BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Hidden condition

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 22:00 UK time, Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Lymphatic Filariasis - commonly known as Elephantiasis - blights the lives of 120 million people. The disease causes grotesque deformities. The drugs necessary to eradicate it are available - but doctors don't have the funds to distribute them.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoOur medical correspondent, Fergus Walsh, went to Ghana to investigate the problem. He came back with images of the impact of the disease on the limbs of one patient and the genitals of another.

The first edit of his report contained a series of shots of a Ghanaian man's penis and deformed scrotum. We talked in great detail about whether it was necessary to show these images. Fergus said that one of the reasons that doctors have struggled to get funding to fight the disease is because there is so little publicity about it. He argued that with a warning, and after the watershed, the audience should be allowed to see its real impact.

I felt we could make the same point by showing fewer shots and setting it all in the context of a studio introduction that made clear to the view what they were about to see.

The issue became more complicated when we heard a complaint about a photograph of the same man which had been used to illustrate an article on the disease Fergus had written for an in-house magazine. The person who complained felt the man's genitals would not have been shown if he had been white. This raised the question of whether we were guilty of having double standards without realising it?

Would we have even filmed the shot if it had been a white male? Fergus and I are convinced we would have done - but decided we should move to a compromise position, in which the scrotum was shown, but the penis was blurred. The same information would be conveyed, with a smaller risk of offence.

We could have removed the shots altogether - but on balance, I believe that would have been the wrong decision. I am sure the audiences of the Ten O'Clock News and BBC World, which is also showing the piece, know from our track record that we do not ever seek to humiliate or shock.

Moreover, simply because an image is uncomfortable does not mean it should be ignored, particularly when one of the reasons this curable disease remains such a problem is because doctors can't get the publicity or funding to combat it.

Professor Johnny Gyapong who is in charge of the Lymphatic Filariasis treatment programme in Ghana made the following comment on hearing about our decision to transmit the piece including the image of the deformed scrotum: "Lymphatic Filariasis is largely a 'hidden and neglected disease', but with grave socio-economic effects. It is my view that the media has a role to inform, educate and communicate the appropriate messages relating to the disease, because the condition is manageable. Through this, we could advocate to all concerned for more resources to enhance the global elimination programme."

This was an extremely complex editorial decision, balancing the need to reveal the reality of a disease against fears that by doing so we were crossing a number of lines. Giving the matter a great deal of thought before broadcast, I believe the correct decision was reached.

You can watch the report by clicking here.


  • 1.
  • At 10:50 PM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • Abena wrote:

whether black or white who cares. every mistake could be positive publicity to create awareness, enhance funding and help eradicate the disease

  • 2.
  • At 10:56 PM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • Michael Roberts wrote:

I appreciate the thinking you put in to these types of editorial decisions - but you're worrying about the wrong thing.

You have become distracted by the issue of showing genital and the possible impact on the tender BBC license payer.

The story - and issue - could have been raised just as well using images of any deformed limb - and you attention could have been kept on the real issue, rather than worrying about whether or not you could show genitals before 9 o'clock

The issue here is that there is a disease the world can do something about but we are generally too complacent, ignorant, or perhaps just too insulated - to actually do something about it.

A good item, but please concentrate on what matters.

  • 3.
  • At 11:15 PM on 14 Nov 2006,
  • Syed Hasan Turab wrote:

During my stay in northern part of Nigeria our labour contractor usually hire Ghanians they were economical and hardworking tough people. While BBC is exposing the Lymphatic Filariasis suffering I remember one scary case like this I hope UN will pay pay attention to Ghana as these people believe in hardworking & earning in right way.

  • 4.
  • At 12:10 AM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Luc Bouvrette wrote:

My father, now 83, has been stricken by another form of elephantiasis since he underwent intense radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Seeing these photos did not shock me, I rather felt compassion for those who suffer from its parasitic form, as I wasn't aware of it before I read the story.

If there had not been photos, I would probably have skimmed over the story, as many of us surf the news on the internet. The power of photography stopped me in my tracks, and thanks to that, I learned even more about a condition whose consequences are not only felt physically, but also psychologically, and this, all around the world.

