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