Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, June 18, 2007

BBC Criticizes Programs; Issues Report Suggesting They May Be Editorializing Inappropriately

The BBC has released a report criticizing programs, including some popular BBC shows, and suggesting that it may have violated guidelines concerning content and point of view. Among the programs singled out for criticism was the comedy "The Vicar of Dibley", which starred Dawn French. Said the report writers, "2005 began with an edition of The Vicar of Dibley on BBC One on New Year’s Day. Make Poverty History formally launched its campaign to coincide with this transmission. The episode, ‘Happy New Year’, featured a storyline about Geraldine’s keenness to ‘make extreme poverty history for ever’. After her crusade has been mocked by her parishioners, she finally gathers them round her laptop to look at campaign material on the internet. The Make Poverty History website is clearly shown, and she then plays them a Make Poverty History video which runs full screen, without any other dialogue, for one minute 24 seconds. Having earlier handed round white armbands (a Make Poverty History campaign accessory), she ends the programme by turning round to find they have all put one on, in thrall to the video’s message. And then, in place of the normal credits, the signature tune accompanies unsmiling portraits of each cast member wearing the armband – an unspoken appeal for audience support. Nowhere did the BBC acknowledge that the scriptwriter, Richard Curtis, was himself spearheading the Make Poverty History campaign. The implication was that the cause was universal and uncontroversial, whereas the Make Poverty History website made clear that it had contentious political goals. One view was that this was a laudable attempt to use the BBC’s most popular comedy show to harness public interest for a worthwhile cause. Another (admittedly less widespread) was that the unsuspecting comedy audience had been ambushed."

The writers continued with analysis of more instances in which the propounders of the Make Poverty History campaign manifested an agenda in other BBC programs. Read the entire report and appendices here. Read an article about the report here.

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