Statement by the Christian Legal Centre
25 April 2008
LONDON MAYORAL CANDIDATE TAKES BBC AND ITV TO COURT OVER "CENSORSHIP" OF PARTY ELECTION BROADCAST
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 ).
Alan Craig, a long-standing campaigner against the "Mega" Mosque, due to be built in Newham close to the site of the Olympic Games, originally described the organisation behind it, Tablighi Jamaat, as "separatist". However, BBC and ITV officials responsible for supervising the Broadcasts instructed him to moderate his language and change this factual description of the Islamic organisation if he wanted it aired. Alan Craig claims not only "political interference" by the broadcasters, but says such action breeches his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of speech.
Under pressure Alan Craig changed the word to "controversial". Then late in the day ITV insisted that the agreed word "controversial" should be applied to the mosque plans not to the Islamic group. But Alan Craig"s objections to the mega-mosque have consistently been related to the nature of the Islamic group behind the project; the plans have not yet even been published!
Alan Craig said: "BBC and ITV officials, none of whom were lawyers to our knowledge, clearly instructed us to "tone down" our views and change the sense if we wanted the Party Election Broadcast. The legal language of "libel" was mentioned by the BBC, and in the case of ITV, we were forced to go back to the studios at the last minute to record a censored version of the Party Election Broadcast .
"I am advised that libel is a defamation of an individual, and no-where in the broadcast do we defame individuals. My comments are reasonable and moderate and do not contradict the Racial and Religious Hatred Act. The BBC and ITV are not entitled to limit free speech and I look forward to the judge ordering them both to broadcast my original message."
The Christian Legal Centre commented: "Providing that the content of an election broadcast is within the law, the BBC and ITV should enable the electorate to hear the unedited views of candidates and allow them to make up their own minds as to whether they agree or not."
The Christian Legal Centre will be calling for a Judicial Review of the BBC"s and ITV"s decision, and ask the judge to order, as a matter of urgency, the unedited Party Election Broadcast on both channels.
ORIGINAL PEB TEXT FROM ALAN CRAIG:-
"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."
BBC didn't like "separatist" (said it was libellous) or "moderate" (which implied that the unnamed Tablighi Jamaat were extremist).
BBC EDITED TEXT READ:-
"You may know about plans by a controversial 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 Muslim leaders support my stance in opposing it."
ITV: ITV objected to even this text. They insisted that "controversial" should apply to the plans not to the Islamic group, and that Alan Craig should insert "some" before Muslim leaders.
FINAL ITV EDITED TEXT READ:-
"You may know about controversial plans by an 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 some Muslims leaders support my stance in opposing it."
The original intended Party Election Broadcast can be seen on YouTube. The final and broadcast Party Election Broadcast (post BBC and ITV intervention) can be seen on the BBC's website for the next 7 days.
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