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 A/V REPORTS
The BBC's Torin Douglas
"The party wanted to put abortion on the political agenda"
 real 28k

Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Pro-life party loses TV fight
ProLife spokesman Bruno Quintavalle
ProLife spokesman Bruno Quintavalle intends to appeal
A pro-life political party has lost its High Court legal challenge against the BBC who refused to transmit its broadcast election because it did not meet taste and decency guidelines.

The ProLife Alliance - which campaigns against abortion and euthanasia - began legal action on Wednesday, accusing the BBC and the independent television authorities of unlawfully blocking the broadcast.

Candidate Madeline Jeremy
Alliance candidate Madeline Jeremy

But the hearing concluded shortly after 1200BST on Thursday that broadcasters were not trying to "gag" the party but merely protect viewers from offensive images which included graphic footage of aborted foetuses.

Mr Justice Scott Baker refused the party permission to apply for judicial review and ruled that there was no duty for a political party to "to broadcast any images he likes, however offensive they may be."

The BBC maintained that the broadcast - intended for screening in Wales - could not be shown in its present form because some images might have offend members of the public.

Upholding that decision, the judge added: "The BBC is not preventing the election broadcast from taking place.

Court of Appeal

"It is simply saying that it cannot condone these images of an offensive nature."

Mr Justice Scott Baker rejected an application for leave to appeal but ProLife spokesman Bruno Quintavalle said the party intended to ask the Court of Appeal hear the case.

Speaking on BBC Wales, prospective parliamentary candidate Madeline Jeremy said: "Abortion is a topic where the truth should come out. The The BBC always prides itself on showing the truth in documentaries.

"I feel that Wales is owed the truth about this."

The ProLife Alliance mounted a similar legal challenge during the 1997 general election campaign after the BBC made a similar decision.

In the most recent case, David Anderson QC, who appeared for ProLife, told the court that the alliance was a political party which had put up enough political candidates for the pending general election to entitle it to a single party election broadcast in Wales - though not in England and Scotland.

High Court in London
The High Court refused permission for a judcial review application

Seven candidates are standing in Wales, out of a total of 36 across the UK.

However, the BBC decided the intended broadcast would not comply with its producers' guidelines.

The Independent Television Commission said the broadcast would be against the programme code because pictures were used to depict the consequences of abortion, said Mr Anderson.

ProLife wanted to place it on the political agenda where it belonged, Mr Anderson said.

Pictures 'necessary'

To do so, it was necessary "to let people know what is involved in this commonly-performed operation that is, of course, lawful and the majority of cases paid for out of public funds".

He argued that pictures were necessary in the broadcast to bring home the reality of what the alliance considered to be the taking of human life.

Mr Anderson told Mr Justice Scott Baker that the media block on the images ProLife wanted to broadcast amounted to an interference with its rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guaranteed freedom of expression.

But David Pannick QC, appearing for the BBC, argued the broadcasters were not restricting the ability of ProLife "to say what is likes about the evils, as it perceives them, of our abortion laws".

'Balanced'

And, he added: "It is not hindered in any way. It is only being prevented from broadcasting particularly unpleasant images into people's homes."

The BBC's actions were "proportionate", he said.

The interests of ProLife, which was facing only "modest" restrictions, had been properly balanced against the interests of the community as a whole and its right to be protected from having images of aborted babies on their television screens.

Mr Pannick added: "The claimant is not the only person who has rights. Other people, too, have rights. "They have the right to be protected against having these disturbing images being broadcast into their homes".

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