The BBC’s natural history programmes are highly regarded and hugely popular around the world, but the corporation has come under fire after it emerged that captivating scenes of polar bear cubs being born in its latest hit wildlife documentary, Frozen Planet, were filmed not in the Arctic, but in a German zoo.
As spectacular footage of the Arctic rolled, narrator David Attenborough told viewers in hushed tones “beneath the snow, new lives are beginning”. What the viewers were not told, either during the sequence or in the ‘making of’ segment at the end of the programme, was that the footage was filmed in a specially constructed den at the zoo’s polar bear enclosure.
The BBC has denied misleading viewers, pointing out that it showed how the the footage was obtained on the programme’s website. However, only a tiny fraction of the eight million viewers who watched the programme, which aired last month, will have seen that. The rest were thoroughly duped.
Attenborough defended the fakery with his customary arrogance and condescension (my girlfriend once interviewed him, and found him to be one of the rudest people she’d ever encountered), saying that if the Frozen Planet team had attempted to film in a polar bear den in the wild, either the cubs or the cameraman could have been killed. That’s a crude straw man argument: no one is seriously suggesting that the camera team should have tried to sneak into the den to film; the argument is simply that the viewers should have been told the truth.
UK newspapers and rival broadcasters, which resent the BBC’s privileged position – the licence fee insulates it from market forces, and it has a near-monopoly of television and online news provision – have been having a field day. BBC boss Mark Thompson petulantly claimed that the extensive press coverage of ‘Polarbeargate’ is revenge for the BBC’s saturation coverage of the ongoing inquiry into the newspaper phone hacking scandal. That’s rubbish, but even if it was the case who would blame them?
But the people who are getting the most enjoyment out of this are the many of us – generally of a conservative persuasion – who are sick of the BBC’s well-documented bias, and its insidious promotion of liberal-left ideas in everything from spy dramas to children’s programmes.
Frozen Planet itself is the latest example of BBC peddling climate change propaganda. As the excellent Christopher Booker noted in the Daily Mail recently, in the final episode of the series Attenborough, not for the first time, delivered a sermon on the perils of climate change, rehashing the usual misconceptions and half-truths on the subject. And there’s a direct link between the BBC’s faked footage and its climate change bias: the propaganda is clearly going to be more effective if it’s illustrated with dramatic footage purportedly shot in the wild than if viewers know they’re watching scenes filmed in a zoo.
The BBC didn’t lie about the polar bear footage – it simply didn’t tell the whole truth, and that’s the same method it uses to slant its coverage of climate change and countless other subjects, international and domestic, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the summer riots in UK cities.
The reason that the BBC’s bias and propagandizing is so effective is because of the undeserved reputation the corporation enjoys around the world for honesty and integrity. Anything that dents that reputation, and causes viewers to question what they’re being told, can only be a good thing.