Charles Moore Charles Moore

‘Religious literacy’ rules risk gagging the press

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There should be more ‘religious literacy’. So says the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media, chaired by Yasmin Qureshi MP. Amen to that. Religious ignorance is now virtually universal, so errors appear in news stories every day. But the APPG report seems less concerned with facts, more with attitudes. It wants news to concentrate more on ‘lived experience’, less on doctrine and ritual; it asserts that ‘religious literacy also incorporates respect for religion and belief as a valid source of guidance and knowledge to the majority of the world’s inhabitants’. The report’s remedies include ‘a formalised, coordinated approach to the education of journalists’, making ‘religious literacy training’ compulsory. Another is ‘around access to regulatory redress’: ‘In particular, groups should be able to make complaints on the grounds of discrimination.’ I am afraid these aims add up to gagging the press. ‘Lived experience’ is a buzz phrase in current debates about race, used to privilege the utterances of those who feel themselves hard done by. ‘Respect’ is the word decisively rejected by Cambridge dons recently when their leaders — notably the vice-chancellor, Stephen Toope — tried to include it in Cambridge’s formal definition of free speech. The objectors argued that free speech is compromised if you always have to show respect for beliefs with which you disagree. And the idea of conferring regulatory remedy rights on ‘groups’ is part of a constant, worldwide pressure by many Muslim organisations to police what is said about Islam — a secular simulacrum of blasphemy laws. The APPG report draws heavily on views put forward by pressure groups such as MEND and Miqdaad Versi’s Centre for Media Monitoring, which use claims of ‘Islamophobia’ to shut critics up. Once religious literacy training and the recommended monitoring of religious belief in the media become compulsory, we are on the way back to the Test Acts.

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