Islamic religious channel, Takbeer TV has had a severe warning by Ofcom for broadcasting content, which breached UK rules and regulations.

The show ‘Takbeer Special’ aired on 1st March 2016 and received three complaints about the three-hours live broadcast. The complainants considered the programme glorified and condoned the actions of Mumtaz Qadri, the police guard who was convicted of murdering Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Punjab, in Pakistan in 2011. In summary, the complainants objected to:

• the two programme presenters “eulogising and glorifying the infamous killer” Mumtaz Qadri;
• the programme stating that Mumtaz Qadri’s day of execution was “a sacred day as he was a true hero”;
• various Muslim scholars and imams contacting the programme to praise what they described as the “heroic act” of Mumtaz Qadri; and
• one Muslim scholar contacting the programme to suggest that others should emulate Mumtaz Qadri and “get rid of the blasphemers in similar fashion”.

‘Takbeer Special’ was a programme produced and broadcast in the UK on the same day as, and immediately following, Mumtaz Qadri’s judicial execution by hanging in Pakistan. The programme included, amongst other things, video footage of Mumtaz Qadri singing hymns before his execution and scenes from his funeral procession in Pakistan.

In response to the breach, Takbeer TV stated that it was “against any promotion of violence, abuse, encouraging or inciting hatred, discriminatory treatment or any such behaviour of the sort”. It added that “this programme was not designed to cause…offence” It also said “we allowed this programme to be aired due to overwhelming demand as a public interest issue as well as requests from our viewership”. The Licensee added that: “Many of [its] viewers held the view that Pakistan’s judicial system…[was] in breach of the written law” in the Mumtaz Qadri case.

Specifically, in relation to Rule 2.3, Takbeer argued that “this programme was not designed to cause harm or offence”. It stated that the execution of Mumtaz Qadri and reaction to it were sensitive issues and therefore this programme had been broadcast at a late hour to reflect the “depth of feeling” within the Pakistani Muslim community, who it said represents the majority of Takbeer’s viewers. The Licensee acknowledged that there were “passionate culturally nuanced views expressed by some callers and members of the panel” and said that the panellists regretted that their opinion led to complaints. It contended that Ofcom had “not identified any particular group that would be offended” by the broadcast and said “There was no use of foul language, indecent images or offensive views against any particular part of the British community”.

Ofcom was concerned by Takbeer’s “primary submission” that “expressing religious views is exempt [and] does not and cannot cause offence” under Rule 2.3. Religious content, in and of itself, is not exempt from the ambit of Rule 2.3 and is treated no differently from any other type of content. Therefore, if content referring to religious matters is potentially offensive, it must be justified by contextual factors, as appropriate. We were also concerned that Takbeer claimed that a “distinction” needed to be made between “programmes which cover controversial issues and those that cause offence”. It is important to make clear that a current affairs programme may still be capable of causing offence even if it deals with controversial issues.

Ofcom considered the programme had the potential to cause offence to those who disagreed with Mumtaz Qadri’s violent act. The programme presented Mumtaz Qadri, not as a self-confessed murderer who took the law into his own hands, but as an Islamic warrior and a martyr, thereby elevating his violent action and endorsing it as an act that was deemed worthy of praise. In particular, Ofcom noted religious terms, such as “Ghazi” [Islamic warrior] and “Shaheed” [Islamic martyr] were used in connection with Mumtaz Qadri and the Licensee’s explanation that these titles were given to him “on the basis not of the act he had committed” but because of the “undue process that he was put through” and because “there was a perception that in his trial and execution proper due process of the law had not been followed”.

In summary, Ofcom considered that the use of such terminology within the programme and the emotion with which it was expressed made it more likely to be potentially offensive to those who did not share these views, particularly in view of the nature and extent of the statements that were made.

For all these reasons Ofcom considered that the programme included material which had the potential to be offensive. Ofcom has concerns about the Licensee’s understanding of its obligations under Rule 2.3 of the Code. Ofcom is therefore requesting that Takbeer attend a meeting to explain its compliance processes in this area.