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Why the BBC won't censor its archive

David Jordan

BBC's Director of Editorial Policy and Standards

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"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there" - the famous quote from LP Hartley's novel "The Go Between", could well apply to some of the holdings in the BBC archive. The BBC has exciting aspirations to open up its vast archive and place as much as it can online, as Roly Keating, Director of Archive Content, has blogged.

Dating back to 1922, the archive contains a wealth of material which will provide a fascinating window on the past, seen through the prism of the BBC; and now we are committed to providing our audiences with as complete an archive as is technically and financially feasible.

There are some parts of the archive that we can't make available - for example where it subsequently turns out that the BBC defamed someone and we risk repeating the libel. Or, another example would be where we might put someone's life at risk by repeating a programme. Or where we do not have the copyright to use the material again and therefore cannot re-broadcast it.

That window will also reveal how much the world has changed in the last ninety years and as you may have seen. BBC radio and television programmes, and more recently our online content, are created according to the BBC editorial standards of their time. They reflect the attitudes and standards of their day and from the turbulent years of the Thirties, with the rise of Fascism, to the "flower power" days of the late Sixties, society and values have evolved.

The use of language has also evolved too. There is language in our archive spoken or written in a way or context that the BBC would not consider appropriate today. However it is also not appropriate for us to censor history and impose today's standards on the past.

So where archive content is considered to be of historic or cultural interest but would not normally be broadcast by the BBC today because standards or attitudes have changed, we will signpost to audiences that it is not contemporary and should be viewed or listened to in historical context. We will make people aware of the content, its context and the time period in which it was first broadcast and let our audiences judge whether it is for them or not.

If you want to read more, the BBC's current Editorial Guidelines include a chapter on Re-use and Reversioning which set out the principles we apply in releasing our archive.

David Jordan is the BBC's Director of Editorial Policy and Standards

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