Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Freedom of Expression (Episode III)

And on it rumbles - this today from the Writers' Guild of Great Britain:

Guild concern over BBC's rejection of Churchill play

Following reports that the BBC has rejected the idea of a radio broadcast of Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children, the Guild has issued the following press release:
The Writers' Guild expresses its concern that the BBC has turned down a proposal to broadcast a stage play criticising Israel's invasion of Gaza on the grounds that, if it did so, it would need to broadcast another play giving the opposite point of view.

Caryl Churchill's ten minute play, Seven Jewish Children, aroused controversy when it was performed at the Royal Court earlier this year. In an email to the producer who proposed the idea, Radio Four's drama commissioning editor Jeremy Howe said that, although he and the head of Radio Four thought it was a "brilliant piece", the BBC could not broadcast the play "on the grounds of impartiality". Howe said that "it would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill's view".

Guild President David Edgar comments: "The BBC has a right to employ its editorial judgement in accepting or rejecting proposals for dramas, and it has a duty to be impartial across the range of its output. But to reject what it regards as a 'brilliant' play on the grounds that it would need to balance it with another play putting the opposing point of view establishes a dangerous precedent.

"In future, does this mean that Radio Four will have to balance a play critical of complacency about global warming with another play arguing that the risk is grossly exaggerated? Will plays attacking sexism be complemented by plays promoting it? Would a drama claiming that Margaret Thatcher was a great prime minister be necessarily followed by another arguing that she was a national disaster?

"There is an alarming increase in spurious arguments for censoring controversial subject matter in drama.. The BBC should be proud when the dramas it chooses to broadcast contribute to important national and international debates".

Well, well. That was unexpected. The Beeb are a weird lot aren't they. Didn't Jerry Springer the Opera cause at least as much controversy and they took great delight in showing that? David Edgar makes a fair argument and this whole balancing act of maintaining freedom without causing offence is at the centre of all my posts on this subject. It's going to be difficult to produce any sort of political drama if something to counter the argument also has to be aired (although that might mean more work for writers - wohooo!)

Personally I think the BBC should've declined to air Seven Jewish Children because it's rubbish. A "brilliant piece"?? Do me a favour. I'll tell you what, if they change their mind, and want to air it, and still want a counter piece, I'll happily knock one out for them in an afternoon or so. I don't quite understand why Howe said that "it would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill's view". Believe me, it wouldn't take long to put one down on paper.

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