BBC defends Baroness Thatcher Ding Dong song decision

Ben Cooper says the decision is a "compromise" but not a "fudge"

The BBC has defended its decision not to play in full on Radio 1's Official Chart Show a song at the centre of an anti-Baroness Thatcher campaign.

A five second clip of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead will be played in a news item on Sunday's show.

BBC Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper said the move over the Wizard of Oz film track had been a difficult compromise.

He said he had to balance respect for someone who had just died with issues around freedom of speech.

Sales of the song, from the 1939 musical starring Judy Garland, have soared since former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher's death on Monday, aged 87.

'Grieving family'

Speaking to BBC News, Mr Cooper said: "You have a track which I believe is disrespectful. It is not a political track, it is a personal attack on an individual who has just died.

"But on the other hand, if I ban the track then you have arguments about censorship and freedom of speech.

"I also took into account the very difficult scenario of the fact there's a grieving family involved here who have yet to bury a loved one.

"We should respect the dead... I think it's absolutely atrocious"

"So those sort of elements were in my thinking to come up with this decision that I would play not the track in full, but a clip of the track within a journalistic environment."

The single is set to take the number three spot in Sunday's countdown, according to the Official Charts Company.

Meanwhile, a serving police officer who posted offensive messages on Twitter following Lady Thatcher's death has resigned.

Sgt Jeremy Scott, of the Metropolitan Police, is reported to have written that he hoped her death was "painful and degrading".

Scotland Yard said Sgt Scott's resignation was accepted with immediate effect.

The Met's Commander Allan Gibson added: "This officer's behaviour was completely unacceptable and it is right that he has resigned."

'Distasteful and inappropriate'

In his BBC blog, Mr Cooper explained that - as controller of Radio 1 - there were times when "you find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place".

And the corporation released a statement, saying: "The BBC finds this campaign distasteful, but does not believe the record should be banned.

Wizard of Oz lobby card and Margaret Thatcher

"On Sunday, the Radio 1 Chart Show will contain a news item explaining why the song is in the charts, during which a short clip will be played, as it has been in some of our news programmes."

BBC director general Tony Hall said: "I understand the concerns about this campaign. I personally believe it is distasteful and inappropriate.

"However, I do believe it would be wrong to ban the song outright as free speech is an important principle and a ban would only give it more publicity."

The original song was performed in the Wizard of Oz by characters celebrating the demise of a much-hated witch.

Rival campaigns are under way to get a song considered to be more favourable to Lady Thatcher into this week's countdown as well.

Capital FM, which has its own chart show, said the station was currently "reviewing the situation".

'Political hijack'

The Conservative chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, John Whittingdale, said the BBC's decision was a sensible compromise.

Jarvis Cocker: ''It's a free speech issue''

"I don't think it would have been right to have allowed the Chart Show to have been hijacked for political purposes and had they played the whole song, that would have been the consequence," he said.

"But on the other hand, they couldn't have just ignored the fact that it does feature amongst the most downloaded singles of the week."

However, the Conservative MP for Reading East, Rob Wilson, said the track should be played in its entirety.

He said: "I think that Margaret Thatcher would be horrified having helped free millions of people in eastern Europe and been the symbol of freedom around the world that she could in any way have censorship in her own country.

"The BBC has had a very difficult decision and it's come up with a very British old-fashioned fudge."

Singer Jarvis Cocker told the BBC that Lady Thatcher may not have minded the controversy.

Mr Cocker, who has a show on BBC Radio 6 Music, said: "This is a premier who seemed to thrive on conflict and stuff like that. You can't have somebody who's so divisive in the country pass away and there be no negative reaction to it."

DJ Paul Gambaccini said Sunday's show had become "part of the BBC history of censorship".

Funeral preparations

In another development, Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall urged people attending a party to mark Lady Thatcher's death not to celebrate in the name of the 96 football supporters who died in 1989.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend the party outside St George's Hall in Liverpool on Wednesday.

Two Conservative MPs have called for one of Britain's main airports to be renamed Margaret Thatcher International.

Stephen Metcalfe and Eleanor Laing put down an early day motion, saying it would recognise her "colossal achievements".

Preparations are continuing for Lady Thatcher's funeral at St Paul's Cathedral in London on Wednesday.

Downing Street released the names of more guests who will attend, including US politician Newt Gingrich and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Advertising magnate Lord Maurice Saatchi, web pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee and singer Katherine Jenkins have also accepted invitations.

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