The broadcaster claims that allowing the lyric “free Palestine” would have comprised impartiality.
In a ruling on 31 January, the BBC Trust defended its decision to censor the word “Palestine” from a freestyle by rapper Mic Righteous on 1xtra in February last year. In the performance (above), he rapped:
“I still have the same beliefs
I can scream Free Palestine,
Die for my pride still pray for peace,
Still burn a fed for the brutality
They spread over the world.”
BBC production staff covered up the word “Palestine” with the sound of broken glass. The censored version was also aired in April. Responding to the original complaints, the BBC said that “Mic Righteous was expressing a political viewpoint which, if it had been aired in isolation, would have compromised impartiality.”
Yet its own guidelines make allowances for “individual expression” for “artists, writers and entertainers”, as long as services “reflect a broad range of the available perspectives over time”. The BBC argues that a late night music show was not the appropriate place to get into political debate as it was not obvious when these other views would be aired.
Amena Saleem, of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: ‘”In its correspondence with us, the BBC said the word Palestine isn’t offensive, but ‘implying that it is not free is the contentious issue’, and this is why the edit was made.”
But the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is a fact, not a statement of opinion. The UN Security Council classifies Israel as the “occupying force” in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, in upholding their decision, the BBC Trust has not addressed this key issue in the complaints. Consequently, nine complainants have said that their main point, that the BBC “demonstrated bias against Palestinians”, had been ignored.
At the time, the PSC made the point that the BBC did not ban the song “Free Nelson Mandela” in 1984, even though Mandela was considered to be a terrorist by many western governments.
The BBC Trust has decided it is not “proportionate or cost-effective” to proceed further with the complaint, but the original decision does not seem proportionate either. Indeed, had the BBC allowed the song to go through uncensored, it probably would not have been remarked upon (after all, it was two words, not a long political diatribe). As it is, this incident sends a very uncomfortable message.