Freedom of speech for Christians 'attacked', says radio station

Published 19 November 2013  |  

Premier Christian Radio has spoken out against the Court of Appeal's decision to uphold a ban on an advertisement first made in May 2011.

In response to surveys that suggested 60% of active Christians were being increasingly marginalised at work, Premier had planned to run an advert asking listeners to report their experiences.

"We are concerned to get the most accurate data to inform the public debate. We will then use this data to help make a fairer society," it said.

However, the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) refused to let the advert air, claiming that it had a political objective and therefore fell under the broadcasting prohibitions on political advertising.

The RACC's decision was challenged by the radio station and Christianity magazine, which had co-ordinated the advert, and they were granted a judicial review last year, but the objection was upheld.

However, Christian campaigners were granted leave to appeal once again, but despite some dissent between the judges on the case, the Court of Appeal made the decision today to uphold the ban.

Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, said the advert was "directed to the political end of making a fairer society by reducing or eliminating the marginalisation of Christians in the workplace", and thus deemed it contrary to broadcasting legislation.

Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Radio, has knocked back this claim, however, arguing that if Lord Dyson is to be taken at his word "any radio advertisement calling for data to inform public debate to help a fairer society would also be banned".

"But we have to ask ourselves did Parliament really intend a blanket ban on radio adverts for surveys?" he said.

"This is not only a bad day for freedom of speech for Christians, it is also a bad day for democracy in general," he warned.

LJ Elias, one of three judges who deliberated on the appeal, also disagreed with the Master of the Rolls, concluding that any advertisement whose sole purpose is to facilitate debate is not directed towards a political end, and he therefore questioned why Premier's advert should be prohibited.

Premier Christian Radio uphold their claim that the advert did not have political objectives, and have warned that "the public interest cannot be best served by preventing people from gaining information".

"We believe that such a ban represents an attack on freedom of speech for everyone," said Mr Kerridge, who added that although disappointed by the verdict, the station's lawyers are now considering further options.

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