Springer opera court fight fails
By BBC NEWS
Added: Wed, 05 Dec 2007 00:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Nigel Sewell for the link.
A Christian group has lost its High Court battle to prosecute the BBC's director general over the screening of Jerry Springer - The Opera in 2005.
Christian Voice director Stephen Green had hoped to overturn a previous ruling by a judge which forbade him from prosecuting Mark Thompson.
Two judges ruled that broadcasters and theatres staging live productions could not be prosecuted for blasphemy.
The BBC called the ruling an important decision in defence of free speech.
The corporation received a record 63,000 complaints when the musical - a satire based on US TV host Jerry Springer's controversial talk show - was broadcast on BBC Two in January 2005.
It also received many messages of support for screening the musical, which includes scenes set in Hell with Jesus and Satan.
Mr Green had said the show "clearly crossed the blasphemy threshold".
However, the two senior judges at the High Court said the 1968 Theatres Act prevented any prosecution for blasphemy in relation to public performances of plays.
The 1990 Broadcasting Act, they continued, prevented any prosecution in relation to broadcasts.
They said it was reasonable to conclude Jerry Springer - The Opera "in context" could not be considered as blasphemous, as it was not aimed at Christianity, but was a parody of the chat show genre.
In a statement issued following the ruling, the BBC said it had taken the decision to broadcast Jerry Springer - The Opera after "the most careful consideration".
"We believe the work, taken in its proper context, satirises and attacks exploitative chat shows and not the Christian religion," it said. "The court's judgement today vindicates that decision in full.
"Today's decision addresses the way the law of blasphemy applies to broadcasters, and the Court has found that criminal prosecutions for blasphemy should not be permitted in relation to broadcasts.
"This is an important decision in the defence of free speech. We, of course, believe that broadcasters should continue to exercise great care and sensitivity when dealing with potential religious offence, and that has not changed."
'Protecting the constitution'
Mr Green had hoped to overturn District Judge Caroline Tubbs' refusal at the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in January to issue a summons against Mr Thompson, who allowed the controversial show to be screened.
Mr Green had also wanted to prosecute the show's producer, Jonathan Thoday, who staged a nationwide tour of the show between October 2003 and July 2006.
Solicitors for Christian Voice urged the two High Court judges to allow the blasphemy prosecution to go ahead.
Speaking in court Michael Gledhill QC, appearing for Mr Green, said: "This is not just about protecting the rights of a section of the Christian population.
"It is about protecting the constitution of the nation which is built on the Christian faith."
David Pannick QC, representing Mr Thompson, said Judge Tubbs had acted within her powers and "made the only decision she could lawfully have made".
While religious beliefs were integral to British society, "so is freedom of expression, especially to matters of social and moral importance," said Mr Pannick.
Mr Green said he would seek to appeal against Wednesday's ruling, which he described as a "carte blanche to blaspheme".
"I hope and pray the House of Lords will uphold the totality of the law against blasphemy and allow the prosecution to proceed."
But the decision was welcomed by human rights pressure group Liberty, who said it had "critically weakened outdated blasphemous libel laws".
"Today's ruling is a blow to bigotry," said the group's legal officer Anna Fairclough. "The obvious next step is to repeal this outdated offence."
- - Maryam Namazie Comments
Letter to Trevor Phillips, Chair of Equality and Human Rights Commission
- - We The People Comments
Enforce federal 501(c)(3) regulations by removing the tax-exempt status from churches that engage in political activity.
Brendan O'Neill - The Telegraph Comments
The rebranding of circumcision as 'child abuse' echoes the ugly anti-Semitism of medieval Europe
- - MedicalXpress Comments
German court rules religious circumcision on boys an assault
Katherine Stewart - The Guardian Comments
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops in session in Atlanta, Georgia, earlier this month. Photograph: Tami Chappell/Reuters
Jimmy Wales - Change.org & The... Comments
.@ukhomeoffice: Stop the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer to the USA #SaveRichard
MORE BY BBC NEWS
BBC News - BBC News website 30 Comments
Letters from 1966 between the then Archbishop of Canterbury and a bishop show the Church agreed that a convicted paedophile should be ordained
BBC News - BBC news website 89 Comments
Mr Bhatti, the cabinet's only Christian minister, had received death threats for urging reform to blasphemy laws.
BBC News - BBC News website 98 Comments
In his World Communications Address on 24 January, [the pope] said it was not a sin to use social networking sites
BBC News - BBC News website 28 Comments
The Vatican's centuries-old secrecy over the way it handles its money will no longer be an excuse to avoid its obligations under international and Italian criminal law to combat money-laundering operations by third parties, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.
BBC News - BBC News website 95 Comments
The Pope gives the example of the use of condoms by prostitutes as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection".