BBC denies censoring debate in Free Speech programme

The makers of BBC3's Free Speech have denied censoring a debate about being gay and Muslim, saying the topic was pulled because of security concerns after threats were received by the mosque where the programme was filmed.

The live show on Wednesday night prompted accusations of censorship after it postponed discussion of a question put by Muslim drag queen Asifa Lahore, who asked: "One question I would like to ask the Muslim community is, when will it be right to be Muslim and gay?"

Presenter Rick Edwards told viewers and the studio audience that the question would not be tackled until a later edition of the programme because Birmingham Central Mosque, where the programme was filmed, had "expressed deep concerns with having this discussion here".

The chairman of the Birmingham mosque told Radio 4's Today programme on Friday that he had not been told the programme would discuss homosexuality until 20 minutes before it was broadcast.

But a spokesman for the programme, made by Question Time producer Mentorn Media, said discussions had taken place two hours before its 8pm transmission time following threats received by the mosque in response to pre-publicity about the show.

It said the mosque had previously not expressed concern about any issues that might be debated.

"As with all Free Speech programmes, parts of the programme are promoted on radio, online and on social media platforms ahead of transmission," said a spokesman for the BBC3 programme.

"Content from a pre-recorded segment, which covered the topic of homosexuality and Islam, was played ahead of transmission on Radio 1 and on local radio. The mosque received threats which gave us cause for concern to the security of their community.

"Discussions took place within two hours of the programme being broadcast live as to the best way to proceed bearing in mind the security of the mosque and respect for their concerns over offending their community.

"As a result the production company, together with the BBC and the mosque, made a considered decision to postpone the debate of the topic until 25 March but agreed to show the pre-recorded segment.

"This was a decision taken responsibly, with a great deal of thought, consideration and respect and not in any way about censorship of an issue. We were transparent with the audience about the decision."

Edwards, who introduced the programme as "the show which makes your voice heard in the national conversation", said:

"We were going to debate that question but today after speaking to the mosque they have expressed deep concerns with having this discussion here. They were happy for us to play that video and we will talk about it on our next programme on 25 March."

Some of the programme's 79,000 viewers complained about the decision on Twitter, using the hashtag #FreeSpeech.

The programme spokesman added: "BBC3's Free Speech is a news and current affairs discussion format based on topical issues some of which are a result of interest from our online community.

"The Birmingham mosque had offered the venue as a location for an episode. When asked if there were any issues for discussion that would be off limits, no concerns were raised. Neither the production company nor the BBC would have chosen a venue that unduly limits topics for discussion."

It appeared to contradict the Birmingham mosque's chairman, Moahammed Naseem, who told Today: "It was rather surprising how the programme was conducted. The impression given was that BBC3 wanted to discuss immigration.

"All I know is all of the members of the committee who were there on that day were just informed 20 minutes before the programme started that they wanted to discuss homosexuality. How could I have an idea that there were other [topics] also that the BBC was thinking."

Source, Youtube