Friday, 14 December 2007

Common Censorship

The BBC is happy to broadcast material that mocks Christianity, but when it comes to other religions it is a different story. There is a double standard - Is it acceptable?

Hat-tip: Commenter raider111 at Comment is Free for making me aware of the Mail on Sunday article discussed below.

An article in the Mail on Sunday published in October 2006 described an 'impartiality summit' called by BBC chairman Michael Grade1. BBC executives are described as agreeing that 'a Bible could be shown to be thrown into a dustbin on a comedy programme ('Room 101'), but not a Koran', and admitting that the Corporation:

"...deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians"
In response to the article, an Editors Blog2 at the BBC News website written by Helen Boaden that, well, doesn't refute most of the claims of the article, apart from one dubious description of the summit as having been 'secret'.

Can anyone seriously deny that the BBC is 'more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians'? The 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' controversy, in which a performance of a play considered by some Christians to be a 'wilful denigration' of their beliefs3 was broadcast in full on the BBC is perhaps the most-cited example of the double standard. Indeed, the evangelists who brought a blasphemy case against the BBC made essentially the same point:
"The show was...one that no-one would dream of making about the prophet Mohammed and Islam — two judges were told."3

This issue reared its head once again this week with the announcement that "the BBC's version of the Nativity this Christmas will depict Mary and Joseph as asylum seekers rejected by brutal Britain"4. Iain Dale, hardly a seasoned BBC-basher, made essentially the same point in response5:
"We look forward to the BBC Drama Department making insulting dramas about other religions. No names, no pack drill. But they won't. They would be too scared of the reaction, whereas they think Christians and Jews will just sit there and take it. One day they may be surprised." - Iain Dale
As did Charles Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday that he would "bet Jonathan Ross's salary" that the BBC would not make even a sympathetic drama about the life of Mohammed6.

You can't seriously deny that, as reported by the Mail on Sunday1, the BBC are more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians. And, honestly, I haven't even seen a serious attempt at it. Pro-BBC bloggers and commentators dance around this issue rather than confronting it. Sunny Hundal on Comment is Free on Monday7 is typical of this. He quotes Iain Dale's post above, calls it an 'example of muddled thinking', but doesn't even try to argue that the BBC's treatment of Christianity isn't unfair when compared to that of Islam - Because it is, and Hundal knows it.

The discussion on this issue I took part in today on an unrelated Comment is Free thread, Theo Hobson's 'Nothing is Sacred'8 centred not on whether the double standard exists, but whether it is right. (Hobson, too, acknowledges that the BBC "would not dare to make a film about the life of Muhammad"). The rationale for this espoused by commenters 'diotavelli' and 'necroflange': That it's common sense in the face of militancy.

diotavelli: "The BBC should not self-censor so that Muslim fundamentalists won't get upset - but there is a strong case to say they should self-censor if the alternative is that people will die needlessly...Principles matter but some battles are more worth fighting than others."

necroflange: "It is a pragmatic and obvious fact that mocking these minority groups will (a) bring a huge storm of contraversy and (b) pander to prejudiced elements already present within our society. So why be bloody minded about it? It would be idiotic of the BBC to start some huge storm of controversy for the sake of some bizarre idea of balancing out the insults.
Sometimes pragmatism has to trump principle."

Remember, we're not talking about a newspaper where if you are unhappy with the political slant or religious favouritism you can buy something else or go without. Like it or not, none of us - Christian or Muslim, socialist or libertarian, Labour or Tory - have that option with the BBC. In fact even if we only want to watch DVDs on a TV, and never watch the Beeb at all, we still have to fund them. So isn't it time there was at the very least an honest debate about this situation, rather than weaselling and half-baked denials.

Because if there can't be openness about admitting such an obvious, and perhaps justifiable (if you accept the arguments of diotavelli and necroflange - I do not) case of imbalance, why should anyone be prepared to believe that the Corporation are committed to impartiality in other matters?

More:
BBC Impartiality Guidelines
Biased BBC Blog


1. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=411846&in_page_id=1770
2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2006/10/bias_at_the_bbc.html
3. http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article2908833.ece
4. http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/393311/the-bash-britain-corporation.thtml
5. http://www.iaindale.blogspot.com/2007/12/bbc-casts-jesus-mary-as-asylum-seekers.html
6. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/12/08/do0805.xml
7.
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sunny_hundal/2007/12/a_festive_gathering_to_avoid.html
8. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/theo_hobson/2007/12/nothing_is_sacred.html

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