bbc.co.uk
Home
Explore the BBC
You and Yours - Transcript
BBC Radio 4
Print This Page
TX: 30.07.09 - Motor Neurone Disease

PRESENTER: Shari Vahl
Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.


VAHL
How much can we cope with images of people suffering from disease? The Watchdog has decided a campaign by the Motor Neurone Disease Association, to highlight the impact of the condition, has gone too far and has banned the advertisement from television screens. The commercial attempts to portray how it would be feeling to be affected by this fatal condition but Clearcast, the body which regulates television advertising, says it's too disturbing to be broadcast in homes. The 90 second film tells the story of Sarah Ezekiel, who was diagnosed with MND when she was 34.

It shows Sarah, initially played by an actress, being thrown violently around the room apparently by an invisible force to illustrate how she felt as the disease stripped her body of feeling and control.

CLIP FROM ADVERT
Now you know how it feels to get Motor Neurone Disease. Help us fight back.

VAHL
Joining me are Donna Cresswell from the Motor Neurone Disease Association and Alice Shelley from Clearcast.

The real Sarah is seen in the ad sitting in a wheelchair in her underwear. Her wasted limbs are filmed close up. She communicates with a keyboard and her words are translated by a computer. And she told our reporter Henrietta Harrison why she got involved.

EZEKIEL
I've been trying to raise awareness of MND for several years mainly by writing and giving presentations. When I saw the storyboard for the film I knew that this was a fantastic way to show the impact of MND visually. When I was diagnosed I felt absolutely petrified by the changes taking place within my body, the choking, falling and feeling of being attacked were very real and frightening. In my opinion Sarah's Story depicts a diagnosis of MND with truth and accuracy.

HARRISON
In the film Sarah's or your clothes come off and you're shown in your underwear - why is that necessary?

EZEKIEL
I wanted to show how this disease destroys the muscles and totally changes the sufferer's body. This transformation affected me emotionally as well as physically and is devastating. I was a young healthy and attractive woman. I don't know how these physical changes could be shown if I were fully clothed. I actually insisted that my body be filmed for this reason.

HARRISON
How does it feel for the reality of your experience to be deemed too shocking or disturbing for adult viewing on TV?

EZEKIEL
I'm very disappointed that my story can't be shown on TV. MND can strike anyone at any time as it did to me and I believe that people have a right to know. If the public knew that they were at risk of contracting a terminal progressive illness I think they would want a treatment to be found. Without more public awareness I fear that this disease will continue to be a silent killer.

HARRISON
How do you feel about the offered compromise to allow the ad if it's edited, if it's cut?

EZEKIEL
I don't see how Sarah's Story can be cut and still be realistic. Other shocking adverts are shown on TV so why is one about a terrible illness not allowed to be seen? This is a true story featuring a real sufferer - how can that fact be changed?

VAHL
Sarah Ezekiel speaking to Henrietta Harrison.

Well Alice Shelley is from Clearcast. Clearcast is the body which decides whether or not adverts can be broadcast on television.

Alice Shelley, we heard Sarah say there that in reality this illness is far worse than what was depicted, so how far should the television audience be protected from reality?

SHELLEY
It's a very difficult question this, isn't it. I mean if only it were simple and black and white. If you take any sort of charity advertising or public service advertising there has to surely be some sort of a limit on how far you go to depict accurately what happens. We all know what happens if you have drink driving accidents or speeding accidents or poverty and starvation - are we going to see pictures of dead bodies, dismembered bodies? There has to come a point surely where we say actually you can raise awareness of things without force feeding people images that are too distressing for them to take.

VAHL
But there are lots of very disturbing charity advertisements around at the moment, I mean there's the stroke campaign which shows someone losing control of their face and that Bernardo's advertisement where the teenager is slapped - they're very shocking images but why is this one more so?

