Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Alan Craig's judicial review application fails

An update on this post:

A Christian party has lost a High Court bid to have its party election broadcast (PEB) repeated, after claims it was censored by the BBC and ITV.

Christian Choice said the BBC forced changes to its description of a Muslim group in a PEB aired in London.

The BBC said it expressed concern and Christian Choice responded by agreeing to change the form of words.

The judge said the request had been left "far too late" - although he did not think the PEB had been libellous.

Alan Craig, the party's candidate for London mayor, had argued the action breached his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights - which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

Rejecting Mr Craig's request for a judicial review, the judge, Mr Justice Collins, said he should have launched the legal challenge before the broadcast took place on 23 April.

He said it was "perfectly permissible" for the BBC to take into account legal advice that the original broadcast might have been libellous - although he did not think it would have been.

However he said he was not a libel lawyer, and that was not the point.

Mr Craig said the BBC had "commanded" the words be changed about the Muslim group planning to build a large mosque in east London; a proposal which Mr Craig opposes.

But the judge said the BBC had indicated that if a legal challenge had been issued before the broadcast it would have "backed down and let them publish as they wished."

"Unfortunately that was not done," Mr Justice Collins added.

According to Melanie Phillips in the Spectator, Mr Justice Collins added that "the Tablighi Jamaat could properly be described as 'extremist'; that it was 'responsible for imbuing ideas leading to terrorist activities'; and that it was 'understandable that Cllr Craig should have concerns'". Nothing in the judgment sounds like a ringing endorsement of the conduct of the BBC and ITV; rather, they appear to have won only because of Mr Craig's delay in bringing the matter before the court.

It's hardly a ringing endorsement of Tablighi Jamaat, either. After all, the organisation has now been described as "extremist" by a High Court judge. That goes some way beyond Mr Craig's preferred term, "separatist", and massively further than "controversial", the word that ITV deemed just too offensive to be broadcast. I'd venture to suggest that Mr Justice Collins' description of Tablighi Jamaat might well make a rather nice quote for the anti-mega mosque campaigners to use in their future campaign literature!

Postscript: As the building of the mega mosque draws ever nearer, and as Ken Livingstone promises to help the Brick Lane mosque get public money to build a minaret, spare a thought for the ten thousand members of Europe's largest church, the Kingsway International Christian Church. They were forced off their site in East London to make way for the Olympic development, and have been unable to find any appropriate replacement premises. It says rather a lot about the religious and cultural state of our country, when Europe's largest church is made homeless, while just a few miles away the authorities connive in the creation of what will be Europe's largest mosque.

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