London: An angry row erupted in Britain on Thursday over plans by a television station to broadcast a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an "alternative" to the traditional Christmas Day message by Queen Elizabeth II.
The government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown criticised the decision by Channel 4, seen as a Left-liberal station, to give the Iranian president a voice in the broadcast later on Thursday.
"President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements," said a Foreign Office spokesperson.
"The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad," he added.
The decision to allow Ahmadinejad to deliver the alternative Christmas message, something Channel 4 has done for 15 years to provide a "light-hearted touch" to Christmas Day, also provoked anger in Israel, and among human rights and gay campaigners.
Speaking in Farsi with English subtitles, Ahmadinejad will say: "Jesus, the Son of Mary, is the standard bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings, of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.
"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers," the text, published in advance, read.
Israel's ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, branded the Christmas message a "sick and twisted irony".
"In Iran, converts to Christianity face the death penalty. It is perverse that this despot is allowed to speculate on the views of Jesus, while his government leads Christ's followers to the gallows," he said.
The broadcast was a "scandal and a national embarrassment" which showed that Channel 4 had "lost its ethical way in the search for ratings and shock factor", said the ambassador.
Louise Ellman, a Labour MP who is also chairwoman of the Labour Jewish Movement, also condemned Channel 4 for giving and "unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the holocaust while preparing for another and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street".
"Who will deliver next year's alternative Christmas message?" she asked, suggesting that it could be someone like Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe.
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, of Liberal Judaism, said: "I have no trouble with Channel 4 dealing with difficult issues. The Queen's speech is so benign that it is worthwhile having something thought-provoking.
"But doing a sort of lucky dip to pick out a controversial character, then allowing him to make a lovey-dovey speech, that this character is being allowed to dress himself up as a kind of Father Christmas, that is problematic," said Goldstein.
Channel 4's head of news and current affairs, Dorothy Byrne, defended the decision to broadcast the message.
"As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."
Meanwhile, the British monarch, in her traditional afternoon message broadcast on Christmas Day, addressed the economic crisis saying that Christmas 2008 was a "sombre occasion" for many.
The queen, 82, called on fellow-citizens to lead "unselfish lives" and help others with their skills and financial prowess.
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