BBC defends decision to censor the word "Palestine"

The broadcaster claims that allowing the lyric "free Palestine" would have comprised impartiality.


In a ruling on 31 January, the BBC Trust defended its decision to censor the word "Palestine" from a freestyle by rapper Mic Righteous on 1xtra in February last year. In the performance (above), he rapped:

I still have the same beliefs

I can scream Free Palestine,

Die for my pride still pray for peace,

Still burn a fed for the brutality

They spread over the world.

BBC production staff covered up the word "Palestine" with the sound of broken glass. The censored version was also aired in April. Responding to the original complaints, the BBC said that "Mic Righteous was expressing a political viewpoint which, if it had been aired in isolation, would have compromised impartiality."

Yet its own guidelines make allowances for "individual expression" for "artists, writers and entertainers", as long as services "reflect a broad range of the available perspectives over time". The BBC argues that a late night music show was not the appropriate place to get into political debate as it was not obvious when these other views would be aired.

Amena Saleem, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: '"In its correspondence with us, the BBC said the word Palestine isn't offensive, but 'implying that it is not free is the contentious issue', and this is why the edit was made."

But the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is a fact, not a statement of opinion. The UN Security Council classifies Israel as the "occupying force" in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, in upholding their decision, the BBC Trust has not addressed this key issue in the complaints. Consequently, nine complainants have said that their main point, that the BBC "demonstrated bias against Palestinians", had been ignored.

At the time, the PSC made the point that the BBC did not ban the song "Free Nelson Mandela" in 1984, even though Mandela was considered to be a terrorist by many western governments.

The BBC Trust has decided it is not "proportionate or cost-effective" to proceed further with the complaint, but the original decision does not seem proportionate either. Indeed, had the BBC allowed the song to go through uncensored, it probably would not have been remarked upon (after all, it was two words, not a long political diatribe). As it is, this incident sends a very uncomfortable message.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.