The BBC Rehashes MPAA Propaganda

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As a government owned corporation the BBC has a duty to educate, and be evenhanded in its dealings with subjects. Yet in a recent segment on their long-running 'Film' program, currently hosted by Jonathon Ross, the BBC ran a biased segment straight from the MPAA. The BBC on the other hand, believes it was fair and balanced.

bbcLet’s get things straight from the off, we know that as a major television producer the BBC has a vested interest in the goings on of copyright policy. However, the BBC also has a mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’, so when the March 31st edition of “Film 2009 with Jonathon Ross” featured a section talking about piracy, it was worth investigating.

The 5 minute segment focused on an MPAA funded study by a group called the RAND corporation. The study – which was widely criticized early last month – is back with a new coat of paint. This time though, it’s being broadcast to the movie-going British public with the appearance of solid fact, and has addressed none of the questions we brought up just after the study was released.

Perhaps the choice of interviewees might shed some light on ‘why?’ a bit better.

* Keiron Sharp – Director General, Federation Against Copyright Theft.
* John Woodward – CEO, UK Film Council.
* Gregory Treverton – Director of RAND, the study’s authors.
* Callum McDougall – Executive Producer for Quantum of Solace.

This selection seems to be a bit one sided to say the least. If you’re wondering what’s so special about the last name, it might be because you didn’t go to see that film at the cinema. Just before the film was played, a short advert voiced by Quantum star Daniel Craig, talked about how “piracy was costing people jobs”.

McDougall also gave a speech last winter to a UK copyright industry lobby group saying how the industry will fall “like a house of cards” if downloading continues at current levels. This same group, the Industry Trust for IP Awareness, tried to push much the same message on terrorism and piracy almost 5 years ago.

One of our readers was angered by the bias of the segment and wrote a complaint to the BBC. After a few weeks of waiting a reply came back from BBC Complaints, and it was none too satisfying.

Thank you for your e-mail regarding ‘Film 2009 with Jonathan Ross’ as broadcast on 31 March.

I note you felt the report on this programme about copyright theft wasn’t adequately balanced as it only featured interviews with people from the film industry. I appreciate you felt we allowed a distorted view of this issue to be portrayed and note you have strong views regarding this matter.

This report focused in on a legitimate problem for both the film industry and the authorities as they try to tackle what is an ever increasing and profitable criminal activity. We feel the report outlined the laws surrounding the issue of film piracy adequately and that the interviewees from the film industry were entirely appropriate people to comment on the problem.

Impartiality is the cornerstone of all our output, and we feel this report was fully balanced in it’s coverage of copyright theft. Nevertheless I appreciate our audience has a wide range of opinions and inevitably this means that not every viewer will agree with the content of every programme we broadcast. We know all our editorial decisions are subjective and we’d never expect our audience to agree with every decision we make.

With this in mind that I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you that I’ve recorded your comments, including that you believe this topic deserves a more in depth investigation, onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and channel controllers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for contacting us.


Liam Boyle
BBC Complaints

Of course, there’s also a fine piece of irony in this show. The preceding segment was about a film called ‘The Boat That Rocked‘, a film about a 60’s pirate radio station. The irony is that it’s written and directed by one Richard Curtis. The same Richard Curtis that last year co-signed a letter to The Times urging ISPs to stop piracy.

It seems it’s only ok to profit from piracy, if you’re making a film about it.

UPDATE: The video of the segment is now available.


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