Monday, 18 March 2013

How Implementing Leveson threatens religious freedom

This is a guest post by Julian Mann

A broadcaster on the BBC, which is regulated by statute, abuses a Conservative cabinet minister on a comedy show in disgusting terms and gets away with it. But how would a traditionalist Christian who in a press article criticised abortion, sex outside heterosexual marriage, the use of cannabis or religions that deny the Trinity - without resorting to personal abuse - fare under a regulated press regime?

One suspects that he or she would have a much harder time than the leftist comedienne who abused Michael Gove.

The way in which any new UK press law would be enforced would inevitably reflect the values of the 'progressive' metropolitan elite in the political, media and legal establishment. That establishment intensely hates the so-called 'right-wing' press, which continues to provides a platform for the articulation of traditional Judaeo-Christian values.

Surely such hatred does not give much ground for optimism that freedom of Judaeo-Christian speech will flourish if the press becomes regulated by law. Even if the statutory regulator were to come down on the side of freedom of speech in a particular case, editors could become overly cautious about publishing views that offend against political correctness. The threat of legalised censorship could lead to unnecessary self-censorship.

This concern about the preservation of trenchant counter-cultural comment in the press is very separate from the question of celebrity news reporting. I personally have no interest in the details of the depravities of famous people. But if a famous person is, on a point of fact, an adulterer or promiscuous or otherwise morally errant, surely a journalist should be free to point that out.

Do I believe the comedienne who abused Mr Gove should be prosecuted under a hate speech law? Certainly not. That would be dictatorial.

Do I believe the media organisation which employs her should be forced to dismiss her? No, because again that would be governmentally heavy-handed, even though the media organisation in this case is funded by a statutory licence fee.

But do I believe the BBC should voluntarily dismiss her from her position? I certainly do because she crossed a moral line of personal abuse.

The recent parliamentary manoeuvrings towards a press law have the feel of something the Russian Duma might have got up to prior to the Bolshevik revolution. The UK Parliament currently seems well capable of sacrificing the precious privilege of freedom of speech on the altar of short-term political posturing and petty pay-back for the exposure of the expenses scandal.

As a Christian minister, my main concern is the preservation of the freedom to proclaim the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ and the spiritual and moral entailments of His message of salvation. For example, it is impossible faithfully and coherently to proclaim the glorious message of the forgiveness of all sin through faith in Christ unless the judgement of Almighty God on human sin and His displeasure towards mankind's spiritual and moral rebellion are also clearly asserted.

What if a lobby of celebrities decides to get hacked off about being told in a press article that all men and women are guilty, in the words of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer, of 'provoking most justly (Almighty God's) wrath and indignation against us'?

The precious freedom of expression for Christians like me looks decidedly precarious under the politically correct values driving the Gadarene rush towards a press law.


Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire -