Ofcom clears Channel 4 on Iran message

By Simon Rocker and Marcus Dysch, February 26, 2009

Ofcom, the broadcast watchdog, has rejected a complaint against Channel 4 for choosing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to deliver its Alternative Christmas Message last year.

This week Ofcom said that it had received 295 complaints from viewers that the Iranian leader was an “offensive and inappropriate” choice because of his views on the Holocaust, women and homosexuals.

But it stated that the actual content of the broadcast could be “described as non-confrontational, comprising as it did a message of goodwill to the UK audience”.

Channel 4 said that the aim of the message — which in previous years has been given by the Rev Jesse Jackson, Quentin Crisp and an Afghanistan war veteran, among others — was to provide “a different and sometimes challenging perspective”. The programme is usually aired at the same time as the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. The station had been contacted by 217 people in support of the broadcast.

Ofcom noted that the president’s address had been preceded by a short broadcast summarising the controversies surrounding him. It stated: “Ahmadinejad has repeatedly used anti-Israel rhetoric and has questioned the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust.”

The Alternative Christmas Message was in line with Channel 4’s remit to provide a “provocative, innovative and challenging programme” and the “potentially offensive material” was justified by the context, Ofcom said.

The channel’s decision provoked widespread criticism at the time. Henry Grunwald QC, president of the Board of Deputies, said the idea of the broadcast filled him “with disgust”, while Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor wondered whether the channel would have invited Hitler.

Meanwhile, BBC director-general Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast an appeal for aid to Gaza has been backed by the corporation’s governing body.

Publishing the findings of a review into the argument, the BBC Trust said Mr Thompson had “acted correctly” in turning down the Disasters Emergency Committee’s request to show the two-minute film last month.

Mr Thompson had argued that the BBC’s impartiality could be compromised by showing the appeal, which was also turned down by Sky News, but aired by ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

Last updated: 1:38pm, February 26 2009