BBC in epic dispute over 'poet' Karadzic

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The Independent Online
BBC2's Bookmark, used to gliding sedately through the relatively calm waters of fashionable literature, ran into an unexpected political storm yesterday. As a result, tomorrow's edition will be prefaced by an unprecedented disclaimer, making the point that it 'endorses no political belief'.

The cause of the fracas is the conflict in Bosnia. Tomorrow's programme looks at the Serbian epic tradition, of which Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, is an exponent. The billing in Radio Times describes him as 'poet Radovan Karadzic' - and it was this description more than anything that angered members of Action on Bosnia, an all-party group formed only last week to try to stop the fighting.

'Someone who has led the forces responsible for the butchery of as many as 100,000 people, often in the most sadistic ways, is introduced to British viewers primarily as a poet,' wrote Dr Tom Gallagher, reader in Peace Studies at Bradford University and a member of Action on Bosnia, in a letter yesterday to Bookmark's editor, Nigel Williams. He said Mr Williams had 'thrown a mantle of respectability over a butcher' and urged that the programme be suppressed.

A BBC spokeswoman explained that the aim of the programme was to show how their fiercely nationalistic epics had shaped the thinking of the Bosnian Serbs and fed their unwillingness to compromise. The programme's newly-inserted preamble now explains: 'The peasant tradition of epic verse . . . has helped to fuel the horrific conflict in what was once Yugoslavia.'

Steve Blackaby, a campaign co-ordinator for Action in Bosnia, welcomed the disclaimer last night but said he would like the BBC to screen the film to a cross-party group of MPs today so they could judge whether it was liable to provide a propaganda coup for Mr Karadzic.

'I don't know if Oswald Mosley ever did morris dancing, but it's the equivalent of that,' he said.