SHELLEY
Well I think for a start it's a very long ad, I mean your average television advert is either 20 or 30 seconds, this is 90 seconds. You have no idea when you're watching it what it's about, what it's for, you don't know what you're seeing - it could be a trailer for a horror movie for all you know. You're seeing some very disturbing, very distressing images of a woman being stripped, being brutalised by some unseen force. And you don't know what it is you're seeing. That puts it in a slightly different league, we would say, to some of the other adverts that you referred to which are shorter and punchier and more obviously adverts for a charity or for something like that.

VAHL
Donna Cresswell from the Motor Neurone Disease Association, that's true - I've seen this advertisement and you've no idea what it's for until the very end.

CRESSWELL
What we've done with this advert is we've tried to draw people in through intrigue. Very often if you label something - a charity ad - right at the beginning it's quite a turn off for people. So we've drawn people in, we're telling a very complex story in 90 seconds. We're starting with someone who is healthy, we show the impact of the diagnosis, the impact of this devastating disease that kills five people every day in the UK on the body and at the end you see her in a wheelchair. So that's a lot to pack in. And we felt that it was really important to show the whole story because the awareness of Motor Neurone Disease is so low in this country.

VAHL
The very first shots are of a pretty girl who's clearly in her early 30s picked up by an invisible force and flung against a wall and it's a very violent image - do you think people with children at home would be really wanting their children to see the violent image because they can't explain what that is to their children?

CRESSWELL
Absolutely not. This film has adult material and we would recommend that it's only seen by adults. And this is what we proposed to Clearcast. It's really important to put safeguards in place to ensure that the vulnerable and the young are protected from images like this because we realise there is a line and we don't want to cross that line. So what we suggested to them is put it on after a very late watershed - 10 o'clock at night - make sure that it's not alongside material of a family nature and also we would suggest today one new thing to Clearcast to help them put this on air and that is let's put on a warning before it - like you get it on some of the news items - this following material could contain images that could distress people and that would give people time to switch off the television set if they didn't want to view it.

VAHL
Did you make this deliberately shocking because there's nothing more attractive and worthy of discussion than something that has been banned by a watchdog, banned by an organisation? There are posters all over the Underground, there are posters all over the stations all over the UK saying we can't say this it's been banned.

CRESSWELL
We didn't set out to make something shocking for the sake of shock but we what we set out to do is to tell the truth about Motor Neurone Disease and there's no getting away from it - Motor Neurone Disease is a very shocking disease and that's what we're trying to get across.

VAHL
But it's not enormous is it, it's not anything like the numbers of people who suffer from stroke or who are involved with cardiac conditions which can be equally debilitating. Does this condition - is it worthy of that kind of shocking image when it looks like violence being - looks like someone being attacked?

CRESSWELL
Five people die every day. By the time you and I go to bed tonight five people will die. They will die every single day until we can find a cure. The life expectancy is on average two to five years and we don't have time to hang around with this, we've got to find a cure, we've got to raise awareness, that will generate support, support will generate funds and the funds will bring in the vital research we need to find a cure.

VAHL
Alice Shelley from Clearcast, this advertisement has been passed for broadcast in the cinema, so clearly it can be seen by the public, what would you allow on the television of this ad?

SHELLEY
I can't really be drawn on exactly the nuts and bolts of what would or would not be acceptable, that I think is something that would have to be considered sort of in confidence with the advertiser, with their advertising agency, I can't really get into that, as it were. We accept obviously that it has been deemed acceptable for cinema but then the cinema viewing experience is not the same as the television viewing experience. People go to the cinema with a better idea of exactly what they're going to see and what's going to be involved in what they see. Television is a rather more random thing - you may not necessarily make your mind up as to what you're going to be watching, you may be channel hopping and we know that viewers are a great deal less tolerant of advertising on television than they are of programming on television. So therefore the two media are not the same and you can't completely make the same judgements as far as those two media are concerned.

VAHL
Alice Shelley from Clearcast and Donna Cresswell from the Motor Neurone Disease Association, thank you both.

Back to the You and Yours homepage

The BBC is not responsible for external websites

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy