BBC’s new guidelines on religion place a dangerous restriction on free speech

New BBC editorial guidelines that restrict comment on religion have been condemned as a threat to free speech by the National Secular Society.

Religious believers are to be given further protections from “offence” by the Guidelines. In its section on religion, the guidelines read: “any content dealing with matters of religion and likely to cause offence to those with religious views must be editorially justified and must be referred to a senior editorial figure”.

Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “Although we are not suggesting that contributors should go out of their way to be needlessly offensive, this is an entirely retrograde step that will put severe restrictions on comedians, documentary makers, satirists and commentators who want to be critical of religion. Almost anything that isn’t wholly reverential towards religious beliefs can be perceived as offensive by some believers. The idea that any comment that could be offensive to a religious person must be editorially approved shows that the BBC has become ridiculously timid and fearful of religious controversy.”

Mr Sanderson continued: “Pressure from religious groups has caused the BBC to severely curb free speech in the area of religion. This is dangerous in these days of dangerous fundamentalism, when it has never been more important to hold religion up to forensic scrutiny, even if it offends followers. In a multicultural society no one should have the right not to be offended.

“The BBC has done a disservice to its journalists, its entertainers and to the country as a whole by putting this wholly unjustifiable restriction in place. It diminishes free speech in Britain at a time when it is already under severe threat from religious quarters.”