Tafheem Al Masyal
Takbeer TV, 17 October 2010 to 26 March 2011
Takbeer TV broadcasts religious and general entertainment content mainly in Urdu (as spoken by South Asian Muslims), and is available on cable and satellite platforms.
Tafheem al Masyal is a religious discussion programme, during which viewers are invited to call in and put their questions on Islamic religious matters, to a presenter and guest presenter in the studio.
Ofcom received 267 complaints about five editions of Tafheem Al Masyal. We noted that complainants were from the Ahmadiyya religious community. This is a comparatively small Islamic movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani that grew out of mainstream Islam in the nineteenth century, whose followers believe themselves to be true Muslims. Followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad are known as Ahmadis or Qadianis or Ahmadiyya. Complainants considered that the programmes variously: consisted of abusive content about Ahmadis and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad; or incited hatred and violence towards the Ahmadiyya community.
Ofcom highlighted many examples of abusive comments including:
A presenter: In our last programme, a Qadiani friend had asked some questions. Though these questions were not related to the nonsense spoken by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, his lies, his cunning and deceit, and his false claim to prophet hood, still I would like to answer these questions;
A presenter: We have been telling about [Mirza Ghulam Ahmad?s] lies in the past but today we will focus specially on these. We will tell you about his lies.
A presenter: As to what is the punishment of apostasy in Ahmadis, we can discuss it with them only if we have a link with them. Among Muslims, the penalty for apostasy is death. An apostate deserves to be killed but the right to implement this penalty is the prerogative of an Islamic government. An individual or a party does not have this prerogative. An Islamic court, Islamic government, a Qazi 6 can implement this penalty or make a decision about it.
Ofcom considered rules of their programme code:
- 3.1: Material likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or to lead to disorder must not be included in television or radio services.
- 4.2: The religious beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion or religious denomination must not be subject to abusive treatment.
Takbeer TV said that We deeply regret any offence caused to any of our viewers and unreservedly apologise for the same. It also outlined a number of steps it had taken in response to the complaints: relevant channel staff had been severely reprimanded and formally disciplined and given updated training on the Code; additional training was being given to all presenters and producers on the Code and their obligations under it; and the channel had appointed a bi-lingual Quality Controller…who will take responsibility to oversee programme quality and output to prevent any such incidences occurring again.
Takbeer TV added: Tafheem Al Masyal had been discontinued indefinitely since early April 2011; the lead presenter of the programme had been suspended and is no longer appearing on our Channel; and We do not intend to deal with any of the specific issues raised [i.e. relating to the Ahmadiyya community] that have caused controversy in respect of these complaints in any future programmes and have advised our presenters to avoid the same. The broadcaster added that through the various steps it had taken, it was confident that we will not receive any future complaints of this nature.
Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 4.2
In considering Rule 3.1 we are required to address the likelihood of the commission of a crime, in this case a hate crime, against an Ahmadi follower. We recognised that overarching tone of almost all of the various comments identified above were clearly critical of the Ahmadiyya community, its beliefs and its founder. However, Ofcom believed that these criticisms, in themselves would not, on a reasonable view, have been likely to: encourage or incite the commission of a crime against any existing or named group (e.g. harm or prejudice against members of the Ahmadiyya community) or an attempt to lead viewers to disorder; or clearly advocate any potentially criminal action.
Notwithstanding the above, we did consider whether the following statement by a presenter during the 29 January programme, could be construed as a form of incitement:
As to what is the punishment of apostasy in Ahmadis, we can discuss it with them only if we have a link with them. Among Muslims, the penalty for apostasy is death. An apostate deserves to be killed but the right to implement this penalty is the prerogative of an Islamic government. An individual or a party does not have this prerogative. An Islamic court, Islamic government, a Qazi can implement this penalty or make a decision about it.
We considered this statement to have been potentially offensive. However, we considered that the speaker in this case made clear his belief that only an Islamic court, Islamic Government or Islamic judge (Qazi) would have the ability to determine whether someone was an apostate, and not individuals. He also did not openly say that members of the Ahmadiyya community should be subject to the death penalty, but rather was setting out his view about the potential treatment of apostates by the appropriate Islamic authorities. Given this context, we considered that this particular individual was not advocating that, or inciting, private individuals to kill apostates, but rather was expressing his view that the death penalty could be an appropriate sanction for apostasy to be carried out by the appropriate governmental or judicial institutions.
Given the above, we considered the programmes were not in breach of Rule 3.1 of the Code.
When considering abusive treatment in religious programmes under Rule 4.2, we considered that during the programmes, there were a number of statements made by the presenters and by members of the audience that could be classed as being derogatory and abusive references specifically about the Ahmadiyya community and its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Examples of these references are laid out in the Introduction.
In particular, Ofcom noted that during the programmes, members of the Ahmadiyya community were variously labelled as: stupid; non-believers; illiterate; and accursed liars. We also noted that many statements were made that were highly critical and derogatory of the Ahmadi founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Given the above, it was Ofcom’s view that the use of such terms and references when taken together amounted to abusive treatment of the religious views and beliefs of members of the Ahmadiyya community.
Ofcom considers that the broadcaster was clearly and seriously in breach of Rule 4.2.
Ofcom therefore assessed whether to consider the Licensee for a statutory sanction but we decided on balance not to do so. This decision had regard to all the relevant circumstances of this case, but principally the immediate acknowledgement that the complaints were justified and the various measures the Licensee took to further improve compliance. The Licensee is put on notice however that any further breaches of the Code in this area will lead to Ofcom considering a statutory sanction.