A robust BBC

Polar bear cubs in the wild or in captivity?

The briefest of posts, because I really want to go out to buy some Christmas stamps, to say how refreshing it was to hear BBC director general Mark Thompson being robust in his defence of the BBC at yesterday’s media select committee hearing.

It may just have been the way the Today programme’s Yesterday in Parliament slot was edited at about 06.45 this morning but Thompson came across as a staunch defender of both Jeremy Clarkson’s right to make a joke and of polar bears to be filmed in different places. If only Thompson had been this good at presenting the context for a situation when the Jonathan Ross/Andrew Sachs row exploded three years ago.

From what I heard on Radio 4 Thomson and BBC chairman Chris Patten expressly told MPs that Clarkson’s “joke” about shooting striking public sector workers in front of their families was a joke. A joke made, they said, as part of a comment on how far the BBC bends over backwards to get balance to any story. If the BBC sacked everyone who offended people with their jokes they wouldn’t have many people working for them. And, said Patten, MPs would have to explain to the many Clarkson and Top Gear fans (there are some) why their favourite presenter was no longer on TV. This, despite 32,000 complaints about Clarkson’s comment.

So different from October 2008 when Ross was suspended for six months after making a joke which only a very few people heard and complained about until the press whipped up a storm of protest. I felt there was no context from the DG back then.

Also amusing was Thompson’s single “no” to the question of whether narration from BBC 1’s Frozen Planet would be re-edited to more accurately suggest that footage of tiny polar bear cubs was filmed in captivity and not in the wild. I have watched all the Frozen Planet episodes and must admit I assumed the bear cubs were wild. At least I didn’t stop watching and wonder where and how the crew had got that remarkable up-close footage of two polar bear cubs feeding from their sleepy mother in a snow den. We had just seen a female polar bear begin to make a den, again I presume in the wild.

I was initially surprised to read this week that the cub footage had been filmed in a zoo but I totally buy the argument that those shots would have been impossible to capture in the wild and I wouldn’t have wanted my viewing pleasure interrupted by an explanatory caption about where the scenes were filmed.

So good on the BBC for being robust and defending its editorial practices. I suspect the fact the BBC got a difficult licence fee settlement from the government a year ago has sharpened its sense of independence and rightly so.