Thursday, December 17, 2009

Should the BBC be Exorcised? - UPDATED

I give a hat tip to Caron for this who tweeted my attention to it via SohoPolitico.

Now I have friends who work, some of them quite high up, in BBC New Media, but I hope that none of them were involved in approving or setting up this debate in have your say. The question is "Should Homosexuals be executed?". I'm pretty sure my jaw dropping wasn't due to a particularly heavy swell hitting the ship but abject disbelieve that I am reading this on the BBC. Has the Daily Fail bought out the public broadcaster? It feels like it.

Of course the debate is about the Ugandan Government's sickening proposal to lock up anyone who commits a homosexual act for live, unless the person is HIV+ or has committed the act on someone under 18, then they will be summarily executed. I'm sure there are ways to have had a debate on this issue without phrasing the question as they have done. Even the BBC seem to realise that this question is going too far as the opening paragraph of explanation says:

"Yes, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind an Anti-Homosexuality Bill being debated on Friday by the Ugandan parliament which would see some homosexual offences punishable by death."

I don't think that excuses them for saying it. What is disturbing even more is the little box on the side which says how the debate is going. When I logged on to the page it read:
  • Comments posted 405
  • Published comments 169
  • Rejected comments 119
  • Moderation queue 117
For a fully moderated BBC news threat that is a startling statistic. It equates to 41.3% of the comments that the moderators have so far looked at being deemed unpublishable on the BBC website.

There is one very sage comment that I picked up which sums up the Ugandan Parliaments attitude in a nutshell.

"It is ironic and disturbing that out of a so-called 'moral' view (i.e. homosexuality is wrong) one condones the act of murder. For that is what it is."

Handily the first sentence is 126 characters long (including the full stop). If you tweet replace one with Uganda and tweet away I say. Neighbouring MP Eric Joyce of Falkirk has also blogged on this issue.

UPDATE: Having finally got home having started to write this on the HSS I see that the BBC has finally closed comments on the debate, that shouldn't have been opened in the first place.

Of the 395 comments that were actually moderated on this subject before it was closed 189 or 47.8% had been rejected.

FURTHER UPDATE: The BBC have deemed it necessary to write an blog entry about the decision. I would class it in the category unpology.

It starts by saying that the editors of BBC Africa though "long and hard" about using the question. Then they go on to say:

"We agree that it is a stark and challenging question, but think that it accurately focuses on and illustrates the real issue at stake."

I have no question that there is a real issue at stake. People are going to lose their freedom because of who they end up loving and how they express it, the unfortunate ones will end up being killed, murdered. Of course the Ugandan Government is not threatening to kill HIV+ heterosexuals. Now that is a question that deserved to be debated.

They conclude by saying:

"We have sought to moderate these rigorously while at the same time trying to reflect the varied and hugely diverse views about homosexuality in Africa."

Now I don't see the word sorry anywhere in this statement from the BBC. What I do see is an attempt to shift the blame to African sensibilities. We didn't hear the BBC use such an excuse in the 1930s or 40s about German sensibilites. The BBC Africa section seem to have forgotten that the BBC stands for 'British' Broadcasting Corporation, if it really is them that are to blame.

The Times, the Guardian, The Independent, and Sky News are all covering the story this morning.

UPDATED: Peter Horrocks the director of the BBC World Service wrote this on the BBC Editors blogs.

"The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused. But it's important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.

"The programme was a legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion about proposed legislation that advocates the death penalty for those who undertake certain homosexual activities in Uganda - an important issue where the BBC can provide a platform for debate that otherwise would not exist across the continent and beyond."

Sadly of course it wasn't a platform for debate as my comment about the number of non-approved comments above showed. While it is a crucial issue for African's it shouldn't be the subject of debate whether such executions are right and legitimate. There were debates that could have been had around this issue, this Mr Horrocks was not the one to be had.

First posted at 17:34 on 16 December 2009


Aye We Can ! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aye We Can ! said...

Stephen, we did in fact hear the BBC use such an excuse in the 1930about German sensibilites - which makes its redeployment in this context all the more appauling

eric said...

Really interesting stat. that - 43% of posts rejected. We can guess what kind of things those folk were posting. This seems to lend more weight to what kind of debate the BBC is encouraging on the 'Have your say' website.

Stephen Glenn said...

Eric it does indeed. That was one of the startling things about it.

Having been active in one of the BBC online commuities since before the BBC took it over I very well versed in how the moderation process works. I also have friends who do or have worked for BBC New Media. They normally say that 10%-15% rejection rate counts as a exceptional amount.


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