Media outlets tiptoeing around Islam are a dime a dozen, but the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stands apart for the egregiousness of its self-censorship and bias. Even more striking than the number of controversies involving suppression of Islam-critical speech on its channels are the frank acknowledgements that BBC policy is shaped by fear.
During a recent interview (full transcript) for a University of Oxford project, BBC director general Mark Thompson provided the most in-depth admission yet of the BBC’s double standards with respect to faith. Christianity, he explained, receives less sensitive treatment because it is “a broad-shouldered religion, compared to religions which in the UK have a very close identity with ethnic minorities.” Specifically, Islam in Britain is “almost entirely a religion practiced by people who may already feel in other ways isolated, prejudiced against, and where they may well regard an attack on their religion as racism by other means.” Thus, when asked whether the BBC would run a Muhammad-mocking program on a par with the Jesus-ridiculing Jerry Springer: The Opera, which it aired over Christian protests in 2005, Thompson answered that it would not. Depictions of Islam’s prophet, he maintained, could have “the emotional force” of “grotesque child pornography” for Muslims.
Concern about Islamist violence undergirds BBC self-censorship, as evidenced by Thompson’s citations of the Salman Rushdie affair, which he described as “an absolute watershed,” and 9/11. “A threat to murder … massively raises the stakes,” Thompson pronounced. “‘I complain in the strongest possible terms’ is different from ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I’m loading my AK47 as I write.’” Jonathan Neumann of Commentary observes, “The lesson the BBC appears to be teaching — a lesson we always knew and apparently is also policy — is that complaints get more credence if they are backed up by force.”
Thompson’s publicly enunciated views have evolved and serve as a microcosm of creeping dhimmitude, which refers to the subjugated status of non-Muslims under Islamic law. Four years ago, Thompson bemoaned the “growing nervousness about discussion about Islam and its relationship to the traditions and values of British and Western society as a whole.” Seeing the BBC as a defender “of freedom of speech and of impartiality,” he contended that it and other media outlets “have a special responsibility” to make certain that debate on any religion “should not be foreclosed or censored.”
Just six months later, Thompson introduced his argument that Islam, as a minority belief system, must be dealt with carefully. “There’s no reason why any religion should be immune from discussion, but I don’t want to say that all religions are the same,” he opined. In the BBC’s defense, however, he boasted that it had not shied from displaying the Danish Muhammad cartoons — which seemingly had yet to reach the level of “grotesque child pornography” that they would in 2012. A BBC spokesman attempted to soften his words further: “What Mark Thompson said is that all religions are not the same — he did not say Islam, or indeed any faith, should be treated more sensitively than Christianity.”
But now the mask has dropped for good, with double standards being confessed and visions of firearms elbowing out high-minded expressions of tolerance. Though his candor is refreshing, it does not begin to offset the lengthy and damaging record of cowardice that has defined Thompson’s eight-year reign.
The BBC’s asymmetrical approach to Islam and Christianity was palpable long before Thompson admitted to it. An internal memo leaked in 2006 provided an important glimpse of the prevailing worldview by revealing that BBC officials had deemed it acceptable to show a Bible, but not a Koran, being tossed into the garbage. Numerous insiders have gone public since then to confirm and criticize such policies. In 2008, comedian Ben Elton deplored how “the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass,” which he attributed to “genuine fear … about provoking the radical elements of Islam.” Former BBC radio host Don Maclean lamented in 2009 that programs “seem to take the negative angle every time” regarding Christianity, even as they are “keen on Islam.” News anchor Peter Sissons, who left the BBC several years ago, echoed him in a book published in 2011: “Islam must not be offended at any price, although Christians are fair game because they do nothing about it if they are offended.”
At its most obnoxious, this mindset is manifested in bizarre inversions of reality, such as the infamous scene of a fanatical British Christian decapitating a peaceful Muslim in a 2008 episode of the BBC archaeology drama Bonekickers. One reviewer slammed “the BBC’s paint-by-numbers version of political correctness,” adding that “a Martian watching TV drama of late would probably conclude that the country is crawling with homicidal Islamophobes.” Christians accused the BBC of smearing evangelicals by attempting to “transfer the practice of terrorist beheadings from Islamist radicals” to them, but the BBC Trust exonerated the network. The BBC spy series Spooks ignited a similar storm in 2006 when it showed Christians carrying out grenade attacks against Muslims and a bishop organizing the assassination of an Islamic cleric.