Islamic firebrand Dr Zakir Naik (pictured) of Peace TV – the Wahhabi channel broadcast out of Dubai – has been on the watchlist of Ofcom and the Home Office for several years. But it was only today (21 July 2019) after five exhaustive investigations that Ofcom published four breach decisions against the channel and signalled that two will be sanctioned by Ofcom.

Since these two (neither ironically featuring Doctor Naik) were for what many would regard as very serious contraventions of the Broadcasting Code I would not be surprised if – rightly in my view – Ofcom does not consider revoking Peace TV’s Ofcom licences. Peace TV was banned in India in 2012; in Bangladesh in 2016; and from some cable outlets in Sri Lanka this year after the appalling Easter terrorist attack. Watch this space.

The first programme facing sanction was on Peace TV Urdu and featured an Islamic scholar on 22 November 2017 discussing the Islamic punishment for magicians (and those who practise magic) and advocated their execution. He said for example that under Shariah law it is correct to “go ahead and kill the magician” and that magicians should be “killed forthwith”. The regulator decided the programme breached Rule 3.1 (incitement to crime), Rule 3.2 (hate speech), Rule 3.3 (abusive treatment) and Rule 2.3 (offence). Interestingly Ofcom referred to a UK criminal case in which a young Muslim in Rochdale murdered another Muslim who practised magic to illustrate the likelihood of impressionable Muslims being influenced by broadcast material like this.

The second case concerned a programme shown on Peace TV on 11 March 2018 titled ‘Strengthening Your Family – Valley of the Homosexuals’. Here another Islamic scholar under the guise of interpreting Koranic texts made a series of homophobic comments, eg making comparisons between homosexual people and “an animal that is defiled by Islam, the pig” and further added, “as nasty and corrupted and contaminated as a pig is, you never see two male pigs that are trying to have sex together”. Nowhere in the programme was any attempt made to place such offensive comments in context. Ofcom understandably recorded breaches of Rules 3.2, 3.3 and 2.3. I personally think religious channels in Britain must remain free to discuss genuinely held religious beliefs that homesexuality is wrong, but when doing so they must take great care about the language used and context.

The other two breach cases dated from programmes broadcast on 13 November 2017 which Ofcom picked up during routine monitoring. Here the hitherto careful Dr Naik went too far in his comments and appeared to condone the execution of apostates from Islam and the marriage of girls under sixteen (a serious issue in Britain with a number of forced marriages).

One interesting legal point was that in reaching its decision Ofcom took account of its duties under s.149 of the Equality Act 2010 ie to have due regard in the exercise of its functions to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, to advance equality of opportunity and to foster good relations between those who share a relevant protected characteristic, such as religion or belief, and those who do not. I have never see this before. One to watch.

As for those two unanswered questions: 1. Why did it take Ofcom so long to publish these decisions? The most recent broadcast investigated here was shown one year and four months ago. Peace TV certainly put up a vigorous defence but it is a pity in my view that it has taken so long. 2. Was it right for Ofcom to grant Peace TV a licence in the first place? Ofcom I know has tightened up the process of checking potential new licensees in recent years. But this may be the moment to see if the current procedure is tight enough.