I just want to set the record straight since this is being mis-reported all over the media. I sent a complaint to the BBC and they changed their website headline, though still report it incorrectly on the TV news.
Here is how the BBC report it, having changed “ban” to “snub” and “refusal”:
Lord’s Prayer cinema ad snub ‘bewilders’ Church of England
The Church of England has said it is “disappointed and bewildered” by the refusal of leading UK cinemas to show an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer.
The Church called the decision “plain silly” and warned it could have a “chilling” effect on free speech.
It had hoped the 60-second film would be screened UK-wide before Christmas ahead of the new Star Wars film.
The agency that handles adverts for the cinemas said it could offend those of “differing faiths and no faith”.
The advert features the Christian prayer being recited or sung by a variety of people.
They include refugees, a grieving son, weightlifters at a gym, a sheep farmer, a gospel choir and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby.
Watch the advert here. (on YouTube)
The advert was passed uncut by the British Board of Film Classification and given a “U” certificate, as well as receiving clearance from the Cinema Advertising Authority.
However, the Digital Cinema Media (DCM) agency, which handles British film advertising for the major cinema chains, Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, refused to show the advert because it believed it would risk upsetting or offending audiences.
In a statement, DCM said it had a policy of not accepting political or religious advertising content in its cinemas.
It said that “some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith,” and that “in this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally”.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby said he found the decision “extraordinary”.
“This advert is about as offensive as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day,” he said.
“Let the public judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to.”
The Reverend Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England, said: “We find that really astonishing, disappointing and rather bewildering.
“The prospect of many families attending the release of the new Star Wars film had seemed a good opportunity to launch the advert and a new website justpray.uk to promote prayer ahead of Christmas.
“The Lord’s Prayer is prayed by billions of people across the globe every day, and in this country has been part of everyday life for centuries.”
He added: “In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly, but the fact that they have insisted upon it, makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech.”
He encouraged people to visit the website, watch the film and make up their own minds “as to whether they are upset or offended by it”.
Stephen Slack, the Church’s chief legal adviser, warned the banning of the advert could “give rise to the possibility of legal proceedings” under the Equality Act, which bans commercial organisations from refusing services on religious grounds.
The refusal to show the advert is likely to reignite a debate about the place of religion and faith in the public arena, especially Christianity, and whether freedom of expression for believers is being stifled.
One of those who took part in the ad, Ian McDowall, is a former bouncer and a weightlifter who founded a Christian charity, Tough Talk, after finding his faith.
“I don’t think people know a lot about Christianity these days anyway, and the opportunity to share the Lord’s Prayer in a cinema environment would make people think – and realise that Christians come in all shapes and sizes.”
But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience.
“The Church does not hesitate to ban things that it deems inappropriate from its own church halls – things like yoga. The cinema chains are simply exercising the same right.”
OK, so what has happened is this:
A cinema advert supply company has chosen not to run some adverts. The company (DCM) supplies some of the top cinema chains who, as a result, will not be running the advert (not because they choose not to, but because the company who supplies them has chosen not to).
Here is the Google definition of “ban”:
There is no official or legal prohibition, there is a mere decision not to run something from a private entity. Corporations have legal identity similar to an individual (as problematic as that concept may be – see the excellent documentary The Corporation on this). If I refused to add coffee to my shopping list, my supermarket cannot have me up for that as being anti-coffee! Yes, I see there might be the claim of religious discrimination which has raised its ugly head. See below for details on this. Ostensibly, though, this is a commercial decision based on existing policy.
Well, the company has a policy which seems to be based on empirical evidence. They had received negative feedback when they ran adverts which supported both the Yes and No campaigns for the Scottish Independence referendum. Even though both sides were supported, this still was not what the audience wanted to see. People go to the cinema for escapism, not to be fronted with ideological propaganda, it appears.
Now, since, according the British Attitudes Survey, the majority of the UK feels themselves as belonging to no religion, let alone being Christians who would like to hear the Lord’s Prayer, or those wavering who would appreciate it.
The decision is not one of discrimination, but one of strategic commercial choice.
And before you cry “Bakeries and cakes for gay people!” in reference to the bakery who refused to give their goods and services to a gay couple based on their sexuality, the press and media is different.
One could take this to the extreme. Imagine if they had to, by duty, show any advert they were offered, that they had no editorial discretion over any of their media output. Could you submit a 48 hour call to prayer and they would be duty bound to produce it? In the US, the media are protected in their editorial discretion by the First Amendment, as this source explains:
A private business is allowed to make its own editorial decisions about what to publish. The First Amendment right to freedom of the press prevents the state from interfering with private editorial decision-making, as was made clear in the Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo case, 418 U.S. 241 (1974).
This includes the right to turn away advertisements, as the Supreme Court noted in a decision the previous year when it refused to extend the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine” to broadcast advertising. (CBS v. Democratic National Committee, 412 U.S. 94, 1973).
Consider recent instances of networks broadcasting the Super Bowl — they regularly turn away ads from political groups such as MoveOn.org or anything else deemed too racy for the public, such as PETA’s regular attempts to grab attention.
Merely by virtue of being a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organizations do not surrender their First Amendment rights. Just last year, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. FEC case upheld free speech rights for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, striking down campaign finance regulations that limited the ability of the organization to spend money in political campaigns, a kind of speech.
In short, with very few exceptions, publishers have a right under the First Amendment to make editorial decisions without the state, or the courts, interfering with them. This includes the right to choose which advertisements to accept and which to reject. While the contents of advertising can be regulated — consider the Fair Housing Act requirements that advertising not include discriminatory content — it remains in the publisher’s discretion whether to publish an advertisement in the first place.
There are heaps and heaps of examples in the UK media or organisations refusing to run adverts for a whole variety of reasons. I will not burden you with countless examples, but here is a ruling from the European Convention on Human Rights, as pertaining to Polish media and a demand to advertise from one individual:
However, the Strasbourg Court unanimously decided that the guarantee of freedom of expression had not been breached. The Court held that privately owned newspapers must be free to exercise editorial discretion in deciding whether to publish materials submitted to the editorial team. In the view of the ECtHR, the State’s obligation to ensure the individual’s freedom of expression does not mean that such individuals have an unrestricted access to the media in order to publish any content whatsoever. The Court also resolved that the media had the right to establish and apply their own policies in respect of advertisements.
The ECtHR further noted that the newspaper’s refusal to publish the applicant’s advert did not deprive him of the ability to disseminate or otherwise market the book itself.
HFHR has filed an amicus curiae brief in the proceedings pending before the ECtHR. “In the brief we argued that the case is of significant importance in the context of the Convention ‘radiating’ onto relations between individuals”, says Dorota Głowacka, HFHR lawyer. “We emphasised, on a number of occasions, that guarantees of the freedom of expression should be respected not only in state-citizen relationships but also in dealings between private entities”, adds Ms Głowacka.
As mentioned, one can imagine the chaos in the different media if they were duty bound to print whatever any other entity demanded of them. You could get hold of a right leaning newspaper and fill it completely with left-wing ideology through adverts, rendering the whole scenario ridiculous. Private media organisations have the right to editorial discretion.
What has annoyed me in this case is the media’s pandering to the those who are whingeing about this, not realising that it has added shed loads of ammunition to social media religious warriors, and others.
The simple incorrect use of the word “ban” is irresponsible and I request, most probably in absolute vain, that media outlets do not erroneously use it.