Let us pray that cinemas see sense in religion row
A view from Chris Blackhurst

Let us pray that cinemas see sense in religion row

Congratulations to Digital Cinema Media, the sales house that handles advertising in the UK's leading cinema chains.

It has managed the seemingly impossible: of uniting Richard Dawkins and the Church of England.

By banning a church ad featuring the Lord’s Prayer, on the grounds that it does not carry religious or political advertising, DCM has provoked outrage from the C of E and champions of free speech, including Dawkins, who said: "If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended."

DCM has got itself into a mess. Cinema audiences are relatively captive – they can’t turn over to another channel, they can’t get up to make a cup of tea. More sensitivity ought, therefore, to be shown to the ads. But the lines are blurry. Cinemas regularly show Army recruitment ads. They are bound to upset some people. Still, they’re displayed.

It’s impossible at present to avoid the Christian festival. The high street, pubs, public places, people’s homes, postage stamps – all are garlanded with Christmas decorations. To exclude movie houses seems perverse.

There is more to the ban that’s not being said. The commercial was due to be aired before Star Wars: The Force Awakens from 17 December. It was cleared by the regulators – the British Board of Film Censors and the Cinema Advertising Authority.

In August, DCM refused. It said it was following policy: "Some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith. In this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally." When asked for a copy of the rule in writing, DCM said there was no formal policy document but it had been agreed with its members.

The regulation has since appeared on DCM’s website: "To be approved, an advertisement must… not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute political or religious advertising." The lack of a written-down policy suggests timing and fear were really to blame.

Coming in the current febrile atmosphere about Islamic State terrorism, DCM was almost certainly afraid the ad would make cinemas a target for Muslim opposition and possible attack. Instead of spelling it out, the sales house has chosen to blather on about the need for political and religious equality.

If it told the likely truth that it’s scared (more so after the recent Paris attacks, one of which included a massacre at a theatre), DCM would still be lambasted but it might also be better understood.

Chris Blackhurst is the former multimedia head of business at The Independent and London Evening Standard