Conservative MP Charles Walker has accused the BBC of placing itself ‘firmly at the head of the mob’ who attacked Louis Smith for lampooning Islam.
Walker also said the Government was “nowhere to be seen” when it should have been defending free expression.
He added that the Government’s silence over the hounding and death threats against Louis Smith:
Heralds, de facto, the reintroduction of an unwritten blasphemy law, enforced by threat and thuggery.
He said the episode:
Shamed our nation and its laws. In our liberal and open society, freedom of worship marches hand in hand with the freedom to lampoon religion. Quite simply, that is the deal.
Walker said after The Sun released a video of Smith making fun Islamic prayers:
Sensationalist reporting of his actions in some sections of the media resulted in the gymnast’s receiving multiple death threats.
And he pointed out:
The BBC has a rich heritage of aiming both excoriating and gentle humour in the direction of Christianity over the past 40 years. We have had Dave Allen, Monty Python and the Vicar of Dibley, and I particularly remember Not the Nine O’Clock News, in the early 1980s, taking the Church of England to task for its views on homosexuality.
So, given its proud tradition of tackling religious sensibilities, one could be forgiven for thinking that the BBC would inject some common sense and balance into the reporting of Louis Smith’s actions. Not a bit of it: instead of trying to insert itself between Louis Smith and the mob, the corporation placed itself firmly at the head of the mob.
Walker said that, by treating mockery of religion as “shameful” the presenter:
Placed a question mark over the motives and legacy of some of the UK’s greatest deceased and living comedians. Louis Smith is never going to be the world’s greatest comedian, but we – and the BBC – should be blind to that fact, because the law applies as much to gymnasts as it does to joke-tellers.
He wrote to the BBC challenging why no condemnation of the death threats was made during the interview, despite the presenter finding time to condemn Smith. He said that the “inquisitorial tone of the interview” heightened the “already significant threat to his well-being and safety.”
In response the BBC said that the interview helped Smith, because it meant he could “appease” “people who might be angry with him.”
The only person who is deserving of an apology is Louis Smith himself. He is owed an apology from the Muslim Council of Britain for its ridiculous overplaying of Muslim sensitivities towards their faith.
The MBC said that Smith’s apology:
Fell well short of addressing the hurt caused against Muslims.
This, said Walker, was:
Uncharitable nonsense from an organisation that strives to be taken seriously.
Walker also said that British Gymnastics should apologise to Smith for its “cowardly decision” to suspend him. A petition calling for British Gymnastics to lift Smith’s ban has only managed to attract 5,117 signatures,
The National Secular Society welcomed Walker’s comments, particularly his criticism of the Government to be proactive in defending freedom of expression.
Campaigns director Stephen Evans said:
The sensationalising of this private video by the media, and particularly The Sun, only contributed to a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists. Too few spoke out for Louis Smith’s right to freedom of expression, and the Prime Minister gave a troubling and weak answer when asked about the case at Prime Minister’s Questions last month.
When Walker asked the Prime Minister about Louis Smith in November, Theresa May said that there “is a balance we need to find” and that Smith, despite being threatened with death, had:
A responsibility to recognise the importance of tolerance of others.
In early December Walker asked the Home Secretary why she had failed to give voice to the importance of defending free expression “during the manhunt and vilification of the gymnast Louis Smith.”