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November 22, 2010

Murder in Beirut, Censorship in London?

Memorial Shrine for Rafik Hariri(Wikipedia Commons)

Will the BBC cower in the face of Hezbollah threats?

It's a legitimate question.

The BBC has reportedly delayed the broadcast of Murder in Beirut, a documentary about the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri in 2005.

The documentary, which according to numerous reports, implicates Hezbollah in Hariri’s murder, was originally slated to air on Saturday Nov. 20, but the BCC pulled the show at the last minute and has so far not set a new broadcast date for the documentary.

The Guardian reports that insiders at the BBC “admit there is nervousness about its impact in the current volatile climate.? The Guardian provides more detail:

Nadim Shehadi, a Lebanon expert at the Chatham House thinktank in London, said: "There is an atmosphere of terror in Beirut. It may be a deliberate campaign to apply pressure to the tribunal. It is almost as if there is a communications strategy."

The producer, Christopher Mitchell, told the Guardian: "It is true that the film's transmission has suddenly been postponed. I am assured by the BBC that the series hasn't been dropped. Stories about the Middle East are … highly sensitive and go through a lengthy period of fact-checking and approval. I hope it will appear in the near future. Was this justified? I don't yet know, though I understand the sensitivities involved. Murder in Beirut tackles a difficult subject and everybody on the production worked hard to make sure it was as fair and accurate as possible. Naturally we are very disappointed that the broadcast has been delayed."

A BBC spokesman said: "All programmes shown by BBC World News must comply with the BBC's editorial guidelines. This applies equally to programmes we commission from the BBC, independents or, in this case, bought-in programmes. From time to time, the compliance process requires more time to complete. This can affect scheduling. This series of programmes falls into this category."

If the BBC does back down and refrains from broadcasting the documentary, it will not be the first time that a major network has behaved in such a manner. In a piece published in The New York Times in 2003, Eason Jordan, a former news executive for CNN admitted that the network refrained from reporting about human rights abuses in Iraq for fear of reprisals against CNN employees.

The sad fact is that threats and violence affect coverage of the Middle East.

The Guardian reported that the BBC “has not been warned specifically to screen the series…? Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezollah, has stated however, that he will cut off the hand of anyone who tries to arrest members of his organization for Hariri’s death. With this threat – made as the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon is preparing to issue indictments – Nasrallah has revealed himself, once again for what he is – a leader of an authoritarian mass movement intent on undermining the rule of law and Lebanon’s nascent democratic institutions. In other words, a fascist.

Ominously enough, an investigator from the STL was attacked by a group of veil-clad assailants in late October. The investigator's briefcase was stolen. This is exactly the type of street thuggery that fascist movements engage in prior to staging overthrows.

Will the BBC allow Hezbollah to set its editorial policy? If it does, then all that talk about the BBC Trust's decision to uphold a complaint against Jeremy Bowen seems a bit overheated, now doesn't it?

CBC Stepping into the Breach

Fortunately, the CBC is apparently willing to do what the BBC is apparently afraid of doing -- cover the story and let the chips fall where they may. The CBC has posted a lengthy article about the assassination. Video of the CBC's investigation can be seen below.

Posted by dvz at November 22, 2010 02:25 PM


The BBC doesn't cower in the face of Hizbullah threats. It actively works to legitimise Hizbullah as a national and international player with whom the British and other governments should do business.

The BBC admits its error in this case and promises not to do it again!

Posted by: David Guy at November 30, 2010 03:41 AM

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