Free Speech Archive

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BBC director general admits Christianity gets tougher treatment than Islam, other religions

The BBC director general Mark Thompson has claimed that Christianity is treated with less sensitivity than other religions because it has “pretty broad shoulders”.

The Telegraph reports

In a wide-ranging interview about faith and broadcasting, Mr Thompson disclosed that producers were faced with the possibilities of “violent threats” instead of normal complaints if they broadcast certain types of satire.

He suggested other faiths had “very close identity with ethnic minorities” and as a result were covered in a more careful way by broadcasters.

“Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms’, is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write’,” he said. “This definitely raises the stakes.”

In the interview posted online for the Free Speech Debate, a research project at Oxford University, Mr Thompson said he was a “practising Catholic” who believed that the “truths of the Christian faith” were objective rather than subjective.

But he said Islam was a religion “almost entirely” practised by people who already may feel in other ways “isolated”, “prejudiced against” and who may regard an attack on their religion as “racism by other means”.

The interview was posted online by the Free Speech Debate — a research project at Oxford University.

The Daily Mail says

Mr Thompson was making his comments during a wide ranging interview about faith and broadcasting, which included the furore provoked by the Corporation’s decision to screen the controversial show Jerry Springer: The Opera on BBC2 in 2005.

Hundreds of Christians rallied outside BBC buildings before and during the broadcast to protest about what they saw as blasphemous scenes such as Jesus Christ wearing a nappy.

At least 45,000 people contacted the BBC to complain about swearing and its irreverent treatment of Christian themes.

Many said that no one would have dreamed of making such a show about the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. […]

[Thompson] said that Christianity was ‘an established part of our cultural-built landscape’ which meant it was ‘a pretty broad- shouldered religion’.

He conceded that the broadcaster would never have aired a similar show about Mohammed because it could have had the same impact as a piece of ‘grotesque child pornography’. […]

He added: ‘The point is that for a Muslim, a depiction, particularly a comic or demeaning depiction, of the Prophet Mohammed might have the emotional force of a piece of grotesque child pornography.

‘One of the mistakes secularists make is not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.’ […]

Mr Thompson said the fatwa against Salman Rushdie over his novel The Satanic Verses, the September 11 terror attacks, and the murder in Holland in 2004 of film-maker Theo van Gogh, who had criticised Islam, had made broadcasters realise that religious controversies could lead to murder or serious criminal acts.

Last year the BBC’s own research showed that the broadcaster uses “derogatory stereotypes” to portray Christians.

Geert Wilders acquitted of all charges

A court in Amsterdam has acquitted MP Geert Wilders of charges of inciting hatred and insulting Muslims as a group. The charges had been brought by individuals who felt they had been discriminated against by the anti-Islam nationalist MP.

Both the defence and the public prosecutor had demanded an acquittal.

It should be noted that Koran, Islam’s ‘holy book,’ refers to Jews and Christians as monkeys and pigs — hate speech, in the eyes of most civilized people. Many Dutch citizens objected to what they consider hypocrisy on the part of Muslims in complaining about Wilders’ statements. While the Netherlands is an extremely tolerant country the Dutch wholeheartedly reject the intolerant attitudes that so often typify Islam.

According to Radio Netherlands,

In a first reaction, Mr Wilders said, “It is not so much a personal victory, but rather it’s a victory for the freedom of expression. Criticising Islam turns out to be allowed, I’ve not been muzzled.”

The Amsterdam court rejected the charge that Mr Wilders had insulted a group, because his statements in the media and in his movie Fitna were about Islam as a religion, not about Muslims as inviduals. The charges relating to inciting hatred and to discrimination were also thrown out.

Among others things, Geert Wildes — the leader of the Netherlands’ right-wing Freedom Party — has called for a ban on the sale and distribution of the Qur’an. He would also outlaw the book’s use in the mosque and at home. Mr Wilders says the Qur’an (Koran) is a fascist book which promotes violence and is similar to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Many observers in the Netherlands and abroad thought it incongruous that Wilders was put on trial in the first place. The Netherlands is considered to be one of the foremost bastions of the right to free speech.

In fact, the Public Prosecutor did not want to see Wilders put on trial.

Earlier this week Radio Netherlands explained:

In the end, it was not Islam but the Dutch judicial system that came under the spotlight during the course of the trial. Three developments in particular have damaged the credibility of the judicial establishment.

First, the ruling of the Amsterdam court to prosecute Wilders was controversial in and of itself. The court made the ruling only after a special team at the national public prosecutor’s office had repeatedly decided not to prosecute Mr Wilders. This exposed an internal struggle between the district court and the justice ministry.
In that struggle, Amsterdam won the first round by forcing the trial to take place. But the justice ministry pushed back. They assigned two members of that same special team to conduct the prosecution at the trial in Amsterdam. Thus, Geert Wilders’ prosecutors were already on record as opposing his prosecution. And, indeed, during the trial they used the same argument, calling for Mr Wilders to be acquitted.

The second development was brought on by Mr Wilders’ defence. He and his lawyer have claimed that this trial is a politically motivated attempt to silence him. A strong accusation. But this claim became more plausible when the initial three judges hearing the trial were ruled to have demonstrated possible bias against Mr Wilders.

The trial had to resume with three new judges, but not before the Amsterdam district court went through an intensive process of self-reflection and public criticism.

That leaves the third development, one which again put the judicial system in a bad light: ‘the dinner’. For a few months, the trial focused on a social gathering involving the judge who wrote the decision to prosecute Mr Wilders and one of the three expert witnesses called by the defence. Allegations of witness tampering were shown to be unfounded, but the judge, and by extension the entire Amsterdam district court, came out looking naïve and amateurish.

The defence has succeeded in framing the trial for the Dutch public. Mr Wilders has four times used the opportunity to speak directly to the judges from the dock and, given the extensive coverage, to the entire nation. He has cast himself as one in a long line of freedom fighters, from Thomas Jefferson to the Dutch resistance during World War II.

He also got the last word during the final day of hearings on 5 June:

“Don’t let the light be extinguished in the Netherlands. Set me free. Political freedom requires that citizens are able to express current opinions within society.”

Wilders says he feels vindicated, and hopes this ruling will set a precedent not just in The Netherlands, but also in other countries.

Meanwhile, those who wish to deny Wilders his right to free speech plan to pursue the matter in a European Court. Says Radio Netherlands:

Less happy are the lawyers for the individuals and organisations who took part in the trial as ‘injured parties’. But since they have no standing in this case, they cannot appeal to a Dutch higher court. They have no further legal options within the Netherlands but Ties Prakken, the senior lawyer for the injured parties, says she plans to take the case to a European court. She would not specify whether that would be the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, or the UN Covenant for Civil and Political Rights in Geneva. Under current convention, the latter court can rule that a state must take action against someone who discriminates against others if it can be shown that the state is failing to do so.