Thursday, September 2, 2010

BBC denies bowing to political pressure over dropped Malaysia interview

Earlier this week, I wrote about the BBC's decision to pull a planned Hardtalk interview with Raja Petra Kamarudin, a controversial Malaysian blogger, because of legal advice.

The decision has been heavily criticised on independent Malaysian blogs and news websites with many accusing the British state broadcaster of caving in to pressure from the Malaysian government.

But the BBC has insisted in a statement that "the suggestion that the item was dropped due to political pressure is untrue." Peter Connors, a press officer for BBC News, told me that the BBC had not been contacted by lawyers or other advisers acting for the Malaysian prime minister or government.

This is the full statement:

The BBC researches many different stories, it is the normal process of news and current affairs throughout the media that not all make it to air for a variety of editorial reasons.

In this case, it became clear in our research that any comprehensive interview with former Malaysia Today Editor Raja Petra Kamarudin would prominently feature issues that are currently the subject of a current court case in Malaysia, which raise issues of defamation.

The suggestion that the item was dropped due to political pressure is untrue. All BBC programmes adhere to the same strict editorial guidelines which ensure complete editorial independence and impartiality.

I suspect that the BBC was most concerned about RPK's persistent claims that Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and members of his family were somehow implicated in the murder of a Mongolian translator and/or an attempt to cover up key details relating to the case - claims that the PM has vociferously denied.

The BBC is keen to play down the affair as nothing out of the ordinary but its decision to drop the interview does appear lily-livered.

From past experience, my hypothesis is that the editorial decision-making process came down to a trade off between time/money/hassle, on the one hand, and news-worthiness, on the other.

While the BBC might risk the ire of (and tempt possible legal action from) the leaders of countries such as Iran, Zimbabwe or Myanmar, I imagine that Malaysia is simply not a big enough global news story to warrrant such risks - especially when the Hardtalk producers have a long list of shows to research and record.

The end result is a victory for the Malaysian government, and its well-remunerated international PR advisers APCO Worldwide, who will be pleased that one of their most vocal and well-connected opponents has been denied 30 minutes of airtime on a leading global TV programme.

Malaysia's opposition activists, meanwhile, are understandly miffed about this missed opportunity.

No comments:

Post a Comment