BBC rejects plan to broadcast radio version of Seven Jewish Children

By James Martin, March 19, 2009

The BBC has denied that it declined to broadcast a radio version of the controversial play Seven Jewish Children because of concerns about impartiality.

A story in the Guardian reported BBC Radio 4 drama commissioning editor Jeremy Howe as saying that despite regarding the play as “brilliant”, it had been shelved on the grounds that it could compromise editorial impartiality.

The report went on to say that the BBC had refused to broadcast the play by Caryl Churchill because it needed to remain impartial.

The paper claimed that Howe wrote in an email: “Both Mark [Damazer, Radio 4 controller] and I think it is a brilliant piece but after discussing it with editorial policy we’ve decided we cannot run it on grounds of impartiality. It would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill’s view. Having debated long and hard we have decided we can’t do Seven Jewish Children.”

But a spokesperson for Radio Four insisted this week that the controversy stirred by Seven Jewish Children during its theatre run was not the reason behind the Corporation’s decision to reject the 10-minute play.

“This play was not commissioned and no indication was given that it would be broadcast. After due consideration, we just felt it wouldn’t work for our audience,” said the spokesperson.

Nevertheless, Mark Damazer’s blog makes it clear that BBC guidelines on impartiality “are not restricted to factual programmes”, but also apply to drama.

Mr Damazer, who is Jewish, wrote: “If the BBC set aside its impartiality concerns when dealing with fiction we could end up with a particular ‘take’ on an issue that would amount to partisanship.”

It was, he said: “My judgement that this particular piece did not work as a stand-alone short drama.”

The play features seven short scenes in which Israeli adults discuss how they will explain to children, who are never seen on stage, seven key moments in Israeli and Jewish history. This includes the Holocaust, the first intifada and the present-day bombing of Gaza.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph last month, British Jews condemned the Royal Court Theatre for showing Churchill’s play which they said portrayed Israeli parents as “inhuman triumphalists”.

Last updated: 1:27pm, March 19 2009