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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Meet the ex-footballers launching a support network for victims of sexual abuse in the sport

The Offside Trust is set up after hundreds have come forward, and 55 football clubs have been linked to allegations of abuse.

In a sumptuous room inside a luxurious hotel in the centre of Manchester, the country’s media anxiously await the arrival of a man whose story has rocked English football to its very foundations.

Since Andy Woodward went public with allegations that he experienced sexual abuse as a young footballer in the 1980s, the nation’s favourite sport has been left in crisis and, in the process, forced to do some soul-searching.

Following Woodward’s story, a number of his peers have also come forward with tales of unimaginable suffering.

This week, some of those men have joined together to launch the Offside Trust, an independently-run body aiming to provide support to players and the families of those who have suffered sexual abuse in football and other sports.

According to Woodward and his colleagues, the Trust won’t just be a way to help those who have been abused while playing the sport they love, but also represents a direct response to institutions that, in their view, have failed to protect them.

“A number of people who have come forward have indicated that they don’t have trust in the establishment,” says Edward Smethurst from Prosperity Law LLP, a Manchester law firm in charge of administering the trust.

“We are not here to criticise any of the establishment bodies, but we do have to respect the sensibilities and the opinions of the victims.” 

Wearing a crisp blue suit, hair combed neatly into place, Woodward’s composed demeanour masks the tremendous emotional stress he has revealed to the world he had to endure for decades, in silence until now.

Hearing him retell his story time and again, it is evident that, although exhausting, this process of letting the world know the horrors he says he experienced as a boy is both cathartic and a way to help others.

“I’m totally overwhelmed, the emotions are just unreal,” he says. “I can’t believe how many [people] have come forward, but I just encourage more and more [people] to have that strength and have that belief to do it.”

Sitting beside Woodward is Steve Walters – a former football prodigy whose career was cut short due to a blood disorder – who says he fell prey to the same serial child molester as Woodard. The person in question can no longer be named for legal reasons.

Walters tells me how his story has affected every aspect of his life. “It has ruined marriages, the relationship with my children, flashbacks, lack of sleep, panic attacks,” he tells me.

Walters speaks of “injustices” done to him for the past 20 years by those in charge of the sport he once loved. But he also knows how he would like to start turning the page and move on with his life.

“An apology [from Crewe Football Club] would be a start,” he says. “For them to not even put out one small apology, it does hurt.”

Since Woodward’s allegations were first made public on 16 November, 18 police forces across the country are now investigating claims of historic sexual abuse in football.

Every player I speak to at the Offside Trust launch in Manchester describes this as an epidemic, and that, in modern Britain, some children are still at the mercy of paedophiles operating within the sport. 

“I do believe it’s happening,” says Jason Dunford, who also claims to have been abused at Crewe Alexandra. “I believe it’s happening on a lower scale than when we were children, but as a father of a young boy who is around the football industry at the moment, I still have worries.”

Woodward coming forward has had worldwide implications. Walters and Dunford tell me they have been contacted by players as far-flung as South America and Australia who say they have been through the same ordeal as young footballers. The men are adamant this is not a UK problem, but a football one – wherever the game is played.

Woodward is mentally drained. Prior to the interview, he repeatedly tells me how the whirlwind of the last few weeks has affected his health. But he knows that this is his chance, perhaps the only one he’ll get, to help those like him.

“The closure will be when I feel like I’m satisfied that I have done everything I can to help as many people out there as possible,” he says. “People with children in football need protecting.” 

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.