Behzti playwright accuses BBC of 'extraordinary' censorship of 'honour killings' episode

 

A leading playwright has accused the BBC of an “extraordinary” act of censorship after the corporation told her to cut key lines from a drama about “honour killings” which will be broadcast by Radio 4 this week.

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, whose controversial play Behzti was pulled from a Birmingham theatre in 2004 following protests from the Sikh community, wrote an episode for Radio 4’s DCI Stone series, which will be broadcast in the Afternoon Drama slot.

Bhatti’s episode, called Heart Of Darkness and due to air on Friday, tells the story of an investigation into the killing of a 16 year-old Asian girl, whose dumped body is found after being stabbed to death.

When it emerges that the girl was a victim of an “honour killing”, DCI Stone is told by his bosses is to treat the case “sensitively” because of her Muslim heritage.

“A week before recording I got an email from the producer saying the BBC compliance department had asked them to take lines out,” Bhatti told the Index On Censorship conference on artistic freedom of expression in the UK, held at the South Bank.

“At the end, a character says: ‘There is so much pressure in our community, to look right and to behave right.’ The compliance department came back and said ‘we don’t want to suggest the entire Muslim community condones honour killings.’

“It’s an extraordinary and awful situation. They said the lines were offensive but they absolutely were not. We live in a fear-ridden culture.

“Unbelievably, what the compliance department said was if you can find a factual example of community pressure leading to an honour killing, you can have the line. But it’s a drama, a story.

“It’s a crucial part of that story. I was very disappointed given my previous experience of censorship. If you take out the line, the whole thing changes, it’s a betrayal of the character and the truth of the unfolding story.”

Bhatti’s play Behzti, which contained scenes of rape, abuse and murder inside a Sikh temple, provoked massive demonstrations outside the Birmingham Rep. But she is now a writer on The Archers and said that Heart Of Darkness, commissioned for an afternoon slot, contained nothing that ought to be seen as provocative.

A Radio 4 spokesman said: “This is a hard-hitting drama about the realities of honour killing in Britain. A single line in the script could be taken to infer that the pressure and motivation to commit such a crime in a family comes from the wider Muslim community, potentially misrepresenting majority British Muslim attitudes to honour killing. Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was asked to amend this line in the normal editorial process of script development.”

Sir Nicolas Serota, director of the Tate, told the conference that there was no “easy path” to free expression in the arts. “In pushing against boundaries, artists help us to question the values of our society...art is a vital space where those values can be discussed,” he said.

Sir Nicolas defended the Tate’s decision to withdraw from display God is Great, 1991, a work by John Latham featuring copies of the Bible, a Koran and a Talmud, which have been physically manipulated, in 2005.

The Tate was advised by Muslim community leaders showing the work, shortly after the July 7 bombings, could provoke protests.

However the leading lawyer Anthony Julius, of Mishcon De Reya, said: “The decision was wrong. There was no possible risk to the public or the work by showing the Latham piece. It’s possible to tell yourself horror stories of worst possible scenarios. Really brave work is being shut down because of the craven, despicable phrase ‘we can’t guarantee the safety of...’”

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told the conference that police “tried to keep as far away as possible” from debates over the boundaries of artistic offence. Officers would make only make recommendations to remove a work, or close a play, if they had received intelligence of a genuine “threat to public order.”

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, warned that arts institutions could become victims of “self-censorship”, as the threat of funding cuts makes bodies avoid presenting works which might provoke a public backlash.

Ms Kelly said that the arts sector and the police were not always clear about the legal frameworks in place to protect free expression. “There are examples of when police intervened because they anticipated a public order issue,” she said.

Using examples of works by artist William Hogarth and sculptor Jacob Epstein – both of whose work was criticised by contemporaries – Sir Nicolas Serota  concluded: “Things that shock and offend change with the mores of the time.” 

Censorship of the arts:

Spiritual America

Spiritual America, Richard Prince’s image of a naked, heavily made-up Brooke Shields, age 10, was removed from Tate Modern’s 2009 Pop Life Exhibition following a visit from the Met. Nicolas Serota said: “The image was taken with her consent, it was freely available in books and the work was shown in New York. But the police said it could be viewed as an incitement so we removed it. There was also a threat to the security of the work.” Mr Serota argued that UK laws designed to protect young children should not have the unintended consequences of censoring works of art.

1 Day

West Midlands Police frustrated writer-director Penny Woolcock’s hard-hitting film about gang-wars in Birmingham’s Afro-Caribbean community, using street casting. “Police completely destroyed the distribution of the film. They told cinema managers there would be violence if they showed it. When I made a follow-up documentary I was followed by a patrol car. They tried to seize my rushes. They took me to court and I won with the help of Channel 4 barristers. My films gave a voice to young black men. When you transgress unspoken rules you get the full force of the State trying to stop you.”

Palestinian Embassy

Created by Norwegian performance-art duo Goksøyr & Martens and shown in Oslo, Palestinian Embassy involves a hot-air balloon in the colours of the Palestinian flag flying over the city, bearing Arabic writing and with politicians and academics on board “for diplomatic discussions on topics concerning Palestine”. Police intervened when it was repeated at the 2012 Liverpool Biennial. Sally Tallant, Biennial director, said: “There was anxiety about local political groups being antagonistic and protecting the artwork. People thought we were building a real Palestinian Embassy. There is a lack of understanding of the role of art as a space for experimentation. It’s a fear-driven environment.”

Bhezti (Dishonour)/ Behud (Beyond Belief)

Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was forced to go into hiding following the violent protests in Birmingham provoked by Bhezti (2004), which depicted a rape in a gurdwara (temple). Bhatti ran into further problems with Behud, her 2010 fictionalised response to the Behzti furore, staged in Coventry and London. “At the first dress rehearsal, West Midlands Police came and told me to pull the play because they feared that there would be a threat to public safety. They feared there would be riots but none if it materialised.” Bhatti revealed that her latest Radio 4 play has been censored by the BBC.

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links