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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

is the BBC just plain chickenshit… or not?

Margaret Hamilton Wizard of Oz

So anti-Thatcher-ites get a song from The Wizard of Oz trending on U.K. pop charts last week, in the wake of the death of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” got all the way to No. 2… and BBC Radio refused to play the song during its usual countdown because it might be perceived as “disrespectful.” Potentially hurt feelings over criticism of a controversial political figure are a good reason to not play a pop song on the radio.

Okay, then.

At exactly the same moment, the BBC is defending the act of hiding one of its journalists and a small film crew among a group of London School of Economics students visiting North Korea, for an installment of TV documentary show Panorama. From the Guardian:

[BBC director general Tony Hall] is understood to have said the documentary would go ahead as there was a clear public interest in reporting on the escalating situation in North Korea.

Hall is also understood to have said that the BBC had considered the risks involved and made sure the students on the trip were able to make an informed decision about the potential danger.

Foreign journalists cannot get visas to enter North Korea but overseas academics and students can.

And from the Evening Standard:

[BBC head of programmes Ceri Thomas] defended the action and said the documentary was a “very, very important piece of public interest journalism”, telling the same programme the access the trip provided – which would not have been given to a journalist – justified putting the lives of the students at risk…

“I would say that the only people we deceived in the making of this film was the North Korean government and we did that because we thought it was a necessary condition to get in to this country which is hidden from view and is absolutely essential to world events at the moment.”

I am of two minds about this. I can understand why people are upset at the thought that they were exposed to extra risk, but I also agree that it’s important that the rest of the world know just what the hell is going on in North Korea.

What I cannot fathom, however, is a media institution as respected as the BBC believing that it’s both acceptable to endanger lives to get a news story and that delicate sensibilities must be protected from a bit of harmless satire.

Serious, Beeb, what the fuck?



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