The Guardian has a piece today about our decision not to commission a short piece, written by Caryl Churchill, about the recent war in Gaza.
The piece ran for a fortnight in February at The Royal Court Theatre in London – and it was sent to us, unsolicited, to consider. It was powerful but I did not think it right to commission it.
Why? The BBC’s obligation to impartiality is not restricted to factual programmes only. It apples to drama. That may seem odd to some – on the grounds that we are not dealing with matters of observed fact – but nevertheless 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.
I quote from the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines:
Impartiality & drama
When drama realistically portrays living people or contemporary situations in a controversial way it has an obligation to be accurate and to do justice to the main facts. If the drama is accurate but is a partisan or partial portrayal of a controversial subject we should normally only proceed if we believe that its insight and excellence justify the platform offered. Even so we must ensure that its nature is clearly signposted to our audience. When a drama is likely to prove particularly controversial we must consider whether to offer an alternative view in other output on the same service.
I do not wish to suggest that this is cut and dried. Drama should be able to provoke, to explore political subjects and to stretch the mind and imagination in ways that are different to news or documentary output. But it was my judgement that this particular piece did not work as a stand-alone short drama.