The Guardian reports today that the BBC declined to broadcast a play examining Israeli history and attitudes to war despite believing that it is a ‘brilliant piece’. This follows some criticism of the play in the right wing press.
The BBC has declined to broadcast a radio version of Caryl Churchill’s controversial new stage play about Israeli history, claiming it needed to remain impartial ‑ the same reason given for declining to air the Gaza emergency appeal.
In a move likely to resurrect the row over the BBC’s refusal in January to broadcast the appeal to help the people of Gaza, Radio 4 rejected an unsolicited manuscript of the play, Seven Jewish Children, which recently finished a short run at the Royal Court theatre. BBC sources suggest that a significant factor in the decision was awareness of the controversy stirred by Seven Jewish Children during its theatre run and the fact that the BBC has only recently survived the onslaught of criticism for its refusal to broadcast the Gaza appeal. In an email seen by the Guardian, Radio 4’s drama commissioning editor Jeremy Howe said that he and Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer thought Churchill’s play was a “brilliant piece”.
But Howe wrote: “It is a no, I am afraid. Both Mark [Damazer, Radio 4 controller] and I think it is a brilliant piece, but after discussing it with editorial policy we have decided we cannot run with it on the grounds of impartiality – I think it would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill’s view. Having debated long and hard we have decided we can’t do Seven Jewish Children.”
When asked about the email, the BBC said in a statement: “This play was not commissioned and no indication was given it would be broadcast. After due consideration, we felt it would not work for our audience.”
Churchill’s 10-minute play consists of seven short scenes in which Israeli adults discuss how they will explain to children, who are never seen on stage, seven key moments in Israeli and Jewish history. This includes the Holocaust, the first Intifada and the present-day bombing of Gaza. According to Churchill, the play explores “the difficulties of explaining violence to children”.
In a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph last month a number of prominent British Jews condemned the Royal Court for showing Churchill’s play which they said portrayed Israeli parents as “inhuman triumphalists”.
Some critics agreed. Christopher Hart in the Sunday Times attacked what he called “the play’s ludicrous and utterly predictable lack of even-handedness”. However, the Times said the play had “no heroes and villains” and the Guardian’s critic Michael Billington said the play “shows theatre’s power to heighten consciousness and articulate moral outrage”.