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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 13:33 GMT
TV victory for anti-abortion lobby
Prolife campaigners in Ireland
The ruling is a victory for anti-abortion campaigners
Television bosses have been accused of censorship by three senior judges after they refused to show "shocking" images of abortion in a party election broadcast.


We are very concerned about the effects of this decision

BBC spokesman
The film, by the anti-abortion Pro-life Alliance, was made to be shown during 1997's general election campaign.

But the BBC and commercial broadcasters banned the broadcast on the grounds that it was "grossly offensive."

The Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday that their decision was "unlawful" - opening the way for graphic depictions of abortion to be shown on British television for the first time.

The BBC - which fought the case on behalf of all British broadcasters - has said it will seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

A spokesman said: "We are very concerned about the effects of this decision."

He said the Appeal Court ruling had effectively overridden the BBC's obligation not to show material that offended "good taste or decency" for the purposes of party election broadcasts.

'Liberal feathers ruffled'

Overturning an earlier High Court ruling, the Appeal Court said the broadcasters' decision had been a clear case of censorship.


I hope the broadcasters recognise unblinking that censorship is exactly what this case is about

Lord Justice Laws
"The reader of this judgment will see that I have used the word 'censorship' from the first sentence," Lord Justice Laws said in his judgment.

"I have well in mind that the broadcasters do not at all accept that their decision should be so categorised.

"Maybe the feathers of their liberal credentials are ruffled at the word's overtones.

"Maybe there is an implicit plea for the comfort of a euphemism.

"However in my judgment this court must, and I hope the broadcasters recognise unblinking that censorship is exactly what this case is about."

The ruling is the first successful judicial review of the BBC in its history.

'Destruction'

David Pannick QC, for the Corporation, argued that no censorship was involved because the ProLife Alliance could describe abortion verbally.


Words alone cannot convey the essential human character of the foetus and the nature of its destruction by abortion

Lord Justice Brown
But the court dismissed this argument as "unreal".

"Here the image is the message - I can see no answer to the claim that the appellant is entitled to show - not just tell - what happens," Lord Justice Laws said.

"Words alone cannot convey the essential human character of the foetus and the nature of its destruction by abortion," added Lord Justice Brown.


This judgment signals the beginning of the end of legal abortion in the UK

Bruno Quintavalle, leader of the Pro-Life Alliance

In censoring the broadcast, which the court stressed contained "nothing gratuitous or sensational or untrue", the broadcasters "failed altogether to give sufficient weight to the pressing imperative of free political expression".

The victory marks the culmination of a five year legal campaign by the Pro-Life Alliance which has taken it before five different courts and 12 different judges.

'Turning point'

Bruno Quintavalle, leader of the ProLife Alliance, said: "This judgment signals the beginning of the end of legal abortion in the UK.

"Once our country sees the truth, they will know that abortion even in the earliest stages is an act of terrible violence which kills a human being.

"When the history of the repeal of abortion comes to be told, people will look back at the courageous judgment of the Court of Appeal as a decisive turning-point."

BBC chief political adviser Anne Sloman told Radio 4's World At One programme: "We have never at any time wanted to censor the message of the ProLife Alliance.

"The concern of the BBC and the other broadcasters involved was with the images."

The images involved would not have been allowed on a news bulletin, she said, insisting that decision had nothing to do with "political correctness" or personal views.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Torin Douglas
"This could put the whole system of election broadcasting in doubt"
Pro-life Alliance leader Bruno Quintavalle
"This is a defining moment in the struggle to outlaw abortion"
The BBC's chief political adviser Anne Sloman
"We will take this to the House of Lords"
See also:

21 May 01 | Parties
ProLife Alliance
13 Mar 02 | Europe
Europe's terms for terminations
09 Mar 02 | Health
Abortion issue unlikely to rest
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