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The Chandlers: Censorship in a good cause?

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Rajan Datar | 12:58 UK time, Friday, 19 November 2010

The release of Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple who spent more than a year kidnapped in Somalia, was a major story – but, as the BBC’s Editor of World News, Jon Williams, explained to me, legal measures had forced the media to keep silent until their release.

Paul and Rachel Chandler were held by Somali pirates for 388 days. Picture: Getty Images

The media - including the BBC - had been prohibited from reporting any developments in the case until the Chandlers had left Somalia.

The couple’s family had gone to court in the UK and asked a judge to grant them what’s called a ‘super-injunction ‘ - a legal measure that’s caused controversy as it has often been used by celebrities to stop newspapers publishing stories about their private lives.

As it’s also illegal even to refer to the existence of a super-injunction, the BBC could not explain to listeners and viewers why they were quiet on the story when others, who did not obey the ban – were not. Was this something that concerned the Editor of BBC World News, Jon Williams?

He explained that while the BBC is not in the business of censoring the news, no story is worth a life – and so the BBC accepted the argument of the family, their lawyers and the judge that to do otherwise would jeopardise the safety of Paul and Rachel Chandler.

What do you think? Was this a case of censorship in a good cause?

Jon Williams also discussed with me the question raised by one of our listeners as to whether the blanket coverage of the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in Burma might compromise her security.

Jon explained the difficulties of reporting from Burma, where the BBC is banned, and we also heard about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from an anonymous journalist from the Democratic Voice of Burma, a non-profit media organization which broadcasts into Burma from Oslo, Norway whose journalists work secretly inside Burma and who would face many years in prison if they were discovered.

Finally, in a week which raised questions about whether some stories should be reported, we heard from one listener who felt that far too many headlines were given to the announcement of the forthcoming royal wedding.

Just because the wedding is big news in Britain – does that mean it’s news for you, wherever you are?

Rajan Datar is the Presenter of Over To You

Over To You is your chance to have your say about the BBC World Service and its programmes. It airs at 00:40, 03:40 and 12:40 every Sunday (GMT).

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