Mast appeal planned

Tuesday, 6th March 2007. 12:34pm

By: Matthew Cresswell.

A ROW OVER the siting of mobile phone masts on church buildings took a new turn this week with news that the Court of Arches is to hear an appeal to stop an Essex parish hosting a mast.

A spokesman said part of their appeal was based on the fact that the mobile signals could be transmitting pornography and was therefore not suitable for churches.

In a strongly worded open letter sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other senior Church of England leaders, the Archbishops’ Council has been asked to reconsider the issue of allowing churches to attach transmission masts to their steeples.

St Peter and St Paul Church in Chingford is now appealing to have their decision in the previous Consistory Court - in which they were refused the mast - overturned.

The author of the letter, Stephen Turner, has already opposed St Peter and St Paul Church in Chingford over their plans to allow the construction and is planning to stand against the church in the next court battle. In addition it is estimated that 100 other churches around the country have similar telecommunications masts, oblivious that in addition to supporting a mobile communications network they are possibly distributing x-rated material to web-capable mobile-phone users.

In his letter Mr Turner argues that it was wrong for the Archbishops’ Council to strike up a deal with QS4 (the communications company responsible for the masts) in 2002. “What the Archbishops’ Council appears to be doing is stating that the transmission of pornography can be consistent with the ‘role of the church as a local centre of worship and mission’,” he writes.

“I do not believe that such a position is correct. It is possible that in 2002, the Archbishops’ Council was not fully aware of some of the problems of pornography, which are now well established through research at respected universities and institutes.” Such problems, Mr Turner argues, includes the abuse of children, increased paedophilia, breakdown in marriages, a strong link with rape cases and exposing young people to deviant network users.

Considering that a church can earn £10,000 in rent from installing such a mast, Mr Turner argues whether the financial benefits outweigh the potential damage done by pornography. Although unable to comment on the Chingford case for legal reasons, the Church of England’s general stance is published on a specific website dealing with the transmission issue.

“Clearly there is a risk with any communication medium that it will be used for ill; but this has to be balanced against the enormous good which can flow from mobile communications,” the advice states.

They argue that such positive use of the masts includes emergency calls and the privilege of staying in touch with other mobile users. Continuing they say: “By comparison, the purchase of a TV licence allows access to material that, in the eyes of many, might be unsuitable, particularly for children, but audiences, families, parents etc. must take responsibility for access to such material. “Parishes who feel strongly on this issue should not register with the national scheme.”

They also added that the content available via the new generation of 3G phones was dictated by the Government licence under which the telecommunications companies were permitted to broadcast. But others remain unconvinced by the church’s stance.

In refusing the Chingford parish permission, diocesan Chancellor George Pullman QC said that it was no “part of the work or the mission of the Church to facilitate the transmission of pornography whether from the internet or privately created.” Continuing he said: “No Church bookstall would consider it appropriate to offer for sale ‘top shelf’ magazines with their images of sexual titillation or impropriety.

“In my judgment it is not for the Church to facilitate access to pornography. But this is what the Church of England would now be doing if these antennae were allowed.” Ironically, during question time at last week’s Synod the Archbishops’ Council confirmed that the QS4 contract would terminate in May this year — but for contractual reasons unrelated to pornography.

However, a spokesman for the Church of England said this was no reason for churches to terminate other contracts or enter into new ones with other telecommunications companies.

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