Thursday, December 06, 2007

Shades of "Hair!" and "Oh Calcutta"...

There were calls for the blasphemy laws to be overhauled yesterday after a group of Christian evangelists failed in an attempt to prosecute the Director-General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, for blasphemy over the show Jerry Springer – The Opera.

In a landmark decision, judges at the High Court ruled that the Theatres Act 1968 prevents any prosecution for blasphemy over public performances of plays, and the Broadcasting Act 1990 prevents any prosecution in relation to broadcasts. Human rights lawyers described the decision as “a very important point of law” that would have a widespread impact.

The judges ruled that a district judge had been entitled to find that there was no prime facie case of blasphemy against Jerry Springer – The Opera as it was not aimed at Christianity but was a parody of the chat-show genre.

Lord Justice Hughes and Mr Justice Collins said that the musical “was not and could not reasonably be regarded as aimed at, or an attack on, Christianity or what Christians held sacred”.

The case had been brought by Christian Voice, the evangelical group, which condemned the satirical show as “an offensive, spiteful, systematic mockery and wilful denigration of Christian belief”.

Stephen Green, the national director of Christian Voice, had urged the judges to allow the private prosecution of the Director-General to go ahead for permitting the show to be screened on BBC2 in 2005.

He also wanted to prosecute the show’s producer, Jonathan Thoday.

Mr Green had applied for court orders overturning the refusal of District Judge Caroline Tubbs to issue summonses at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in January. Mr Green’s lawyers argued that the show “clearly crossed the blasphemy threshold”.

Mark Mullins, QC, representing Mr Green and Christian Voice, said the effect of yesterday’s ruling was that “no prosecution for blasphemy can be brought against the BBC”.

He added: “That is tantamount to saying that blasphemy is of little, if any, relevance in today’s society.”

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