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May 08, 2012

BBC Justifies Self Censorship in the Face of Threats of Violence

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In an interview on free speech, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, implies that the threat of violence from religious Muslims influences the BBC's decisions on which shows it airs. His acknowledgement and justification of self-censorship has to be disheartening to all defenders of free speech. The BBC is the world's largest media organization and is sustained by the British government.

Questioned about the conflict between free speech and offending people's religious beliefs, Thompson justifies censorship in criticizing some religious figures [but not others] by suggesting that such criticism can be more "heinous" than harming real people.

... they believe that their faith refers to things which have an objective reality. And so, for example, they regard blasphemy as causing objective harm. So it’s not just that a blasphemous statement or act would hurt their feelings or anger them because it went against their opinions; it would do actual objective harm. That offending of an act of sacrilege against the god head or religious figure, actually creates harm in the world as it were and might be as heinous or more heinous than harm to a human being.

Thompson then shifts from the abstract to the specific:

I think you have to tread really quite carefully and sensitively because of the character. The point is that for a Muslim, a depiction – particularly a comical or demeaning depiction of the Prophet Muhammad – might have the force, the emotional force, of a piece of a grotesque child pornography. One of the mistakes seculars make is I think not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.
Interviewer Timothy Garton-Ash: But it is an ace, isn’t it? And a rather nasty ace if people say, “I feel so strongly about that; if you say it or broadcast it, I will kill you.”

Thompson: Well clearly it’s a very notable move in the game, I mean without question. “I complain in the strongest possible terms” is different from “I complain in the strongest possible terms and I’m loading my AK47 as I write.” This definitely raises the stakes. But I think there’s two or three things going on, so manifestly a threat to murder, which by the way is quite rightly a crime, massively raises the stakes.

In more veiled language, Thompson also implies that such threats sway the BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Ash: What, if I may just interrupt for a moment, what are the areas in your experience, your great experience as a broadcaster, have you experienced threats of violence, threats to murder?

Thompson: Well, the coverage of Israel-Palestine, and one or two other conflicts in the world, can lead to and have in my case led to threats of violence. Our editorial decision-making, where someone has come to believe you are not doing it fairly, or maybe likely not to do it fairly, have been threatened once, twice in my career about one or two major conflicts, which have some of the same features: a sense of victimhood, a sense of conspiracy – you know conspiracists who believe everyone else is conspiracist, and so forth – and a sense that the desperation or the circumstance means that the normal don’t apply.

Thompson does not spell out who is making the threats. But the penchant for sharp criticism of Israel's government and a pronounced pro-Palestinian tilt in the BBC coverage has been widely noted. The BBC does not hesitate to criticize Israel, but seems more hesitant to expose the underside of the Palestinians. That observation, along with the contrast between Israeli society's unfettered and openly critical press and the media control and intimidation practiced by the Palestinian Authority, suggest that the threats are coming from the Palestinian side.

I guess we should be thankful that even this interview passed the BBC censor.

Posted by SS at May 8, 2012 01:31 PM

Comments

At least some kind of admission that the scales of Justice are not evenly balanced. Jews have been screaming against the BBC's anti Israel bias for years and now an attempt to jusify it. I think the word cowardly springs to mind. Do they not consider for a moment how many Israeli's and Jews have died because of the dishonest and cowardly portayal of the truth. How much fertile ground has the BBC created for the anti Semitic enemies of the State of Israel who portray in every kind of Media the same bias that the BBC has portrayed and given its "Blessing" to. How many "innocents" make important decisions based on dishonest reporting and outright lies, which affects the real innocents. How much has been denied the Palestinian people in reaction to these falsehoods. How many graves and mourners?

Posted by: RussellG at May 11, 2012 11:02 AM

The BBC has always been anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. In recent conflicts it has gone so far as to retouch and fabricate photos to make Israel look bad. It also routinely uses photos fed to it by the terrorists' media agencies and presents those often-doctored photos as "reportage." It is little-known, BTW, that the BBC mandate is to support the goals of the British government; there is NO mandate requiring or even encouraging honesty.

As to the above brief interview, the BBC spokesman can be characterized as a mealy-mouth coward. As is the BBC itself.

Is it true that BBC stands for "bigoted broadcasting company?"

Posted by: Jason Barnes at May 11, 2012 01:52 PM

You may be confusing BBC World Service's mandate with the (ignored) ethical guidelines of BBC News.

Posted by: gi at May 11, 2012 02:03 PM

What you reveal here is not self-sensorship, it is intimidation. If Arab zealots are intimidating an entity like BBC, something is wrong with British internal security.

Posted by: Baruch Cohon at May 11, 2012 04:18 PM

The insistent false reporting by the Guardian, and now this open admission by the BBC is a clear demonstration of how bowed England has become by its Sharia Law factions and Americans should take it as a warning. The Guardian as all CAMERA readers know,reported the high end figure of 1600 Palestinians in Israeli jails on hunger strikes. 1600 is a ridiculous figure, perhaps as many as 300 are involved in the hunger strike. Secondly, even if they were 'charged" and merely held under suspicion, who is to say they would not still be on a hunger strike? They can’t achieve by violence what they want so now they are following the template suggested by President Obama (2009, in speaking to the Islamic Palestinian community challenged, “Where is your Martin Luther King?” the problem is Reverand King had a much different end in mind and historically can proven to be pro-American.) to use peacfeful resistance for the same purposes as a loaded gun. This is standing peaceful resistance on its head to achieve goals that will be utterly ruthless, the “Right of Return” and the subjugation of all non-Muslims living in “Islamic lands”. This article is another that clearly demonstrates the degree to which western journalists have submitted to direct threats and are intimidation by violence. An example of what the posers of peace may accomplish following President Obama’s suggestion is the increased numbers of Coptics who have fled a Muslim Brotherhood, Sharia Law state that is imposing strict religious laws and where burning churches has become so common it is no longer reported. We need people in leadership who have a clear vision of the reality of Islamist's ends and not the fantasy facade of Peacnik activists whose fictions are as destructful as roadside bombs. And the reporting of which is as diluted as that which reached FDR about Stalin being a strong leader of the people while his many crimes against the Soviet peoples was ignored. History has a cruel way of repeating itself.

Posted by: jeb stuart at May 13, 2012 10:41 AM

BBC has really tarnished its former reputation for objectively covering a subject. The Sarah Montague interview with Norman Finklestein was propaganda, not fact, and so unbelievably misleading and biased against Israel. No wonder the British people have turned anti-Israel/and anti-Semitic because of the garbage they are being dished out by interviews with leftist radicals like Finklestein who is NO EXPERT on Israel or anything else for that matter. He has an opinion, just like everybody has an opinion, but his is so damning that Israel can do nothing right. It would surely be refreshing if for once, your organization would have an interviewer with a little depth of knowledge on the subject (which Montague obviously did not) so they could challenge an eccentric like Finklestein who believes his own lies and smears so deeply, he passes them off as facts. This is disgusting, slanted, biased propaganda, not news worthy.

Posted by: j. lincoln at May 17, 2012 02:52 PM

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