UK
19/11/2013 10:37 GMT | Updated 19/11/2013 10:38 GMT

Court Upholds Ban On 'Political' Christian Radio Advert, Asking For Bullied Followers To Share Stories

A radio advert calling on Christians who feel "marginalised" at work to report their troubles was rightly banned, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

The proposed advert, a 30-second recording for Premier Christian Radio was intended to urge listeners to report their experiences as part of a campaign for "a fairer society".

Premier Christian Radio's chief executive Peter Kerridge described the decision as an "attack on freedom of speech" and "a bad day for democracy in general".

premier christian radio

Peter Kerridge, CEO of Premier Christian Radio, seen here at the christening of Prince George

"The wording of the advert did not seek to achieve a political end, it had no political message and there was no attempt to influence the listener to a particular viewpoint, so there appears to be no good reason to ban it," he said.

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"The public interest cannot be best served by preventing people from gaining information and we believe that such a ban represents an attack on freedom of speech for everyone.

"Naturally we are disappointed with the judgment but will now consider further options which may be available to us with our legal representatives."

The advert was banned by the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre, who said it was "directed to a political end", and broadcasting it would infringe provisions of the 2003 Communications Act that ban political advertising.

In April last year a High Court judge in London ruled that it was lawfully banned.

A Court of Appeal challenge against the earlier judgment was heard by three judges earlier this month, but it was dismissed today in a two-to-one majority ruling.

The appeal was dismissed by Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Richards. In a dissenting judgment Lord Justice Elias allowed the appeal and declared the advertisement lawful.

An application to appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed, but the radio station can still make a direct approach to the UK's highest court in a bid to take the case further.

The legal challenge was brought by London Christian Radio Ltd, which runs Premier, a national station. It was backed by religious magazine publishers Christian Communications Partnership.

THE ADVERT IN FULL

"Surveys have shown that over 60% of active Christians consider that Christians are being increasingly marginalised in the workplace. 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. Please visit CCPmagazines.co.uk and report your experiences."

Lord Dyson, who ruled that the CCP ad "was directed towards a political end", said a "fundamental feature of broadcasting regulation in the United Kingdom is that impartiality in broadcast services is maintained", and that was achieved by three regulatory mechanisms.

He considered that the High Court judge was "right to hold that the question whether an advertisement is directed towards a political end should be determined objectively by an examination of the text of the advertisement alone".

The "motives of the advertiser are irrelevant", said Lord Dyson, who added: "So too is his intention unless it is expressed or is implicit in the language of the advertisement itself."

He said: "What matters is the effect of an advertisement on political debate. The question is whether it will frustrate the statutory aim of ensuring that, so far as practicable, the playing field of political debate is level."

Lord Dyson said the language of the advertisement with which the court was concerned "is directed to the political end of making a fairer society by reducing or eliminating the marginalisation of Christians in the workplace".

Although CCP "is not a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature, the fact that it is a publisher of Christian magazines is relevant".

He added: "It is not a body that would appear to be neutral, such as an academic sociologist or historian."

The judge said that "crucially" the ad says data will be used to help make a fairer society: "CCP does not say that it will assess the data to see whether it supports the impression already obtained from previous surveys.

"If that had been the purpose of obtaining the additional data, it might have been difficult to say that the advertisement was directed to a political end.

"Rather, it is implicit in the advertisement that CCP is confident that the more accurate data will support the case that Christians are being marginalised in the workplace; and the advertisement explicity states that the data will be used to help make a fairer society, ie by reducing or eliminating the marginalisation.

"In short, the underlying message of the advertisement is that there is an existing unfairness in society in the form of the marginalisation of Christians in the workplace, which CCP is saying should be changed."

Lord Justice Elias said he disagreed with the analysis of the law adopted by Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Richards, saying: "I would uphold the appeal and declare that the advertisement does not contravene the ban on political advertising."

He said the natural inference from the advertisement "is that the CCP itself considers that Christians are not treated fairly in the workplace and it will use the information acquired to try to alter that".

But he said it seemed to him that "there is nothing in this advertisement itself which is at this stage seeking to influence others to the same view".

He added: "I accept that merely giving information can in some contexts amount to a partial political message but I do not accept that it does so here."

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "The courts have upheld the UK's long-standing ban on political advertising, which is a vitally important principle in our country and at the heart of British broadcasting.

"This upholds the original decision by the High Court, and their recognition that this did not reflect any anti-Christian or anti-religious stance on the part of the Government. Both of these decisions are as we would expect."