BBC rows back on Louis Theroux publicity

February 4, 2011
Bemused: Theroux

Bemused: Theroux

The BBC has had to backtrack after it sent out an incorrect publicity notice describing hard-line Zionists featured in a Louis Theroux film as "possibly the biggest threat to world peace today".

A corrected version of the billing had to be resent after the JC contacted the BBC to ask about the description, which included the lines: "In part these men and women are a tiny group of religious extremists who claim they are acting on divine promises from thousands of years ago.

"In part they are possibly the biggest threat to world peace today."

A BBC spokesperson said: "This billing for The Ultra Zionists did not reflect the programme accurately. As soon as the mistake was brought to our attention, we rectified the situation by replacing it with the correct billing."

Speaking about his new film, shown on BBC2 yesterday (February 3), Mr Theroux said he was "shocked and disappointed" by the Israeli army's relaxed response to settlers.

He spent four weeks filming in Israel last summer meeting settlers. Defending his decision to concentrate on an extreme fringe group, Mr Theroux said: "That's the approach I take in all my films. I look at the more extreme elements. I'm clear that it is a small, fringe group. As long as you're clear, it's ok to do that. I found many of the settlers likeable.

"Maybe one day I'll make a film that looks at Hamas.

"The Zionists view Arabs and Palestinians as squatting in what is theirs. I was intrigued by that. I thought it was morally questionable, but at the same time fascinating."

Despite his extensive knowledge of the conflict before his trip, meeting the settlers shaped his views.

"Before I went, I thought that for an Israeli, pre-1967 borders should be enough," he said. "Given that so many Arabs were displaced in 1948 and were living as refugees, taking more land seemed excessive and the settlers were contributing to the problem.

"I wanted to show that the army was policing the Israeli extremists, and instead of just showing extremist views we could show that the ones reining them in were the Israeli military.

"But I think I overestimated that. They let settlers do what they want. I was shocked and disappointed by that. I didn't realise to what extent the state encouraged settlers."

Last updated: 10:34am, February 4 2011