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Film “Innocence of Muslims”

Volume 555: debated on Thursday 20 December 2012

The Petition of residents of Nelson, Lancashire and elsewhere,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the showing in the UK of the film Innocence of Muslims, which the Petitioners believe has blasphemous contents, has deeply offended Muslims not only in the United Kingdom but also throughout the world; further that freedom of speech and the showing or publishing of material in certain instances has been restricted by the UK and that the Government in recent legislation e.g. The Anti-Terror laws, restricted such where it was thought best for the public interest and that this evidences that freedom of speech can be restricted in certain cases; further that the Petitioners believe that the effects of this film have caused racial and religious relations in an already troubled world to deteriorate and has caused people to suffer upset and injured feeling and is an infringement of their religious rights and beliefs; further that, the Petitioners believe films such as this one merely serve to damage efforts to rebuild community relations at time when all communities should be working hard to do so; further that the Petitioners believe such films are therefore not in the interests of public or society as a whole and that the Petitioners believe it is the social responsibility of any Government in modern times to prevent such material from being shown or published as it goes against all efforts of promoting world peace.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to legislate to ban the showing of the film Innocence of Muslims in the UK and urges the Government to conduct a comprehensive enquiry to consider and re-introduce a new law against blasphemy, with a view to passing legislation aimed at protecting all religions and races from being subjected to mocking and ridicule.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Andrew Stephenson, Official Report, 16 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 292.]

[P001123]

The Petition of Muslims of the City of Peterborough,

Declares that the Petitioners feel hurt and shocked by the film “Innocence of Muslims”; further that the Petitioners believe that it represents a defamation of Islamic sacred values and is an insult to the Prophet Muhammad and that the Petitioners believe that this defamation of the Prophet Muhammad, or indeed any other Prophet, is unacceptable; further that the Petitioners do not accept the claim that insults to religious institutions, their prophets or their values fall within the scope of freedom of speech and that whilst the Petitioners support freedom of speech they wish to remind people that it carries with it the role of responsibility and care not to hurt and humiliate the feelings of other people; further that the Petitioners believe this kind of film, along with derogatory sketches and cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous and tortuous to Muslims all over the world; further that the Petitioners wish to dissociate themselves from the small minority of people who misbehaved during the protest marches throughout the world against this film and that the Petitioners believe that those actions were against the teachings of our beloved prophet.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to ban the film “Innocence of Muslims” from being shown, consider new legislation to make it a criminal offence to create films or cartoons of a blasphemous nature and support moves to recognise the responsibility attached to freedom of speech and ensure such derogatory material is not encouraged.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Stewart Jackson, Official Report, 5 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 962.]

[P001144]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport:

On the issue of banning material which some people may find offensive, the Government believe that the right to freedom of opinion and expression is a vital component of a free democratic society. We have a long tradition of freedom of speech in the United Kingdom; however, we have been clear of the need to balance the right to freedom of speech with the need to prevent actions which intimidate, threaten violence or incite others to hatred and we continue to stand by this. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is enshrined in our laws, with carefully defined and intensely debated limitations on this right under legislation such as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 and Public Order Act 1986.

While there are frequently calls to ban websites and online material which carry extremist or offensive content, the content typically tends to falls short of the criminal threshold. It is likely that this film was produced privately by individuals in the US and has subsequently been made available on several websites. The websites that host the film may be with internet service providers based outside the UK and removing a website from one host is highly unlikely to remove it from the internet permanently.

In the case of films, every film supplied on DVD (or other hard copy) to the public in the UK must first be submitted to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The BBFC considers works against a set of guidelines that take into account the law and also public opinion. Videos are then awarded an age-related classification. The guidelines and details of how the BBFC gauges public opinion are available on its website at: www.bbfc.co.uk. The guidelines are based on the type of content but make no assessment of quality or of accuracy as, of course, many of the works submitted to the Board are fiction or fictionalised accounts of real life events. The general law applies to films as it does to all other areas of life so, for example, a film that defames a living person would still be liable under defamation statute.

It should be noted, for completeness, that were the film or parts thereof to be broadcast on UK-licensed broadcasters, it would have to comply with the Ofcom broadcasting Code, which sets out rules in relation to offence, incitement and abusive treatment of religion. If it were to be shown on video-on-demand on the internet in the UK, it would have to comply with ATVOD’s the Authority of Television on Demand statutory obligations in relation to the editorial content. This includes a rule that states

“on-demand programme service must not contain any material likely to incite hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality”.

The Home Office is leading work across Government, and with internet industry representatives, to identify practical solutions for responding adequately to the concerns of victims and communities in relation to offensive and extremist internet content.

The Government are fully committed to tackling all forms of hate crime, including that fuelled by religious hatred. Targeting a person or a group based on personal characteristics is unacceptable, and there is already in place, one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry. This framework is kept under review to ensure that it remains effective in meeting new challenges, including those thrown up by the development and use of the internet.

The Government condemn any form of religious intolerance and bigotry. Criminal offences related to religious hatred are already in place, are clear, and provide enhanced sentencing powers to reflect the seriousness of targeting a person or a group for a personal characteristic. For instance, there are criminal offences related to stirring up religious hatred under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. The Act makes it an offence to use threatening words or behaviour, or display any written material which is threatening, if a person thereby intends to stir up religious hatred. The legislation also extends to material that is broadcast, and makes it an offence if a programme involving threatening visual images or sounds is included in a programme service and the persons providing, producing or directing the programme intend to stir up religious hatred. In addition to these specific offences, there are also separate offences for racially and religiously aggravated crimes under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.