"Should homosexuals be executed?" was the opening question on the BBC' Word Service's Africa Have Your Say programme on 15 December 2009. It created a furore in the UK. The BBC quickly back peddled, ditching the offending title and replacing it with "Should Uganda debate gay execution?"
Too late ... the damage was done. Apart from the hate parade that the BBC moderators allowed, many complained that their license fee should not be used to discuss the existence of a minority group.
The BBC then issued two apologies ... of sorts. The first was from David Stead and the second from Peter Horrocks.
Regrettably, the apologies amount to nothing more than, "We're sorry you were offended but we were right to do it." As such, I'm unable to accept the apology. In fact, I find it rather patronising as it makes out that myself and others are simply over reacting.
In one of the Facebook groups, someone posted:
"If it wasn't for the BBC world service you would probably not be aware of this gross human rights abuse, this alone makes it worth your licence fee."
Fore mostly I wish to make absolutely clear that I fully support debate on the Ugandan proposed Member's bill. However, I am completely against the manner in which the BBC went about it. Like many others I was already aware of this bill's existence and the BBC did a huge disservice for gay rights in Africa.
While I agree that the editor attempted to place the question in context, by starting with the original question, they made a serious and contemptible error in judgement:
Firstly, for the Editors to even admit that they "thought long and hard about using this question which prompted a lot of internal debate", and then changed the question when people started objecting, smacks of incompetence and unprofessional-ism.
Secondly, neither the initial question nor the revised question had anything to do with the Ugandan Member's Bill. The bill calls for the death penalty in the case of aggravated Homosexual assault. Nor did the debate address the other significant issues in the bill, including:
- the fact that a Ugandan committing a homosexual act in another country where it is legal, could be extradited back to Uganda to face prosecution; or
- that friends and family members could be jailed for not reporting homosexual activity.
Surely then, if the intention was to foster debate as the Editor's "apology" claims, there were other more relevant points to use in a more responsible manner? Therefore, to me, this appears to be nothing more than a cheep and ill thought out attempt to grab headlines or attention.
Thirdly, the initial question is deeply rooted in a homophobic attitude that executing gay people for just being gay is even plausible and therefore debatable. All this did was give homophobic people a platform to voice their views in an semi-controlled manner. I did note that the BBC moderators even allowed generalised statements against homosexuals that had nothing to do with the Ugandan issue.
Finally, posing the question, "Should homosexuals be executed?", risks normalising the question. It should always remain heinous and never up for debate. Jennie Kermode's article makes this point very well.
If you think my objection disproportional, then I would like to refer to the BBC's Brand/Ross/Sachs issue: Brand was fired, Ross sanctioned and others lost their jobs. Yet they only insulted one person. However, the BBC still defends their decision to debate if an entire group of people should be executed for a characteristic they have no control over.
The BBC would never run a poll on whether Jews should be bombed as a solution to the Palestinian issue! Yet again, the BBC has demonstrated that they regard gay rights as the black sheep in the equality fold; paying more sensitivity to others. So much for impartiality.
The problem with brushing something under the carpet is that it leaves a bump for people to trip over later. Within three weeks the BBC had to revise another headline: "Malawi gay couple to face justice after engagement"! This time the change was replacing "justice" with "court". While this may not be the same order of magnitude as the "execute gays" fiasco, for this lack of impartiality to reoccur so soon just beggars belief!
I concur entirely with Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the gay rights organisation,
"Given the near invisibility of so many gay issues from BBC news and current affairs - including recent murders of gay people - it does seem odd that the BBC should invite people to contribute to their web forum asking if gay people should face execution. It is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the idea that the BBC should receive £230 million from lesbian and gay licensee fee payers every year".
Telegraph (17/12/2009) BBC causes storm by asking if gay people should face execution
I feel strongly that even an out right apology is not sufficient. This was a very serious error of judgement and those responsible should be disciplined. I do not wish to have my license fee funding such debates nor the salaries of editors and producers who thought long and hard over it.
At the time of writing this blog, the BBC had issued no further apology nor taken any further action. OFCOM the regulator has written back to me stating they cannot deal with the issue and referred me to the BBC Trust. I've already written to the Trust and still awaiting their response.