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Caryl Churchill's 'Seven Jewish Children'

Monday 16 March 2009, 13:08

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

The Guardian has a piece today about our decision not to commission a short piece, written by Caryl Churchill, about the recent war in Gaza.

The piece ran for a fortnight in February at The Royal Court Theatre in London - and it was sent to us, unsolicited, to consider. It was powerful but I did not think it right to commission it.

Why? The BBC's obligation to impartiality is not restricted to factual programmes only. It apples to drama. That may seem odd to some - on the grounds that we are not dealing with matters of observed fact - but nevertheless if the BBC set aside its impartiality concerns when dealing with fiction we could end up with a particular 'take' on an issue that would amount to partisanship.

I quote from the BBC's Editorial Guidelines:

Impartiality & drama
When drama realistically portrays living people or contemporary situations in a controversial way it has an obligation to be accurate and to do justice to the main facts. If the drama is accurate but is a partisan or partial portrayal of a controversial subject we should normally only proceed if we believe that its insight and excellence justify the platform offered. Even so we must ensure that its nature is clearly signposted to our audience. When a drama is likely to prove particularly controversial we must consider whether to offer an alternative view in other output on the same service."

I do not wish to suggest that this is cut-and-dried. Drama should be able to provoke, to explore political subjects and to stretch the mind and imagination in ways that are different to news or documentary output. But it was my judgement that this particular piece did not work as a stand-alone short drama.



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    Comment number 1.

    According to the Guardian the play explores how adults would explain to children seven key moments in Israeli and Jewish history, including the Holocaust, the first Intifada and the present-day bombing of Gaza. Sounds reasonable to me - and I have thought about it.

    The Israel/Palestine issue has become taboo. The arts can enlighten, widen perspectives and loosen up mindsets and frankly, I just don't understand your decision. Isn't this what the arts are for to some extent?

    Mark (Damazer) as a matter of interest, would these guidelines have allowed the BBC to broadcast a drama about black South Africans living under apartheid, had it still existed today?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.


    i have to agreed with the bbc's decision not to commissioned this item...

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    So what if the play is critical of Israel? The very reason that we have the Middle East problem today is because in the past there has be too much 'impartiality'.

    If the play is brilliant, as has been said, and is partial, highlighting the general Israeli attitude towards the Palestinians, excellent - two good reasons for airing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    On the BBC in the past there have been numerous documentaries, movies, dramas etc, which have been highly partisan and massively critical of Governments and regimes.

    Why the outbreak of cold feet?

    After the disgraceful debacle of the DEC appeal, could it be the subject matter of this play that has the BBC cowering?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The Royal Court has made the full text of the play available at the theatre's web site. You can download a PDF from this page: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whatson01.asp?play=548.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog


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