Philip Hensher: Homosexuality, death and the BBC licence fee

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Well, how would you feel? An organisation which you pay a three-figure sum to, every year, decides that it is going to spend some of that money on debating whether you should be executed or not. "We agree that it is a stark and challenging question," the organisation says, when they are asked whether this is a suitable way for it to be spending its time.

At present, a bill is going through Uganda's parliament proposing a crime of aggravated homosexuality, for which the punishment would be execution. It has gained a lot of support from unexpected quarters. Some Ugandan clerics, including a Reverend Michael Esakan Okwi, have described gay people as "cockroaches" – a chilling comment for anyone who remembers the detail of the Rwandan massacres. Sweden has already announced that it will cut aid to Uganda if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill goes through; the Archbishop of Canterbury has condemned the bill, though in his usual leisurely manner.

The one thing that you would not expect is that the BBC should choose to engage with so gross an assault on human rights by mounting a debate on exactly the moral grounds of these horrible murderers. A BBC World Service programme on the subject was accompanied by a debate on a message board with the headline "Should homosexuals face execution?" Ooh, I don't know. There's something to be said on every side, isn't there? In the style of Mrs Merton, Caroline Aherne's immortal character: Let's Have A Heated Debate.

On Friday morning, I amused myself by telephoning the BBC licence authorities. "I understand that my licence is up for renewal," I said to a lady called Emma, who it is fair to say did not have this one on her sheet of prepared answers. "Could you explain to me why I should pay an organisation for discussing whether I should be killed or not?" "Erm – I don't think I know about this," Emma said. "But you're paying for the signal, not for what the BBC does with it." "So if the BBC decided to mount a discussion programme discussing whether Jews should be put to death or not, I wouldn't be paying for that, either?" "Well," Emma said. "There's a small blue button at the bottom of the webpage. You could put in a complaint about that." "But naturally I object to it," I said. "The question is whether I should go on giving the BBC my money."

The meeting of minds was not everything one could hope for. Leaving aside the question of whether anyone should be executed, this one shows the BBC mind at a high level of confused idiocy. Somebody, somewhere in the world, is proposing to abandon human rights legislation and start indulging in judicious murder. Why not discuss the proposals?

In February, the pregnant victim of a gang-rape in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 100 lashes. At present, the punishment for adultery in Iran is stoning to death. Does the BBC think it would be interesting to arrange a debate on "Should adulterers and victims of gang rapes be stoned or lashed? Have your say." No, of course not. There are some things which are beyond debate, and some points of view which are beneath the notice of a civilised society. There were ways of talking about the Ugandan bill and its horrific attacks: asking whether a substantial proportion of those which fund the organisation should or should not be put to death was not one of them.

Elsewhere, it was business as usual: Rage Against the Machine performed their song "Killing in the Name" on Radio Five's "5 Live Breakfast" show, and used the F word. The corporation went into a flat spin, in terror that the slightest offence had been caused.

Sit back, Ma'am, and try to enjoy the ride

"Good morning. This is your train manager speaking. Welcome to the 10.45 First Capital Connect service to King's Lynn. Please take a moment to familiarise yourselves with the safety information on the seat pocket in front of you, though in the event of an emergency, I expect that a helicopter will be arriving to get some of you away from the rest of the plebs as soon as possible.

"We apologise that a full first-class service is not available, unless of course you happen to be the elder daughter of the last Emperor of India, in which case, ha ha, welcome to our humble train, Your Majesty, and a member of our train crew will be along in a moment for our on-board service of unbridled grovelling.

"My name is Darren, and I'm in my thirtieth year of working on this very same service, at which point you start to wonder when I'm going to get an MBE, hint hint. The buffet is situated in coach C, serving a wide range of hot and cold snacks, tea, coffee and hot chocolate, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks, but frankly it's mostly BLTs and a cheese toastie, so I wouldn't bother. If you'd like to give us some warning next time, perhaps when you're booking your pensioner's supersaver ticket, Ma'am, I'm sure we could lay in some cold grouse sandwiches and a decent claret, though we do presently have quite an acceptable third of a bottle of Canadian burgundy.

"Silent compartments are in coaches A and haitch. Anyone using a mobile phone, whether to speak on or to take a photograph of fellow passengers may be shot by one of the large gentlemen in carriage B. Now sit back and enjoy the ride."

The seagulls have clearly got issues...

The RSPCA has an annual income of over £100m a year, and God knows how much in assets. So I dare say they can spare the time trying to forbid schools to keep guinea pigs and bringing prosecutions against farmers for failing to meet the psychological needs of their cows to answer some really spectacularly stupid phone queries.

They've just revealed, among other misguided queries, that someone phoned them last year because they'd seen a seagull sitting on a rail in the rain, and it "looked sad". I know what they mean. Seagulls always look as if they've won the tin of dented peaches in the tombola of life. It's freezing cold, they're stuck in some godforsaken seaside resort all year round, with no means of entertaining themselves other than giving holidaymakers the evil eye, making a strangulated noise and dive-bombing children to nick their whelks. Most of them don't even have the get-up-and-go to migrate somewhere more agreeable than Hastings. The only bright point in their life is the reflection that at least nobody could ever want to eat them.

The person who saw one sitting on a rail and thought it looked sad might have had an accurate insight. Now, perhaps the RSPCA could use some of its many millions to fund a seagull psychologist to sit on a rail and help them face some of their evident issues.

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