over the past couple of years, libel in the UK can be an extremely expensive business, so we can well understand why the BBC and ITV have decided to be cautious – even though Tablighi Jamaat have in the past been called worse than “separatist” and “controversial” with no legal repercussions.

It’s also not the first time that concerns over libel have led to an election broadcast being censored: I have read (sorry, I don’t have the reference) that in the 1970s the BBC refused to broadcast an advert by the Labour Party which referred to the fact that John Tyndall, the leader of the far-right National Front, had once been found guilty of a weapons offence. The BBC feared the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which makes it libellous to mention a “spent” conviction if “malice” can be proven; despite the obvious public interest, the BBC decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

Meanwhile, the Christian Legal Centre is an unlikely opponent of censorship: judging from the “blasphemy” section of its website, the organization appears to have no problem with some things being banned.