Our Lord's name: responding to media blasphemy

Our Lord's name: responding to media blasphemy

Andre Van Der Linden

Some six years ago, assisted by my wife and a family friend, I began to write to television stations whenever I heard the name of Jesus Christ blasphemed on television.

Replies were nearly always polite, but no action was ever taken to either halt the debasing of Our Lord's name or its increasing usage. Excuses given ranged from coarse language classification to context, to a reflection of everyday language, and a reflection of community standards.

Over time, I took a number of these unsatisfactory responses to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). After a few years I began to realise that repeated polite requests were not being heeded.

At the end of 2003, I took a complaint against the Seven Network (Prime Suspect: The Last Witness) to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission under the auspices of the new Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

In a single showing of this program the name of Jesus Christ was used three times as a swear word or expletive to express anger. The Commission refused to entertain my complaint on the basis that it was considered "misconceived". At my request it was referred on to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal's Anti-Discrimination List.

This pending action was noted by a court reporter. After she contacted me, a small article appeared in the 21 April 2004 issue of the Herald Sun. As a result my phone hardly stopped ringing for the next fortnight.

This action against the Seven Network (Prime) seemed to strike a chord with the news media. Quite a few newspaper and radio interviews took place including contacts from from New Zealand.

Before long news about this pending action went around the world, judging from reports published on the Internet.

Sydney radio talkback host, Steve Price, had apparently commented on the first Herald Sun article and strongly criticised me. In response, many Christian listeners in Sydney rang in to support my stand. Eventually Price's back-up staff traced my phone number, and he interviewed me on air.

He actually seemed to change his mind, and volunteered the comment that if the name of Mohammed or Allah were used in that way that there would be quite a reaction.

Christians too began to respond, and rang, wrote and emailed me expressing their support. It is clear that devout believers from every part of the Christian spectrum are equally offended by the blasphemous use of Our Lord's name.

One of the ABA's biggest problems appears to be its unwillingness to acknowledge that the nominal census Christians are a world apart from the minority of committed Christians.

On 5 May 2004, I attended the VCAT compulsory mediation in Melbourne. An independent VCAT mediator chaired our meeting with the Seven Network solicitor from Sydney.

As a result of this I agreed to an adjournment of mediation to enable me to make an approach about this Seven Network complaint to the ABA. Should the ABA once again refuse to uphold my complaint, I would then drop the action against the Seven Network and restart it against the ABA.

The ABA once again rubber-stamped the Seven Network actions. Because of the number of concerned Christians who wrote to the ABA supporting my complaint and the fact that one Christian from Melbourne even organised a petition to the ABA, the ABA Investigation Report No 1400 was published on the ABA website.

As expected this report was heavily biased in favour of the Seven Network argument with its selective citing of so-called statistics. My complaint was once again not upheld.

On 7 March 2005, at a VCAT Directions Hearing in Melbourne, the ABA-appointed Australian Government Solicitor filed to have my complaint struck out. As I understand it, he argued that the complaint was vexatious and misconceived. He also argued that VCAT has no jurisdiction over the ABA, which came into being as a result of federal legislation.

In response to legal opinion (regarding the lack of VCAT jurisdiction over the ABA) obtained for me from lawyers who have been dealing directly with VCAT, I decided on 3 May 2005 to withdraw my VCAT complaint against the ABA and prepared two submissions (25,000 words in all) for a VCAT hearing on 12 July 2005.

There was an additional complication as a result of the judgement rendered by VCAT in the case of pastors Scot and Nalliah. Since the judgement's obvious pitfalls have been revealed, the major Christian denominations in Victoria now want the religious part of the Act to be drastically changed or rescinded altogether. My continued use of the RRTA could compromise the intention of many Christians to be rid of this law.

It was a combination of this latter problem with the VCAT/ABA jurisdictional issue that ultimately led me (on advice) to withdraw my VCAT complaint.

Research

Following this, I have offered to work in co-operation with the ABA to research the whole issue amongst the committed Christian population of Australia. I have suggested that such research be done at PhD level and under university auspices. I have asked the ABA to at least start recognising the distinct committed Christian minority in this country and to give it equal justice.

This does not mean that I have ceased my activities - only the VCAT legal side of it has. Meanwhile, I will continue to use every legitimate avenue available to advance broadcasters' respect for the name of Jesus Christ.

In this regard, I am working towards a future website (Honour of His Name) to highlight this issue and to keep interested parties informed.

Readers of this journal should continue to lodge complaints with the television networks whenever Our Lord's name is used dishonourably. In the event of the usual dismissive reply, complaints should be lodged with the ABA, including a copy of the network's reply.

At least the ABA will better appreciate that Australia's Christians mean business.

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