- Q. Can programmes criticise religions or religious views?
A. Yes. However, the important thing to remember is that if the content of the programme concerns religion or religious beliefs, the subject must be approached with a proper degree of responsibility and religious views and beliefs should not be subjected to an "abusive treatment".
What amounts to a "... proper degree of responsibility ..." will clearly depend on the programme's content but would include actions such as giving viewers clear information as to what they are about to watch, being clear as to who the contributors are and why they are being included, making sure views that are expressed are open to challenge and generally including an appropriate balance of opinions.
As to the question of what amounts to an "abusive treatment", Ofcom currently gives no guidance on this but it is clear that gratuitous insults and ill-informed or denigratory comments in connection with the religious views and beliefs of individuals and groups would be problematic.
However, carefully researched, balanced programmes which seek to analyse critically religions and their associated belief systems, even if potentially controversial, are unlikely to be considered to amount to an "abusive treatment" and would not therefore be likely to breach the Code.
- Q. I don't think the contents of my programme amount to an "abusive treatment" but they are bound to cause offence to some. Is this acceptable?
A. As always with matters of offence, context is key. Any programme that takes a controversial approach to such matters as religious beliefs obviously has the potential to cause offence. Ofcom requires material which may cause offence to be justified by the context which includes, but is not limited to, the editorial content of the programme, the service on which the material is broadcast, the likely expectation of the audience and the information given to any potential viewer. See 'Protecting Under 18s and Harm and Offence'.
- Q. If a contributor talks about their religion or religious views does that mean they are being promoted?
A. What regulation in this area seeks to prevent is the promotion of religious views or beliefs by "stealth"; in other words, programming that purports to be one thing but ultimately intends to acquire converts to a belief-system by not revealing its true intention. So, as long as it is clear to viewers who is addressing them and what particular religion or denomination they represent, the programme is unlikely to breach of the Code.
- Q. Can I make jokes about religion?
A. In short, yes, but subject to the general requirements of the Code relating to harm and offence, that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context.
Remember: the section of the Code on 'religion' (Section Four of the Code) is only concerned with "religious programmes", defined as programmes where religion or religious belief is either central or amounts to a significant part of the programme. This part of the Code is not concerned with comedies, drama or general entertainment programmes even though they may make reference to aspects of religion.