BBC Censored Pro-Life Videotape, Court Rules

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

London ( - A pro-life group scored a surprising victory in a top British appeals court Thursday when a judge ruled that the BBC and other broadcasters unlawfully refused to show an anti-abortion video during last June's general election campaign.

Pro-Life Alliance leader Bruno Quintavalle called the decision "the beginning of the end of legal abortion in the United Kingdom."

"When the history of the repeal of abortion comes to be told, people will look back at the courageous judgment of the Court of Appeal as a decisive turning point," Quintavalle said.

The Pro-Life Alliance fielded 55 candidates in the last general election and the five-minute video at issue was the party's official election broadcast. But the BBC and several commercial television stations refused to show the tape, calling it "grossly offensive."

The organization's case against the BBC had been rejected in five lower courts, but the three-judge appeals panel made it clear that the refusal to broadcast the videotape was "censorship."

"I have it well in mind that the broadcasters do not at all accept that their decision should be so categorized. Maybe the feathers of their liberal credentials are ruffled at the word's overtones," wrote Lord Justice Laws. "However in my judgment ... censorship is exactly what this case is about."

The ruling marks the first time that a BBC election decision has been successfully challenged in the British courts. Lawyers for the public broadcaster, which is funded through television license fees, argued that the Pro-Life Alliance could have adequately conveyed their message without the use of pictures.

But Justice Laws dismissed that claim, saying that the organization was "entitled to show, not just tell, what happens."

"Words alone cannot convey the essential human character of the fetus and the nature of its destruction by abortion," added Lord Justice Brown.

The judges found that the video was not "gratuitous or sensational or untrue" and that broadcasters "failed altogether to give sufficient weight to the pressing imperative of free political expression."

The BBC said it would seek leave to appeal the ruling to the House of Lords. A spokesman said the broadcaster was "very concerned" about the ruling and that the court had effectively overruled the BBC's obligation to prevent airing material that offends "good taste or decency" during party election broadcasts.

The Pro-Life Alliance had been fighting to show a pro-life advertisement on BBC television since the previous general election in 1997. After being stymied in the courts, the organization edited the broadcast so that it focused on first trimester abortions.

"This is a freedom of speech issue," said Josephine Quintavalle, Bruno Quintavalle's mother and a Pro-Life Alliance activist. "The idea that a broadcaster can censor a video during an election campaign is incredible, especially in light of the media's recent justified criticism of the democratic process in Zimbabwe.

"We wanted to show the electorate that a fetus is not just a blob of cells," she said.

The film calls abortion "the most serious human rights abuse of our time: a modern day holocaust which, in this country, has claimed the lives of six million innocent human beings."

"Each day in the United Kingdom 550 more are killed. How much longer can we go on denying the truth?" the video continues.

The tape goes on to describe several abortion procedures, and asks, "If something is so horrifying that we cannot look at it, should it be legal?"

The group now plans to broadcast the short film prior to next May's provincial elections in Wales and Scotland.

"We will make absolutely sure that we back enough candidates and take the opportunity to show this video," Mrs. Quintavalle said.

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