Monday, May 21, 2012
Ofcom: between freedom of opinion and blasphemy.
DM Digital, an English TV channel that broadcasts mainly to the Middle Eastern and Asian public, seems to have breached the code of Ofcom by airing controversial statements over blasphemy law. One of the guests to the show affirmed that it was acceptable to kill someone for blasphemy. Now the channel might face a serious fine or even be closed. Ofcom has accused the TV channel of being the “first UK broadcaster to break the broadcasting code for airing material likely to encourage or incite the commission of a crime or lead to disorder". In this program an Islamic scholar gave a lecture on theology and talked about the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who was killed by his own bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, for criticising Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Someone in the audience made a complaint about some of the comments aired in the show. Ofcom then commissioned two English translations to check for accuracy and it seems that the presenter said: "If someone takes a step in the love of the Prophet, then this is not terrorism." Although the channel denies the accusations and believes that the scholar was only discussing blasphemy law in Pakistan and wasn’t “personally advocating any violence"; this is difficult to believe when such a statement is not only endorsed by the presenter, but also calls for the punishment of all those who disrespect the Prophet or Islam.
There are two debates here: The first regarding blasphemy law and the second regarding freedom of speech and press. Since the early 80s new clauses regarding religious offences have been added to the Pakistan Penal Code. Perhaps the most controversial dates from 1986; and states that blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad or Islam should be punished with death or life imprisonment. Personally, I find blasphemy law very extreme, vague and obscure; and a law that can be easily abused. Look at what happened to Salmaan Taseer, for instance.
On the other hand, many might wonder if closing a TV Channel for its content is not also an action against freedom of speech and press. We could argue that everyone should be entitled to express their own opinion and that the media should have the freedom to publish anything they want. However, I think that this should also come with some degree of responsibility. The problem is when you publish statements supporting or encouraging the murder of people for whatever reason. To start with, no one should be murdered, as simple as that. No one should be murdered for their opinions, ideas or actions; and this is not just a simple Western liberal idea that can only be applied in the West. No. I think this should apply everywhere else in the world. If someone goes to a TV show and declares in front of thousands of people that those who disrespect the prophet should face death, how can anyone say that this would not encourage any violence? How can statements defending murder not encourage more murder? Violence can only generate more violence and statements like this should not be accepted and even less made public on a TV channel. I wonder why this guest had the freedom to express his opinion over blasphemy on TV and why when someone tries to give a different opinion about the law, they get murdered. I find it quite hypocritical, vague and obscure.