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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.