The BBC has denied censoring a debate about being a gay and Muslim because it was being filmed at a mosque.
The makers of BBC3’s Free Speech have said the topic was pulled over security concerns after threats were received by the religious building where the programme was filmed.
On Wednesday night (12 March), Muslim drag queen Asifa Lahore asked: ‘One question I would like to ask the Muslim community, when will it be right to be Muslim and gay?’
But before a debate could happen, presenter Rick Edwards said it would be tackled at a later date as Birmingham Central Mosque had ‘expressed deep concerns with having this discussion here’.
The chairman of the Birmingham mosque Mohammed Naseem told Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday he had not been told the programme would discuss homosexuality until 20 minutes before it was broadcast.
‘The impression given was that BBC3 wanted to discuss immigration,’ he said. ’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?’
Twitter users expressed their anger at the apparent censorship, with one saying: ‘So the mosque hosting #FreeSpeech are "uncomfortable" with a question about gay Muslims? Kind of defeats the point of a show with that title".
Stephen Evans, campaigners manager at the National Secular Society, also accused the BBC of being ‘absurd and whole counterproductive’.
‘It is unfortunate that the BBC allowed itself to be censored on this occasion by reactionary imams, but this was a place of worship, and perhaps the BBC would do well to choose religiously neutral venues to hold such debates in future,’ he said.
A Free Speech spokesman said discussions had taken place two hours, rather than 20 minutes, before its 8pm transmission time.
They said threats received by the mosque in response to pre-publicity about the show.
‘As with all Free Speech programmes, parts of the programme are promoted on radio, online and on social media platforms ahead of transmission,’ he said.
‘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.’
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.’