Pressure is mounting on the company that handles most cinema advertising in the UK to back down over a ban on a Church of England promotion of the Lord’s Prayer.
Digital Cinema Media (DCM) came under fire from the prime minister and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for refusing to screen the ad on the grounds that it could cause offence.
David Cameron viewed the ban as “ridiculous”, according to his spokesperson, who declined to expand on the prime minister’s views.
The EHRC said freedom to hold a religion and express ideas were “essential British values. We are concerned by any blanket ban on adverts by all religious groups”.
It added: “There is no right not to be offended in the UK; what is offensive is very subjective and lies in the eye of the beholder.
“This does not mean groups or individuals are free to express themselves without restriction. Freedom of expression can be and is restricted but only in order to prevent violence, abuse or discrimination for example.
“There is nothing in law that prevents Christian organisations promoting their faith through adverts.”
Boris Johnson also condemned the ban, saying on Twitter that he expected it to be overturned.
The politicians were joined by Stephen Fry, who tweeted from Australia: “I’m in Oz, just heard. Banning the ad is bizarre, unfair and misguided.”
The row erupted after DCM rejected the ad, citing a policy of not running material that was political or religious in nature as it carried “the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences”.
According to the advertising policy on DCM’s website, to gain approval an advertisement must not “in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute political or religious advertising”.
That meant “advertising which wholly or partly advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief) or any part of any religion, faith or such equivalent systems of belief”.
However, church sources claimed the section of the policy relating to religious advertising had been added only after the C of E sought approval for its Lord’s Prayer promotion.
The Church of England said it was “bewildered” by the ban and warned of possible legal action. It is appealing to DCM to change its position.
The C of E’s director of communications, the Rev Arun Arora, said on Monday: “The church is full to the brim of people like me who have made bad decisions and have had a change of heart. I would hope that those running DCM would have the strength of leadership to recognise they have made a mistake and reconsider their decision.”
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However, one of the UK’s leading advertising figures backed the ban. John Hegarty, who co-founded the top agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, said it was right to have a ban on political and religious advertising in cinemas.
“People pay money to go to the cinema, very diverse audiences, and they really don’t want religion dictating to them,” he said. The subject matter was completely different from brands, such as trainers or soft drinks. “Religion deals with profound philosophical belief.”
If an advertisement on behalf of the church was accepted, he said, it would be difficult to draw the line at adverts for Scientology or Jehovah’s Witnesses.