Charlie Hebdo and BBC self-censorship

Among the BBC’s extensive coverage of the January 7th terror attack against the staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was an interview with Douglas Murray (available here) on the topic of press freedom which was broadcast on the BBC World Service.Murray

Murray: “And now, when everyone says we must stand with Charlie Hebdo, solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, they can’t really mean it because you and I know the BBC won’t dare to show any of these cartoons. No other major journal or newspaper or magazine in Britain or across Europe will dare to show those cartoons. The point is, we say again and again we stand for freedom of expression when we don’t really. And we say again and again that we mustn’t allow the terrorists to win and they do – again and again. The terrorists routinely succeed and have succeeded again in shutting down a whole area of discussion and all sorts of people who like to think they’re in favour of freedom of speech in fact again and again cede the territory to the terrorists. I think it’s shaming.”

BBC presenter: “To be fair, I think the BBC Live page did publish the final Tweet from Charlie Hebdo – the picture of Al Baghdadi.”

Indeed the BBC News website’s dedicated Live page did publish that Tweet (see below) but, as Murray later noted in a column at the Spectator, that is not the same thing.

Hebdo Tweet on BBC Live

But is Douglas Murray correct when he says that the BBC “won’t dare to show any of these cartoons”?

The answer to that question can be found in the Guidance on Stills, Photographs and Images appended to the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines – specifically in the section titled “Political, Religious and Topical Sensitivities” which categorically states:

“The Prophet Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form.”

Ed guidelines photos Mohammed

The editorial considerations which brought about that BBC self-censorship – along with other examples such as its compliance with Hamas restrictions during its reporting from the Gaza Strip last summer, its avoidance of reporting antisemitism at the anti-Israel demonstrations it covered in the UK and its selective and inconsistent use of the word terror – are always worth bearing in mind when reading, watching or hearing BBC content. 

These are also editorial decisions which the BBC would do well to explain to its funding public – particularly at this time. 

16 comments on “Charlie Hebdo and BBC self-censorship

  1. I suspect that the reason the BBC are giving so much coverage to the Charlie Hebdo story is that the victims were left wing intelligentsia. This in turn means that most BBC journalists find it all a bit scary. When the victims are Jewish school kids, the story gets minimal coverage, basically because, in the view of the journalists, the victims had it coming to them.

    • As a British citizen I find it cowardly and shameful to refuse to show satirical illustration. If all the media had the guts to show some solidarity the terrorist threats would dissolve. They only target people who are a minority of courageous defenders of freedom of expression. Giving in to such superstitious fanatics should be anathema to all those raised on Monty Python, and irreverent humour in general.

  2. The BBC will be unable to keep everyone happy, irrespective of which way it jumps. In any event, the BBC cannot demand that its journalists and staff risk their lives.

    • But every time a journalist is sent into a war zone he/she is expected to do just that! A cowardly journalist should limit him/herself to issues of fasion and gardening.

  3. The BBC has shown the cartoons. 12:34 into the One o clock News today according to iplayer. Repeated on News 24. On the Ten o clock News tonight there’s one in Caroline Wyatt’s report. They’re not onscreen for hours at a time but they are there. And unlike the Telegraph they’re not pixelated. So whatever the guidelines say they are being shown.

  4. I think BBC has a lot to answer for their coverage of the siege of the kosher supermarket and killing of four Jews there. I’m shocked by the lack of mentioning of those facts at BBC news today. Those facts were omitted and the murders happened at random place to random people. Im beyond angry right now.

  5. Drivers who are caught speeding are offered ‘speed awareness courses’ and more serious offenders are obliged to retake their driving tests. The reason for this is presumably the prevention of loss of life. Now when it comes to Jihadists,,,,,,,, what do you think?

  6. Interesting. I listened to Murray on the World Service on The Newsroom on that old-fashioned thing with knobs and an aerial at about 17:25 GMT on Wednesday 07-01 and they cut the clip just before the presenter says, “To be fair…,” also editing out Murray’s final comments on Charlie Hebdo’s last tweet.

    Instead, the presenter just says, “Douglas Murray,” and moves on to another subject.

    Same version on The Newsroom page on the internet, beginning at 19:19 min:

    Must be a dhimmie editor running around in a panic with his scissors.

    Can’t insult radical Islamic terrorists, can we?

    Well, not at the BBC.

  7. The link above to the BBC guidance is no longer working and I can’t get in any other way either. Is there a bit of rewriting going on at the Beeb?

  8. Pingback: BBC revision of editorial guidance should not stop at cartoons | BBC Watch

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