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Caryl Churchill's 'Seven Jewish Children'

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer 13:08, Monday, 16 March 2009

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.



  • Comment number 1.

    According to the Guardian the play explores how adults would explain to children seven key moments in Israeli and Jewish history, including the Holocaust, the first Intifada and the present-day bombing of Gaza. Sounds reasonable to me - and I have thought about it.

    The Israel/Palestine issue has become taboo. The arts can enlighten, widen perspectives and loosen up mindsets and frankly, I just don't understand your decision. Isn't this what the arts are for to some extent?

    Mark (Damazer) as a matter of interest, would these guidelines have allowed the BBC to broadcast a drama about black South Africans living under apartheid, had it still existed today?

  • Comment number 2.


    i have to agreed with the bbc's decision not to commissioned this item...

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 3.

    So what if the play is critical of Israel? The very reason that we have the Middle East problem today is because in the past there has be too much 'impartiality'.

    If the play is brilliant, as has been said, and is partial, highlighting the general Israeli attitude towards the Palestinians, excellent - two good reasons for airing it.

  • Comment number 4.

    On the BBC in the past there have been numerous documentaries, movies, dramas etc, which have been highly partisan and massively critical of Governments and regimes.

    Why the outbreak of cold feet?

    After the disgraceful debacle of the DEC appeal, could it be the subject matter of this play that has the BBC cowering?

  • Comment number 5.

    The Royal Court has made the full text of the play available at the theatre's web site. You can download a PDF from this page: https://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whatson01.asp?play=548.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 6.

    Ref # 5 Steve Bowbrick

    Thanks but no thanks - I'd rather see it performed.

  • Comment number 7.

    'My BBC right or wrong' does Mark Damazer have 'form'?


  • Comment number 8.

    Ref #7 Jackturk,

    Nice research Jack - I wasn't aware of this even though I was paying close attention to news about Iraq at that time (2002). I knew about the UN report - 5000 deaths a month through sanctions - but missed this controversy completely.

    It would be better if programmes are fairly balanced, but I can forgive the odd biased report or documentary which is sometimes necessary , provided there is not consistent bias. However, there does appear to be a consistent bias at Editorial level favouring Israel in the Middle East. And you do get the impression - well I do - that individual reporters are uncomfortably following a 50/50 remit, even when there is devastation on one side and minor damage on the other.

    Perhaps the BBC should tackle the problem head-on - and address their critics on both sides - by making two programmes - one from a Palestinian perspective and one from an Israeli perspective.

  • Comment number 9.

    #8 Richard wrote - Perhaps the BBC should tackle the problem head-on - and address their critics on both sides - by making two programmes - one from a Palestinian perspective and one from an Israeli perspective.

    Great idea - but we both know which one would be aired and which one canned.

  • Comment number 10.

    In defence of the decision not to broadcast, Jeremy Howe said:-

    "I think it would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill's view".

    Is Howe sure it is Churchill's view and could it not be a view that she obtained from sources such as this?:-

    "In order to grasp the latest devastating and murderous Israeli expedition in Gaza, one must deeply comprehend the Israeli identity and its inherent hatred towards anyone who is not Jewish and towards Arabs in particular. This hatred is imbued in the Israeli curriculum, it is preached by political leaders and implied by their acts, and it is conveyed by cultural figures, even within the so-called “Israeli left”." https://www.redress.cc/zionism/gatzmon20081230

    And this:-


    Anyway, why does the view need to be countered? Why can't a different view be broadcast rather than a 'counter' view. Doesn't the way that statement is phrased give the game away?

    8 Richard
    "devastation on one side and minor damage on the other".

    Is the salient point, i.e. there is name-calling on both sides but it is the Israelis who have the 'sticks and stones'

  • Comment number 11.

    I have to agree with the thrust of David Edgar's comments on the Media Show. He raised the spectre of whether the reasons for this particular rejection would presage a future direction in radio drama whereby every piece that put forward a certain view would have to be balanced with an equivalent piece putting forward a contrary view. As Edgar noted, that way madness lies were it to be a matter of BBC policy.

    I am not familiar with the piece in question, nor am I interested in taking sides on the content of the piece, but I am concerned that the BBC should shy away from partisanship in the area of drama. I think the key decision should be solely whether a piece works as good radio drama. Other considerations must remain secondary. (A good example of controversial partisan drama about a topical subject was "What I Heard About Iraq", A Friday Play from 2007. Great stuff, and it worked fabulously on radio.)

    Please, please, don't gag radio drama.


  • Comment number 12.

    I am sure that you could come up with something better, Mark. Perhaps you could approach Caryl Churchill directly, and potentially commission something for Radio 4?


  • Comment number 13.

    What happened to "publish and be damned"?

  • Comment number 14.

    I have wanted to do this post for some time but have been reluctant. When the IDF went into Gaza and the number of civilian casualties mounted, I had grave concerns as to how a professional army could conduct a campaign in a civilian area which resulted in over 400 children dead?

    400 children killed changes everything. How they died changes nothing.

    Could it be that certain sections of the IDF were influenced/instructed/enticed to ignore basic human principles and do the bidding of their masters? The latest news from the Oranim Academic would seem to support that statement.


    Zionist have known for the longest time that the birth rate amongst Palestinians was far higher than that of the Israelis. It is not rocket-science to do the math and arrive at the conclusion that at some stage there would be more Palestinians than Israelis.

    Is that why they killed the mothers and children?

  • Comment number 15.

    "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...

  • Comment number 16.

    You can keep the impartiality :-)

    Here is the twin play, from asn Israeli PoW


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

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

    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

  • Comment number 17.

    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

  • Comment number 18.

    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

  • Comment number 19.

    @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: https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/sporteditors/ and the BBC Internet blog: https://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: https://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 20.

    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!!

  • Comment number 21.

    @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: https://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 22.

    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.

  • Comment number 23.

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

  • Comment number 24.

    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


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


    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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