BBC 'too scared to allow jokes about Islam'

Comedian Ben Elton has accused the BBC of prohibiting jokes about imams and said the corporation was too "scared" to allow gags about Islam.

He told Third Way, a Christian culture magazine: "I think it all starts with people nodding whenever anyone says, 'As a person of faith ...'

"And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the community have about provoking the radical elements of Islam.

"There's no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass.

"They might pretend that it's, you know, something to do with their moral sensibilities, but it isn't. It's because they're scared."

He added: "I wanted to use the phrase 'Mohammed came to the mountain' and everybody said, 'Oh, don't!, Just don't! Don't go there!'

"It was nothing to do with Islam, I was merely referring to the old proverb, 'If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain'. And people said, 'Let's just not!' It's incredible."

Elton, 48, told the magazine: "I'm quite certain that the average Muslim does not want everybody going around thinking, 'We can't mention you. We've just got to pretend you don't exist because we're scared that somebody who claims to represent you will threaten to kill us."'

The comedian, an atheist whose children attend a Church of England school, said Britons should be taught the essentials of Christianity, if only for cultural reasons.

But he also said that "lack of faith" should be taught in schools.

"I think the concept that faith in itself is a good thing should be questioned from day one, which it isn't," he said.

"There's a presumption that if you're a religious leader you are in some way already halfway up to the moral high ground and your opinion has more relevance than anyone else's."

A BBC spokesman denied the claims, saying: "No subject is off limits for BBC comedy.

"The treatment should not cause harm or offence as defined by the BBC's Editorial Guidelines or breach other BBC Guidelines.

"There is no evidence that the BBC is afraid to tackle difficult subjects."