4 October 2007

Not just an American problem (Part I)

Update, 6th October: this post as been modified slightly (changes indicated in red below) following an off the record phone conversation with the BBC. Details here.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Okay, now that I'm calm enough to type complete sentences...

The Telegraph's Roger Highfield reports here that the work of the greatest science communicator of our time has been denuded of evolutionary content in its Dutch "translation".

Yes, it appears that the man who opened my eyes to the wonders of plants, he who finally did justice to my favourite animal, he who has brought his considerable influence to bear on the subject of climate change, Sir David Attenborough, has been censored to suit the creationist whims of Dutch broadcaster Evangelische Omroep (no link, no way, no how). Not least of their censorship offenses, they omitted the entire 10th episode of Life of Mammals... that'd be the one about apes and man.

Fortunately for all of us, Dr Gerdien de Jong, an evolutionary biologist at Utrecht University, and Dr Hans Roskam of the University of Leiden have mounted a sophisticated counter attack.

They have organised a petition and sent letters of complaint to the BBC, and to David Attenborough (whose response is posted here). On Gert Korthof's blog Evolutie (it's in Dutch but it's still easy to spot a kindred spirit), Dr de Jong contributes a guest post (I am assuming that's what "gastbijdrage" means...) in which she painstakingly documents the offending omissions. The "changes" are also revealed on Dr de Jong's home page, complete with links to YouTube videos which expose the evidence for all to see.

But it looks like the Beeb needs a little encouragement to hurry up with mounting a proper response to this outright assault on science (not to mention their copyright). So far, their "spokesman" has only had this to say:
"BBC Worldwide takes the protection of its brands and content very seriously. With thousands of hours being sold to hundreds of networks all over the world each year, BBC Worldwide allows local broadcasters to make edits but only up to a narrow margin of five minutes per hour. Their edits were less than the margin so did not involve BBC Worldwide on this occasion."
I think I need a shower.

Everyone get on the horn to BBC Worldwide (I can't find email for them) and/or email a complaint to the BBC, urging them to crack down on the Evangelische Omroep and those like them.

[There used to be a paragraph here encouraging readers to directly email BBC press officer Mark Macdonald, to whom I (and Dr de Jong) have apparently mistakenly attributed the following quotes: "this is a problem of the EO, not of the BBC", "anyone can have their own opinion" and "when a documentary is translated, there will be changes." The proper attribution of these quotes is "BBC spokesman" so it's best just to direct your complaints straight to the Beeb. Might I also remind readers that threatening language is generally counterproductive.]

Thanks to PZ Meyers for the bringing this to my rapt if somewhat disgusted attention.


gert korthof said...

Dear nunatak,
thank you for paying attention to the Dutch BBC EO evolution censorship story.
One correction: the link to Attenborough's reply is:
(permanent links are at the bottom of every post).
You are right about the translation of "gastbijdrage" which is indeed guest contribution.
Further, please note that the three Youtube videos have Englisch versions.
About Attenboroughs reply: I think it is a rather encouraging reply considering all previous BBC disappointing replies.
I was surprised learning about your Beagle project and wish you a lot of success! I will return to your blog in the future and to remember I will make a link in my blog's sidebar.

nunatak said...

Thank you for the correction, Gert. I have made the change. The YouTube videos I've seen are in English--Dr de Jong's site has links to both English and Dutch versions.

Thank you very much for your efforts to publicise the censorship. Your website was very helpful to me for writing my post. I especially like that you scanned in Attenborough's response letter: brilliant!

Gerdien de Jong said...

In the affair of the Dutch Evangelical Broadcasting ‘neutralizing’ the David Attenborough documentary “The Life of Mammals”, it seems that some people have emailed Mark MacDonald of the on seeing one of the English language OBDURODON videos. This video has now been removed.
Marc MacDonald is a BBC spokesman, and in no sense responsible for policy.
Post to his personal BBC email address is not in any way appropriate.

Moreover, I understand that some of the posts were quite aggressive. Aggression is quite reprehensible in any context.