BBC accused of 'extraordinary' censorship over Radio 4 play Stone

Corporation in firing line after it cut dialogue from drama written by controversial playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti

The BBC has been accused of an "extraordinary" act of censorship after it cut a line from a controversial playwright's drama on BBC Radio 4.

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, whose 2004 play Behzti sparked riots and death threats and was cancelled by a Birmingham theatre over concerns about public safety, was commissioned by Radio 4 to write an episode of drama series Stone.

Bhatti's episode, called Heart of Darkness, features an investigation into the murder of a 16-year-old Asian girl, who it emerges is the victim of an "honour killing". DCI Stone, who is voiced by Hugo Speer, is told to treat the case "sensitively".

Bhatti said she was told a week before the recording that the script was being altered at the request of the BBC's compliance department.

Radio 4 said a line was taken out because it could "potentially misrepresent" the attitude of the majority of British Muslims to honour killing.

Bhatti said: "A week before recording I got an email from the producer saying the BBC compliance department had asked them to take lines out.

"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."

Bhatti made the comments at an Index on Censorship conference on artistic freedom of expression in the UK, reported the Independent.

"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," she said.

"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."

The episode of the four-part series is due to air on Radio 4 in the Afternoon Drama slot on Friday.

Radio 4 said the change was made as part of the "normal editorial process" of script development.

"This is a hard-hitting drama about the realities of honour killing in Britain," it said in a statement.

"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."

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John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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