We shouldn't expect shame from those who show the human body for either documentary or artistic forms in a sensible and intelligent way. Some critics are so prude I sometimes wonder how they go around bearing the thought of their own personal grooming or bodily functions.

Please keep up the good work.

  • 5.
  • At 06:12 AM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Teresa wrote:

I'm glad you showed the images regarding Lyphatic Filariasis. Maybe people will pay more attention to the problem. I didn't find the images offensive in any way. I felt for the man and others who have to live tolerating disease because of lack of money and resources from the rest of the world. I hope the global elimination plan works for this and other disease around the world. Thanks for paying attention to something that others have obviously ignored or skipped over. As always, great job BBC, sincerely, Teresa, Milwaukee, WI, USA

  • 6.
  • At 08:42 AM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • dorothy mooney wrote:

This condition is horrific and the WHO are doing a miraculous job helping to irradicate this coronic condition.
I would like to comment about the western world total lack of interest in Primary lympoedema this is a condition peoplle are born with it is a genetic fault that affects the
the lymphatic ststem. Many know of secondary lymphedema caused by the removal of lymph nodes (especially in breast cancer)but even some doctors are unaware of lymphedema being a condition that can be a
genetic fault. I would love a national news paper to highlight the
plight of primnary and seconday sufferers in this country and the sad lack of Diagnosis and clinics for primary lymhers in the uk
In the greater Manchester area there is one clinic that will give treatment to primary lymphedema on the NHS and that is St anns Hospice which is run on donations from the public. The WHO is amazing for eradication this terrible desease It would be amazing if in one of the Worlds leading forward thinking Countries we could have clinics for all lymphedema patients Both primary and secondary. Please can you look into this sadly neglected condition

  • 7.
  • At 09:53 AM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Kate wrote:

I saw this piece and I thought it was a very well done piece of journalism. It did shock me to see the extent of the damage it could cause, but it was the shot of the lady's foot that has stuck in my mind. The tone was perfect and it sparked a discussion between me and my friend about distribution of drugs, and how wrong it was that even though these drugs are free, they're not being given to everyone who needs them because of lack of funds and resources.

An excellent item for the 10 O'Clock News, and one that will stay with me for a long time.

  • 8.
  • At 08:43 PM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • p wrote:

Poor guy, i feel so bad for these people. I wish you all luck

  • 9.
  • At 01:48 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Wendy Anthony wrote:

Personally, I thought the photo of the limb and foot were far more disturbing than the photo of the scrotum.

  • 10.
  • At 02:41 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • martin wrote:

Surely the point over the colour of the mans skin is irrelevant in this case. If an equal proportion of white and black people got this disease then it is a fair argument. However, i susect that this is a disease of black people because of the location and socioeconomic areas in which the disease is prevelant.

  • 11.
  • At 03:01 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • trudu wrote:

I have my own elephantiasis story also in pictures, i have lived in the uk all my life. I applaud the bbc for showing the elephantiasis. If you would like to hear my story & see the pictures please contact me.

What's wrong with a genital if everyone has one?
Come on!! Queen Victoria died an awfully long time ago.

  • 13.
  • At 04:22 AM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • Sandy wrote:

The man's scrotom was a pointing at the often hidden nature of this problem, as scrotoms, and what may be wrong with them, are not obvious, as was the case with the woman's foot. We had two sufferers. One we could easilly and clearly see, one we could not until he showed us. The man proved the 'unseen' nature of the disease best.

  • 14.
  • At 04:22 PM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • anita wallace wrote:

The Lymphoedema Support Network applaudes the BBC for highlighting the suffering of Lymphatic Filariasis patients living in Ghana. This condition is a form of lymphoedema and whilst the causes may be different in the UK, the level of suffering can be similar. However distressing the pictures of male genitalia were to your viewers, unfortunately, we can show you individuals with similar distressing symptoms in this country. Lymphoedema is also a hidden and neglected condition here in the UK.
For further information: 020 351 0990

Hi all!
very good site!!

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.