You may think that self-censorship by the BBC is concerned with sex, violence, racism and other undesirable programming. Think again, the BBC has decided to be judge and jury for a perfectly respectable and scientific architectural documentary about Israel.
A BBC edited version of the documentary in question, ‘Exile – A Myth Unearthed’, was originally scheduled to be shown on BBC 4 with the revised title ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’, but was pulled from the schedule by BBC bosses three days before it was due to be shown.
The documentary by Israeli maker Ilan Ziv questions historical claims that the Jews were expelled from their homeland in 70AD. Through archaeological investigation and science, the documentary looks at evidence that the Jews continued to live in the area long after 70AD.
Ilan Ziv is a professional documentary maker whose work is always of a high standard and has been broadcast around the world. ‘Exile – A Myth Unearthed’ was co-produced and distributed internationally by the National Film Board of Canada, who entered into an agreement with the BBC in 2012.
In his blog, Ilan Ziv states that he learned of the change in the documentary’s title only three days before the due broadcast date, and his opinion is that the name change masks the true nature of the documentary’s subject matter – which is to challenge historical myth with real evidence.
Ilan Ziv writes:
“Digging deeper I also learned that this title was established back in November 2012 in the agreement between the National Film Board of Canada (one of the film’s co producers and its int’l distributor) and the BBC. Unknown to me at the time it was also agreed that my name would be removed and the version would be listed as an adaptation. I do remember being approached by the NFB (National Film Board of Canada) asking me if I would allow the BBC to cut the film down. I asked, and was promised, that the BBC would consult with me on the cut down so the integrity of the longer version (104 min) would be preserved. From my access to some internal documents, it is obvious now that the BBC was not genuinely interested in my getting involved. As the documents suggest, they realized that they could always rely on the solution to have my name removed and list the version as an “adaption”.”
He goes on to explain how the BBC sent him an edited copy of the documentary only a few days before it was due to be broadcast – not enough time for him to suggest recuts to ensure the integrity of the content.
The BBC employed an unidentified freelance to recut the documentary to the required sixty minute informed the programme executive that Ziv’s documentary was ‘propaganda’ and was unable to provide specific examples, stating that ‘everything was propaganda’ without qualifying the statements.
Apparently Ziv’s documentary had caused something of a political storm within the BBC. The final cut of the programme had changed again, with a scene depicting Palestinians being described as ‘too emotive’ by some internal BBC review.
Eventually, an official BBC statement said “We originally acquired ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. However, we have decided that it doesn’t fit editorially and are no longer planning to show it as part of the season. Plans to broadcast the program are currently under review”
The documentary has already been shown on Canadian TV with a second showing already scheduled, and has spent a week being shown at the Jewish Festival in Toronto.
The documentary does not deal with contemporary politics, and proposes to examine the ideologies that Middle-east politics has been based on. But someone, somewhere in the BBC doesn’t like those ideologies to be challenged – hardly a reasonable stance a national broadcaster paid for with public funds should be taking
This episode of silliness just goes to show how political and biased the BBC are, and how the corporation can no longer be relied on to present a balanced view of world events or news – or anything else for that matter.
Cancelling the documentary has prompted a flood of complaints to the BBC and a flood of support for Ilan Ziv.
Obviously the BBC did not expect their decision to evoke such a strong reaction, and they are now in talks with Ziv about producing a mutually acceptable sixty minute cut with Ziv being actively involved in the process.
Of course, it remains to be seen if the BBC will do what it is paid to do by the taxpayer – present unbiased and factually based programming on important issues.
The trailer for the documentary: