Censorship, Double Standards and the BBC


Universe Column for 27th April

By David Alton

Just before Easter the Law Lords delivered the second judgement in as many weeks against the Pro-Life Alliance. In both instances the lawyers found against the PLA but no one was in any doubt about who had won the moral argument.

Even as the judgements were being handed down there came a gentle braying from the stable. It was the ass who is so often synonymous with the law.

In one case the Law Lords decided that the BBC were right to censor a PLA General Election broadcast that showed viewers the consequences of an abortion. In the other case, their Lordships said it was perfectly alright for Britain to use the 1991 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act as the basis on which to permit certain forms of human cloning.

When the issue of censorship first surfaced, the late Cardinal Basil Hume rounded on the double-speaking liberals at Broadcasting House by saying that if the broadcast was deemed “distasteful” what about the bad taste of the original act. Abortion is cruel, violent and takes a life. Hardly tasteful, hardly decent – and they know that if the public ever got to see what is involved opinions would change over night.

There is another double standard involved.

During the same week that the PLA broadcast was censored, a racist broadcast by the British movement was permitted. This, according to the guardians of our consciences, was because it would have been against the interests of free speech to do otherwise.

So the moral of the story is that if you are a racist you can broadcast without restraint but if you are pro-life the Lord Chamberlain, in the form of the BBC Anne Sloman, will ban you.

How normally sane people, like Miss Sloman, can believe in the equity or coherence of such a position defies belief.

In the second judgement delivered by the Law Lords the outcome was more complex but equally open to criticism.

This judgement upholds the right of the Government to press on with the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic purposes using cell nuclear replacement (CNR) techniques. At the heart of their decision appears to be the belief that the 1991 Act foresaw this possibility. Yet CNR hadn’t even been thought of at the time.

Since 1991 nearly one million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon (with only 4% seeing the light of day). Apart from the wanton destruction of the earliest forms of human life none of the much vaunted and greatly promised cures and breakthroughs has occurred. It has simply been a dangerous and unethical blind alley.

Paradoxically, while the Law Lords were giving therapeutic cloning the green light the European Parliament was voting against all forms of cloning – therapeutic and reproductive. I have written to the Prime Minister to ask him what notice he intends to take of that vote.

Meanwhile, linking to the first judgement, the BBC were on hand to report the European Parliament vote. Needless-to-say, not one scientist opposed to cloning (and there are many), not one ethicist, not one religious leader, and not one British politician who supports the European Parliament vote was quoted in the news story. It was simply a diatribe of criticism.

If the law has been made to look like an ass, the BBC comes out of this no better. I am simply glad that a few brave souls – like Josephine and Bruno Quintavalle of the PLA – have exposed this sham for what it is.