Ofcom clears Channel 4 Qur'an documentary
A controversial Channel 4
documentary on the Qur'an, which led Shia Muslim scholars to demand an apology and a new programme about their faith
, has been cleared by media regulator Ofcom
of misleading viewers or inspiring violence between religious groups.
Ofcom's 18-page adjudication effectively clears Channel 4 of any wrongdoing in airing documentary The Qur'an. The documentary, by film-maker Antony Thomas
, was broadcast last summer to kick-off a week of coverage on Islam
and led to vociferous complaints
from the Shia community.
The regulator received 21 complaints from individuals about the documentary and a detailed submission from 12 organisations representing Shia Islam in the UK.
Complainants argued that the documentary portrayed Shia Islam in a "negative, unbalanced and irresponsible light, including misrepresenting and inaccurate facts".
The media regulator collated an extensive list of specific complaints about claims made in the documentary - including that Shia Islam is contrary to the Qur'an, that Shias believe the Qur'an to be falsified, that Shia Islam was equated with "extreme Iranian political beliefs", and that the programme risked increasing tensions in the Muslim community.
In its defence, Channel 4 said that the documentary aimed to explore what the Qu'ran actually says about issues such as crime and punishment, tolerance, the role of women and the different interpretations of the text.
"The programme did not set out to take the impossible leap of determining which interpretation is correct," the broadcaster added. "Nor did the programme seek to invalidate or undermine any religious beliefs and cultural practices which arise in connection to the Qur'an."
In its ruling, Ofcom noted that the programme received a "broadly positive response" from Muslims, although the regulator noted that some concerns had been raised by the Shia community.
"As a general principle any programme dealing with a sensitive subject, such as a particular group or people's religious beliefs, is entitled to broadcast content that may be uncomfortable for that community provided the broadcaster complies with the code," the regulator said.
Ofcom pointed out that it could not consider complaints of impartiality against the documentary as it can only rule on cases when a broadcast is either a news programme or a show dealing with a matter of political or industrial controversy, or a matter relating to current public policy.
The media regulator also said that under UK media legislation it could not regulate "due accuracy" in shows outside news broadcasts.
"Ofcom is not a fact-finding tribunal. Its remit therefore does not include adjudicating on debates over Islamic theology," the regulator said. "Whether a programme is 'materially' misleading depends on a number of factors such as context, the editorial approach taken in the programme and above all what the potential effect could be in terms of harm or offence."
The regulator added that the tone of the show was "measured and considered" and that it pointed out that the Qur'an had brought comfort and peace to millions.
"In conclusion Ofcom considers that this programme dealt with the subject of Shia belief and practices in a responsible and fair manner. The programme did not materially mislead the audience concerning the subject of Shia Islam, nor could it be argued likely to inspire violence against Shias," the regulator said.
"Furthermore Channel 4 exercised a proper degree of responsibility when making the programme and did not subject Shia Islam to abusive treatment."
Ofcom's latest rulings on broadcasting complaints also cleared ITV of the embarrassing gaffe that saw viewers of last month's FA Cup fourth round replay between Everton and Liverpool miss the match-winning goal because of an ad break accidentally being aired during play
The regulator received 201 complaints about the ITV gaffe, which saw viewers in the south of England miss the goal, but said today that it would not be taking any action against the broadcaster because of its swift action in apologising on air and instigating an overhaul of operating procedures to prevent any recurrence.
"I am pleased that Ofcom has endorsed the views of TV critics who described The Qur'an as 'scrupulously fair-minded', 'exhaustively researched' and 'an exemplary piece of programming making'," said Thomas. "I am grateful that this ruling, by the independent regulatory body responsible for broadcasting, completely dismisses the unfounded allegations against Channel 4's The Qur'an."
Aaqil Ahmed, the commissioning editor for religion and multi-cultural at Channel 4, said he now hoped that the documentary could now be remembered as "a truly original piece of landmark television
". "Any film made on the subject will have a remarkable benchmark," he added.
• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email email@example.com or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000.