08 May '12..
In an interview on free speech, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC implies that the threat of violence from religious Muslims influences the BBC's decisions on which shows it airs. His acknowledgement and justification of self-censorship has to be disheartening to all defenders of free speech. The BBC is the world's largest media organization and is sustained by the British government.
Questioned about the conflict between free speech and offending people's religious beliefs, Thompson justifies censorship in criticizing some religious figures [ but not others ] by suggesting that such criticism can be more "heinous" than harming real people.
... they believe that their faith refers to things which have an objective reality. And so, for example, they regard blasphemy as causing objective harm. So it’s not just that a blasphemous statement or act would hurt their feelings or anger them because it went against their opinions; it would do actual objective harm. That offending of an act of sacrilege against the god head or religious figure, actually creates harm in the world as it were and might be as heinous or more heinous than harm to a human being.
Thompson then shifts from the abstract to the specific:
I think you have to tread really quite carefully and sensitively because of the character. The point is that for a Muslim, a depiction – particularly a comical or demeaning depiction of the Prophet Muhammad – might have the force, the emotional force, of a piece of a grotesque child pornography. One of the mistakes seculars make is I think not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief.
Interviewer Timothy Garton-Ash: But it is an ace, isn’t it? And a rather nasty ace if people say, “I feel so strongly about that; if you say it or broadcast it, I will kill you.”
Thompson: Well clearly it’s a very notable move in the game, I mean without question. “I complain in the strongest possible terms” is different from “I complain in the strongest possible terms and I’m loading my AK47 as I write.” This definitely raises the stakes. But I think there’s two or three things going on, so manifestly a threat to murder, which by the way is quite rightly a crime, massively raises the stakes.
In more veiled language, Thompson also implies that such threats sway the BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ash: What, if I may just interrupt for a moment, what are the areas in your experience, your great experience as a broadcaster, have you experienced threats of violence, threats to murder?
Thompson: Well, the coverage of Israel-Palestine, and one or two other conflicts in the world, can lead to and have in my case led to threats of violence. Our editorial decision-making, where someone has come to believe you are not doing it fairly, or maybe likely not to do it fairly, have been threatened once, twice in my career about one or two major conflicts, which have some of the same features: a sense of victimhood, a sense of conspiracy – you know conspiracists who believe everyone else is conspiracist, and so forth – and a sense that the desperation or the circumstance means that the normal don’t apply.
Thompson does not spell out who is making the threats. But the penchant for sharp criticism of Israel's government and a pronounced pro-Palestinian tilt in the BBC coverage has been widely noted. That observation, along with the contrast between the press freedom in Israel and strict media control practiced by the Palestinian Authority, suggest that the threats are coming from the Palestinian side.
I guess we should be thankful that even this interview passed the BBC censor.
Updates throughout the day at http://calevbenyefuneh.blogspot.com. If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.Twitter updates at LoveoftheLand