The director general of the BBC explains why it aired Jerry Springer: The Opera, and talks about different responses to Christianity and Islam.
In 2005, the BBC broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera despite protests from Christian groups (read and comment on our case study). The BBC received more than 60,000 complaints about the show – a record at the time. In an interview with Free Speech Debate, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, explains the broadcaster’s decision to air the show: “It was a serious piece of artistic work.” The debate fed into a decision made in 2008 to abolish blasphemy laws in England and Wales, which for centuries had made it illegal to insult Christianity. Thompson says: “That’s now left our law. Well, I rejoice in that fact.” But would the BBC have broadcast the programme if it had been about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad? Thompson says it probably would not, and offers this explanation: “It’s not as if Islam is spread evenly across the UK population. It’s almost entirely a religion practiced by people who may already feel in other ways isolated, prejudiced against and where they may well regard an attack on their religion, racisim by other means.” In response to Free Speech Debate’s seventh principle (“We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief”), he says that secularists frequently fail to appreciate that religion isn’t an abstract proposition but a “felt experience”. Thompson says: “The point is [that] for a Muslim, a picture of the Prophet Muhammad, especially if demeaning, may have the force or the emotional force of a piece of grotesque pornography.”
(Main image: Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.)