UK Cinemas Respond To Church Of England Criticism Over Refusal To Run Religious Ad Before ‘Star Wars’

digital cinema mediaThe Church of England over the weekend threatened legal action against UK cinemas it said had refused to run a trailer featuring the Lord’s Prayer ahead of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters next month. The church labeled it a violation of discrimination laws and a “rather chilling” decision “in terms of limiting free speech.” Digital Cinema Media, which handles most of the country’s movie advertising, has now responded with a statement:

“Digital Cinema Media (DCM) has a longstanding policy of not accepting ‘political or religious advertising’ content for use in its cinemas, which has been in place since our inception in 2008. However, we recently took the decision to make it visible on our website along with all our other terms and conditions. This policy has been in place for many years and we are confident it is correct and fair. While there has been passionate debate about this issue, we know that many customers support our policy. We believe a clear neutral stance remains the fairest policy for all, and allows DCM to treat all political and religious beliefs equally.”

Notable in that statement is that DCM has now made the policy available for review. Rev. Arun Arora who is Director of Communications for the church told me yesterday that when he was informed of the decision by the cinemas not to run the ad, he had been told there was no written policy to which he could refer. However, I’m told by an industry source that the private company was under no obligation to print it and that regardless, “it has stood the test of time.”

A person with knowledge of the situation explains the position of the cinemas (which include the Odeon, Cineworld and Vue chains) is that they “want customers to come in and sit down and be entertained; not have to worry about things that are controversial. No matter what it is, somebody will feel alienated by it.”

There is one incident of a political ad making it through and that was last year during the referendum on Scottish independence. I understand there was some laboring over the issue at the time, but because the ad presented both the Yes and No sides of the argument, a decision was made to proceed. This is the only time DCM has allowed such an ad through.

The issue of the church’s ad raised the hackles of Prime Minister David Cameron — a spokesperson said he found it “ridiculous.” And also of London Mayor Boris Johnson who tweeted yesterday that he expected a “U-turn.” DCM, however, appears not to be reversing itself. It remains to be seen if the church will make good on its promise to begin legal proceedings. The furor over the situation, which has been mixed, has generated over 350K views of its trailer on YouTube.

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