Christian radio loses advert challenge


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The Independent Online

A radio station lost its challenge in the High Court today against a ban on an advertisement seeking information on Christians who feel "marginalised" at work.

The proposed 30-second ad for Premier Christian Radio was intended to urge listeners to report their experiences as part of a campaign for "a fairer society".

But a judge ruled today that the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) acted lawfully when it banned the ad.

The RACC, which decides whether individual ads meet the radio advertising standards code, said the ad should not be aired because it was "directed to a political end", and broadcasting it would infringe provisions of the 2003 Communications Act that ban political advertising.

The legal challenge was brought by London Christian Radio Ltd, which runs Premier, a national station. It was backed by religious magazine publishers Christian Communications Partnership (CCP).

At a hearing in March their QC, James Dingemans, described the ad as "about the most inoffensive proposed ad one could hope to get".

Mr Dingemans said if the ad was in breach of the 2003 Act, then the relevant sections of the Act should be declared "incompatible" with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression.

Mr Justice Silber, sitting in London, ruled there was no Article 10 infringement and the RACC decision was both "rational and lawful".

He declared the ad was political - and would contravene the prohibition on political advertising - as it was intended to obtain information in a bid "to try to make changes to society".

The judge said Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has overall responsibility for advertising, had opposed London Christian Radio's application for judicial review.

But the judge stressed that it had not been suggested in any way that the Secretary of State's stance was "anti-Christian", or that his reasoning would not apply to any other religion.

"Indeed nothing in this judgment is meant to preclude advertisements by bodies such as the claimant in, for example, newspapers."

The ad was prepared for broadcast in May 2010 after CCP surveys showed that more than 60% of active Christians considered members of their faith were becoming increasingly marginalised in the workplace.

Peter Kerridge, chief executive of London Christian Radio and the Premier media group, said the case had raised "important issues of fundamental rights to freedom of expression for Christians to report to us their experience in the workplace."

After today's ruling, Mr Kerridge said the decision seemed to be "wholly reminiscent of a totalitarian state" and an application would be made to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

He said: "Our application was dismissed because we planned to inform the public debate and help make a fairer society.

"The decision represents a direct threat to the democratic right to freedom of speech and we intend to continue the fight through the appeal process.

"It greatly reduces the right of ordinary people to have their say in democratic debate and, regrettably, seems to be wholly reminiscent of a totalitarian state.

"Surely all reasonable and decent people from all walks of life would wish to see a fairer society and to engage in a robust debate as to how that society would look?"

Lawyers for Premier said: "The advertisement was not a political message but a request for information which could then be used as part of the normal democratic process, where ideas and views are expressed in public discussion, contradicted, answered and debated."

The original advertisement said: "We are CCP. Surveys have shown that over 60% of active Christians consider that Christians are being increasingly marginalised in the workplace.

"We are concerned to get the most accurate data to inform the public debate.

"We will then use this data to help make a fairer society.

"Please visit CCP and report your experiences."