In an astonishing decision the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee has ruled that it is acceptable for producers to bleep out the word “Palestine” in music shows.
The ruling follows a freestyle hip-hop performance from Mic Righteous on BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Charlie Sloth show.
Mic Righteous’s lyrics included the lines: “I still have the same beliefs. I can scream ‘Free Palestine’, die for my pride, still pray for peace.”
But the BBC censored out the word “Palestine”, covering it up with a sound effect of broken glass.
The decision to treat “Palestine” as if it were some kind of swear word sparked numerous complaints. But the BBC’s highest body has now ruled against those complaining.
This decision gives a green light to producers to continue to censor pro-Palestine lyrics from music programmes. And it effectively endorses the BBC’s initial—and ludicrous—defence that the “Free Palestine” lyric was “contentious” in implying that Palestine was not free already.
Amena Saleem of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) spoke to Socialist Worker about the BBC’s handling of the case.
The BBC’s position “wanders into the realms of the absurd”, she said. “They won’t admit they made a mistake. Instead they are trying to make excuses for something that cannot be justified.”
The full correspondence from the BBC reveals a host of breathtakingly arrogant and stupid arguments from the corporation’s senior managers.
At one point they claim that “as this was a music programme, there would have been little expectation from the audience that matters of political controversy would be aired”.
So according to the BBC, hip-hop fans would not be expecting anything “political” from Mic Righteous—an MC who works alongside Lowkey and the People’s Army, whose work is explicitly concerned with social and political issues.
Despite this BBC bosses complain that Mic Righteous “has no obvious previous interest in Middle Eastern politics” and that consequently producers “were not expecting” him to “make a political statement”.
If this were an isolated case, it could perhaps be dismissed as bureaucratic idiocy. But it fits into a wider pattern of the BBC using its “impartiality” regulations to silence voices that are sympathetic to Palestinians and critical of Israel.
Meanwhile the BBC considers it perfectly acceptable to broadcast hip-hop DJ Tim Westwood entertaining British troops at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. This, apparently, is neither “contentious” nor “political”.
As Amena points out, all of this is a far cry from the days when the BBC broadcast a Free Nelson Mandela concert in 1988—and faced down cries of horror from apartheid supporting Tory MPs. Yet today the BBC censors the very mention of the word “Palestine”.