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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.

UPDATE

Comments

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  • Comment number 24. Posted by cping500

    on 1 Jun 2009 06:47

    The background on this issue is that as commentors (sic)
    have hinted there are powerful lobby groups which will criticise the BBC, offered any reasonable opportunity, and mount complaints. The link here from the BBC Trust show this in action in this area

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/appeals/esc_bulletins/2009/mar.txt

    (There is a link to the pdf version here (March 3rd link))

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/appeals/editorial_appeal_findings.html

    Editorially the BBC has to judge if it is worth the risk and expense of devoting resources to a controversial topic if lobbyists a likely to mount a campaign questioning facts and balance, however strong the BBC case is.

    Since the text of the play is freely available it only remains to arrange for a performance or reading to be posted to Your Tube (legally) for a wider audience to be reached.

    The BBC could then report the controversy orchestrated by the rival lobby groups.

    Controversial speech is only free when you can afford it in the UK.

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  • Comment number 23. Posted by cping500

    on 31 May 2009 13:10

    This comment was removed because it broke the house rules. Explain

  • Comment number 22. Posted by Paul Macdonald

    on 25 May 2009 14:39

    I am coming more and more to the view that the BBC avoids all criticism of Israel. My perception is that whenever possible the powers within the BBC will unfairly support Israel's position. There has been a noticeable change in the last two years. This drama is another example where the BBC could have taken a risk but decided not to do so. The reasons for not doing so are tame.
    The BBC has on many occasions been courageous and as a result deserved a reputation as a fair minded broadcaster. However, this reputation is being sacrificed because they have been got at by the Israel PR machine or the Friends of Israel. Sad.

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  • Comment number 21. Posted by Steve Bowbrick

    on 3 Apr 2009 14:44

    @arlatan I've checked with the moderation team and they confirm that none of your comments have been removed. For future reference, all of your comments - six in all - are shown here, in your public profile page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/profile/?userid=13898619 You can get to your profile page (and that of any other user) by clicking on your username at the top of each comment you've made.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 20. Posted by arlatan

    on 3 Apr 2009 08:24

    Thurs. 2 April I made 2 very critical comments of the new Radio 4 website. There was also another critical comment from another user who found similar problems. These 3 critical comments have been swiftly removed - Mine were only posted for a few hours. Obviously, criticism is very unwelcome.
    The accent on pictures is extremely unhelpful . We want quickly accessible info. on what is available and when. Not pictures!!! or hoops to jump through - which involve spending far too long at the computer. Give us a list of programmes - THAT would be helpful and customer-friendly - unlike the huge unattractive picture which dominates the main page at the moment.
    Lets have a lot less chat about what the creators of the new website have done, and a better response to our criticisms than a swift removal of them within hours of posting. Breathtaking arrogance!!
    arlatan

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Steve Bowbrick

    on 3 Apr 2009 08:17

    @rmsoran I feel your pain. Locating the 'sign in' or 'sign up' links on the blog is much too awkward. The good news, though, is that a redesign of the blogs is imminent and should be installed within weeks. The new look should make it easier to sign up or sign in. You can see the new look in action on some of the BBC's other blogs, like the Sports Editors' blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/sporteditors/ and the BBC Internet blog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet

    @arlatan If your blog comments have been removed it's probably because they broke one of the rules you can read here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/messageboards/newguide/rules_guidelines.shtml Comments on this blog are 'reactively moderated', which means they're not read by a moderator unless brought to their attention - by a host or another user. Moderators work centrally on all blogs and message boards and I don't have any control over what they do.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 18. Posted by arlatan

    on 3 Apr 2009 07:41

    I made 2 very critical comments yesterday - 2 April - and they were posted. Another comment, by someone else, also critical ,posted after 30 Mar. has also been removed. Where are they? - arlatan

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by rmsoran

    on 30 Mar 2009 21:48

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    BBC makes it almost impossible to find the path to the "sign in" for posting comments. I spent almost an hour (and I am a nerd) to find a way to get to post a comment.

    This structure/architecute of ALL BBC sites is unlawful. You need to take urgent action, otherwise I'll sue im July 2009

    Best regards
    Mihai-Robert Soran

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by rmsoran

    on 30 Mar 2009 21:43

    You can keep the impartiality :-)

    Here is the twin play, from asn Israeli PoW

    http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/mandell/entry/8_mothers_in_gaza_a

    Now you got both sides expressing themselves with the same means.

    Both are about 10 - 14 minutes long. Bring them in
    parallel.

    If you don't, then you're still on the timeframe of the 45 minutes ... You know what I Mean!

    I'm Jewish, I'm Israeli. I used to be a member of the special anti terror taems in the 70s. We trained SAS, wie trained GSG9, we trained FBI. I'm not a traitor :-)
    And I want to share with you, what I told Ha'aretz and Jerusalem Post (and they published it)
    "
    Let me be extremely clear: all those allegations are wrong, deliberately false and hypocritical:
    I may testify that there is no one line in the whole play that I didn't already hear from my Jewish friends, relatives, acquaintances as well as from strangers in both Diaspora and Israel. We just don't do it publicly in gentile environments ... But many of us THINK it and ACT accordingly.

    If you don't believe it, then please just read the comments to Gaza and Israel issues in the readers comments in Ha'aretz oder JPost.

    Churchill just shows us in with artistic and political means a MIRROR. What we see and many dislike is to see themselves as they really are in that mirror.

    Of course, the play is one-sided, but this is what arts is all about :-)

    Yes, I am Jewish an I am Israeli. And I hate and fight Hamas, but not the Palestinians. "

    It's up to the remains of the British Empire to decide if they want to öet both sides be brought to the public.

    Democracy says: Yes, it has to be. The Imperial Past says: Who cares?

    BBC has the choice. It sits in a time machine ...

    I request an answer to my feedback, because I am used to talk only to people and companies that are still democratic.

    Regards from Germany and US


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  • Comment number 15. Posted by lordBeddGelert

    on 23 Mar 2009 22:00

    "The BBC's obligation to impartiality is not restricted to factual programmes only. It apples to drama."

    This is poppycock. When the BBC wanted to screen 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' it went ahead because it was 'only' offending the Christian faith.

    Upsetting Jews and Moslems is, it seems, quite another.

    Was it ever thus...

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