Thursday, December 17, 2009

BBC's coverage of Uganda's 'anti-homosexuality bill' sparks controversy

The British Broadcasting Corporation has responded to the growing controversy over a question a debate on one of its programs about a Ugandan bill that would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of homosexuality in the East African country.

Africa Have Your Say asked its listeners to debate the question: "Should homosexuals face execution." Peter Horrocks, director of the World Service, responded to the controversy earlier today.

"The reaction from part of our audience was very strong and [we] do feel in retrospect the headline taken out of context was too stark and [we] do apologize for any offense that was caused to people, but it was an absolutely legitimate debate to have," he said. "We were having that debate clearly because that's the question the Uganda Parliament is having."

Indeed, Ugandan lawmakers are scheduled to debate the so-called "anti-homosexuality bill" in Kampala tomorrow. People have taken to the streets in Chicago, San Francisco and other cities around the world to protest the proposed law.

British activist Peter Tatchell opined the BBC should encourage debate over the draconian bill, but he added he feels editors should have approached it differently.

“I think it perfectly reasonable for the BBC to host a debate about the current Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but not in the terms that it was framed,” Tatchell said.

Horrocks again defended the debate he said he feels Africa Had Your Say encouraged.

"This question is being posed directly in the Ugandan Parliament and there were plenty of people who took part in the program who were supportive of it," he said. "It is a legitimate subject for debate, but clearly the way that you handle something like that with different sensitivities in different societies [over] the ways the questions are posed is something we need to be careful about."

A journalist's basic obligation is to pose difficult questions--including those that make their sources and those who hear, read or watch them uncomfortable or even angry. The idea Uganda could potentially sanction executions of gays and lesbians is a disgusting and shameful stain on the East African country. The BBC and other media outlets, however, have a responsibility to encourage an honest and open debate about the bill and the very real impact it could have on gay and lesbian Ugandans. And this obligation must trump any potential controversy and outrage that could result from such an exchange.

No comments: