Page last updated at 21:43 GMT, Thursday, 25 December 2008

Ahmadinejad show 'causes offence'


A clip of the Iranian president's alternative message (Footage courtesy of Channel 4)

Allowing Iran's president to deliver Channel 4's Alternative Christmas Message will cause "international offence", the UK government has said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was shown telling viewers of the British TV channel "the general will of nations" was for a return to "human values".

The decision angered some MPs, who branded him a "dangerous fanatic" with anti-Semitic and anti-gay views.

Channel 4 said it had offered viewers an "alternative world view".

The speech, in Farsi with English subtitles, was the channel's 16th alternative message and was shown after a brief introduction to Mr Ahmadinejad contextualising his views.

In it, Mr Ahmadinejad congratulated the people of Britain on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.

He said that problems in society were rooted in the rejection of the message of the prophets of God, including Jesus.

And he criticised the "indifference of some governments and powers" towards the teachings of "the divine prophets".

Channel Four has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time
Mark Pritchard MP

However, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements.

"The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad."

Labour MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: "I condemn Channel 4's decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street.

"Who will deliver next year's alternative Christmas message? Will it be David Irving or Robert Mugabe?"

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: "Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time.

Sharon Osbourne
Brigitte Bardot
Jamie Oliver

"This raises serious questions about whether Channel 4 should receive an increased public subsidy for their programmes."

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said: "In Iran, converts to Christianity face the death penalty.

"It is perverse that this despot is allowed to speculate on the views of Jesus, while his government leads Christ's followers to the gallows."

He said Channel 4's decision to broadcast the message was a "scandal and a national embarrassment" and in "its search for ratings and shock factor, Channel 4 had lost its ethical way".

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined the attack, calling the president a "criminal despot, who ranks with Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the Burmese military junta as one of the world's most bloody tyrants".

'Enormously influential'

But Channel 4 defended its decision to broadcast the message.

Head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said: "As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential.

"As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."

A spokesman added: "Channel 4's role is to allow viewers to hear directly from people of world importance with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds."

He said the channel had not asked for increased public funding, rather an indirect subsidy to overcome a funding shortfall caused by the digital switchover.

Channel 4's first alternative message was delivered by gay icon Quentin Crisp in 1993.

Others to have given the broadcast include French actress Brigitte Bardot, former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne and TV chef Jamie Oliver.

Last year's message was given by Sergeant Major Andrew Stockton, a British soldier who lost an arm fighting in Afghanistan.

Unlike previous years, the president's message was broadcast at night and not at the same time as the Queen's speech.

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