Submission from mediawatch-uk
In response to a call for evidence the following
points have been submitted by mediawatch-uk to the Select Committee
on Religious Offences. We hope these are helpful as the Committee
deliberates on this important matter.
1. The noble purpose and intention of the
law against blasphemy is to protect the sensibilities of Christian
believers and sympathisers from gratuitous offence and scurrilous
attack, and thereby, to maintain tranquillity and public order.
2. The law, which is essentially a public
order measure, as a matter of right, should be amended to safeguard
the sensibilities of the adherents of other major religions.
3. The successful prosecution of James Kirkup's
poem, The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name published by
Gay News in 1976, established that this ancient law could
be effectively invoked against the publication of intemperate
literature and false assertions calculated to cause offence. (We
note that this poem, in a challenge to Britain's blasphemy laws,
is to be publicly recited on the steps of a central London church
on 11 July.)
4. In recent times the media, film and television
in particular, has been responsible for considerableand
continuingoffence by the inclusion in programmes of the
scripted use, as expletives, of Holy Names, Jesus and/or Christ,
on their own or in combination with obscenities. For Christians
this is extremely hurtful and offensive and almost entirely unnecessary
without dramatic integrity or purpose or justifiable in any context.
Many people regard this as discriminatory and it would certainly
be regarded as such if applied to other widely venerated religious
5. We draw attention to the BBC's Producers'
Guidelines excellent provisions on blasphemy (see Appendix 1).
In our opinion these were completely disregarded by the transmission
of part of James Kirkup's poem in the fourth part of Taboo
screened in December last year (see Appendix 2). Without the
additional safeguard of the law the very people for whom they
were intended can, apparently, disregard the BBC's non-statutory
6. We believe that the abolition of the
existing law relating to religious offences would give rise to
an upsurge of gratuitous offence and scurrilous attack. The freedom
of religious believers not to have their beliefs intemperately
ridiculed and their feelings offended would be so seriously eroded
that their basic human rights could be placed in jeopardy. Whilst
we accept that the Human Rights Act sets out to secure freedom
of expression this freedom is not absolute nor is it without conditions.
Freedoms come with responsibilities and both should have equal
force in law.
7. Given that the modern means of social
communication are so pervasive any offence is caused to millions
of people. A primary objective of the law relating to religious
offences should be to prevent the cause of widespread offence
by the powerful media. We acknowledge that the Government's draft
Communications Bill provides, in Clause 212, safeguards against
religious bigotry but we believe that this needs to be buttressed
by effective law. We believe that this objective, more than any
other, would win broad public support and would promote respect,
civility and generally advance human progress.
8. Religious hatred is an attitude of mind
that sometimes finds expression in criminal acts and it is these
acts which should beand arepursued through the law.
A new criminal offence of "incitement to religious hatred"
may prove to be desirable just as "incitement to racial hatred"
has become a necessary buttress against racial discrimination.
We believe that blasphemy in the media is a form of gratuitous
discrimination that is just as unacceptable. The offence might
be defined using other statutes enacted to prevent discrimination
26 June 2002