R v BBC, ex p ProLife Alliance
R (ProLife Alliance) v. BBC  was a House of Lords case concerning the extent to which matters of good taste and decency are sufficient to justify the censorship of a Public Election Broadcast. The ProLife Alliance submitted a video that showed the results of an abortion. The video was held to violate statutory regulations requiring public broadcast to be decent. After extensive legal proceedings, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the ProLife Alliance. However, the decision was overturned by the House of Lords.
The ProLife Alliance is a political party that campaigns for "absolute respect for innocent human life from fertilisation until natural death and therefore opposes abortion, euthanasia, destructive embryo research and human cloning." (Paragraph 2 of the Court of Appeal judgment)
In 1997, the ProLife Alliance had enough support to be granted a Public Election Broadcast (PEB), subject to rules set out by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the Electoral Commission. The ProLife Alliance submitted a video that was graphic in nature. The video, the HL said, showed "the products of a suction abortion: tiny limbs, bloodied and dismembered, a separated head, their human shape and form plainly recognisable. There are some pictures showing the results of the procedures undertaken to procure an abortion at later stages... They are, I think, certainly disturbing to any person of ordinary sensibilities."
The broadcasters declined to show the video, on the grounds that it could have been offensive or disturbing to a large number of viewers. The ProLife Alliance sought permission for judicial review of their decision, which was refused. "A further application to the Court of Appeal was also refused. The appellant applied to the European Court of Human Rights, alleging a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”). The application was declared inadmissible without the United Kingdom government being called on to put in observations." (Para. 7)
The Broadcasting Act 1990 makes the following provisions:
6(1) The Commission [viz. the ITC, established by BA 1990 s.1] shall do all that they can to secure that every licensed service complies with the following requirements, namely—
And, in section 36:
(1) Subject to subsection (2), any regional Channel 3 licence or licence to provide Channel 4 or 5 shall include—
The following provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1996 are also important:
109(1) It shall be the duty of the BSC to monitor programmes to which section 108 applies with a view to enabling the BSC to make reports on the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct in, and the standards of taste and decency attained by, such programmes generally…
Court of Appeal ruling
House of Lords
- ProLife Alliance, R (on the application of) v. British Broadcasting Corporation  UKHL 23,  UKHRR 758,  1 AC 185,  HRLR 26,  2 WLR 1403,  2 All ER 977,  ACD 65,  EMLR 23, House of Lords
- ProLife Alliance v British Broadcasting Corporation  EWCA Civ 297,  2 All ER 756,  3 WLR 1080 (14 March 2002), Court of Appeal