Election '97: Abortion film fails TV decency test

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The BBC and other broadcasters have refused to screen a party election broadcast by the anti-abortion Pro-Life Alliance which features an aborted foetus, following concerns that it could breach Independent Television Commission guidelines on taste and decency.

The PLA, which is fielding 56 candidates in the election, said yesterday that it had been contacted by both the BBC and Channel 4 about the broadcast, due to be screened tomorrow.

The film was intended to include clips from a controversial American video, Hard Truth, which shows footage of body parts from foetuses aborted at clinics in the United States.

"After viewing with other broadcasters and careful consideration, we have decided that a sequence in the proposed party election broadcast by the Pro-Life Alliance would be offensive under BBC guidelines and cannot be shown in the present form," the BBC said in a statement. It added that the PLA's radio broadcast would go ahead as planned today.

Bruno Quintavalle, director of the PLA, said it was consulting lawyers about the possibility of a judicial review. It had been told by Channel 4 that the broadcast could only be screened after midnight and by the BBC that it could not shown at any time or under any circumstances.

"If this film is so horrific that we are not allowed to watch it, why on earth is this [abortions] going on in this country 500 times in every single day?" he said. The alliance is planning to appeal, with the aid of the human rights organisation Liberty. Liberty's director, John Wadham, said yesterday that although the PLA was its "political enemy" it was important to ensure that everyone had the right to express their view.

The rules governing party election broadcasts state that if the organisation has correctly nominated 50 parliamentary candidates by 16 April, it should get a five-minute broadcast. But broadcasters are also bound by rules which say programmes should not include anything "which offends against good taste or decency or is likely to be offensive to public feeling".

t The Tories' latest broadcast, shown last night, seeks to play on voters' fears that new Labour has cut itself off from its roots and can be blown in any direction, writes Fran Abrams.

Using the image of a pine tree being cut down and then propped up again alongside a more stately Conservative conifer, the broadcast used a series of newspaper headlines to show how Labour's policy had changed over the past few years.