In the wake of the appalling Islamist terror attacks (still currently unfolding at the time of writing) in France this week over apparent cartoon based satire of Muhammad – one deeply obscene question is doing the rounds yet again; ‘Should news channels show the cartoons in question?’.
The fact that this question is even asked, and indeed that most news channels will not show the cartoons integral to their reporting proves we’ve already lost our freedom of expression in this area. It’s gone.
I was appalled to learn this week that depicting Islam’s prophet on the BBC is actually prohibited as per their own stated editorial guidelines:
“The prophet Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form.”
Full of bluster, indignation & aspirations of petitioning – I was half way through a ranty blog post on the topic when the BBC pulled the guidelines in question from their website and announced they were making revisions:
— BBC Press Office (@bbcpress) January 9, 2015
They’ve spared you my unlettered ramblings at least, but I do wonder at which point was prohibiting depictions of Muhammad considered ‘in date’ or acceptable? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve reported on their refusal to promote freedom of expression over the ‘hurt feelings’ of the godly.
I await the revised guidelines with anticipation1. When will a mainstream news channel take a brave stance on this? Or even an honest one? Let’s no longer pretend we are concerned about upsetting the sensibilities of the religious – we’re scared we will be killed. And for good reason. Only when you admit the problem can you even hope to combat it.
As Ayaan Hirsi Ali has said, now is the time to ‘spread the risk’.
The updated guidelines are in. The relevant section reads:
Any content dealing with matters of religion and likely to cause offence to those with religious views and beliefs must be editorially justified as judged against generally accepted standards and must be referred to a senior editorial figure or, for independents, to the commissioning editor.
To me, this seems like a long-winded way of refusing to clarify the actual issue at hand whilst keeping the previous position alive – but unstated. I can’t help but think this has simply been an exercise in reducing the BBC’s embarrassment at having their cowardice and self censorship exposed in plain black & white for all to see. Let me know what you think in the comments.
- 09/01/2015 Updated Guidelines, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-religion-mandatory-referrals ↩