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Points of view revisited

I got my answer from the BBC yesterday to my polite request asking them to reconsider their decision to not broadcast the documentary Still Loved.

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If you have read my previous post you would have seen my complaint was respectfully presented and probed the BBC’s previous standard line response.

What I received was oddly defensive, missed the point and still fails to address key issues around their grounds for refusal.

Thanks for contacting us regarding the independent documentary on stillbirth which you would like to see broadcast on BBC Television. We apologise for the long delay in getting back to you.

While we recognise the strength of your feelings on this matter, there is very little we can usefully add to the formal responses from the BBC that you have already seen.

This line annoys me. It comes across as patronising and a way to acknowledge a rant. I did not send a rant.

You have question why the Director-General Lord Hall has said the “stark depiction of infant mortality would make it very difficult for a terrestrial broadcaster to show it in its present form” as you believe similar depictions have already been shown in programmes like EastEnders and Call the Midwife. We would, however, point out there is a major difference between showing real-life footage of infant mortality and representing that subject dramatically in a fictional context. We do not believe any direct comparison can be made between the two.

My point is the incoherence of deeming stillbirth ok for pre-watershed entertainment but not ok for post-watershed, appropriately sign posted (viewers may find…) educational viewing.

It’s not a matter of direct comparison.

I will return to stark depictions later.

While the BBC has also covered the subject in news reports and documentaries, the BBC has always retained full editorial control in order to ensure the content meets broadcasting regulations. The Director-General’s response makes it clear he does not believe the documentary in question would meet those standards in its present form.

We keep returning to the ‘present form’ argument that ignores the fact that the film maker has offered to work with the BBC on edits and even going so far as to record new segments to get this film the wider audience it needs. It can not achieve its full potential to raise awareness and understanding of the long lasting and wide reaching impact of baby loss if it can only ever reaches bereaved parents.

Your second point is that charities have been involved before in the production of documentaries. The Director-General’s response does not refer to assistance or contributions made by charities, but to the way programmes are funded. We would refer you again to the statement which explains: “Our impartiality guidelines do not allow us to show programmes which have received funding from charities who have an interest in the subject matter”.

No. My second point which this letter fails to address is that the taboo around this subject (and amply demonstrated by this response) is such that it couldn’t get backing. The only way it could get funding was from bereaved families and charity contributions were only around 1%.

If the BBC acknowledges that these rules mean that they “have had to turn down a number of distinguished films for this reason” maybe it’s worth revisiting that policy to see if it is proportionate given there appears to be no discretion allowed to consider on case by case basis.

It begs the question, what is the BBC so afraid of? Their fiercest critics regularly run articles on stillbirth, it’s one of the few good things they do and they do so in spite of grumping from a minority of readers.

Stark depictions of infant mortality

The main argument the BBC (and other non public service broadcasters) has used is:

stark depiction of infant mortality would make it very difficult for a terrestrial broadcaster to show it in its present form

This is presented as a solid reason for not showing things it already shows in a fictional setting but it goes deeper than that.

What does stark depictions mean? Images of dead babies, tiny coffins and distressed parents.

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I have stark depictions of infant mortality in my home although I usually just call them photos. These pictures are on display. They are photos of my children and they are part of my family. I am not ashamed of them and I will not hide them. Their siblings see them and ask questions about them without fear. These photos are the only depictions we have and will ever have of our twin sons.

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It is an insult to the bereaved to use such demeaning language to describe their experiences and memories in such a sterile way.

It is apparent that the author has not seen the documentary or read my linked post summarising it as what the BBC is doing is exactly what happens in the film when the parents talk about people asking them to turn pictures of their children around.

The limits of the complaints form restrict how much detail I can go into in my reply but I will keep pushing on this. This film needs a wider audience and the response from the BBC and other broadcasters highlights how much more work is needed to confront this taboo and help people understand the many facets of baby loss and yes, that will involve stark depictions of infant mortality.

The insistence on this self defeating mantra of stark depictions paints the film as being a relentless, grinding carousel of misery when it’s not at all. It is a harrowing film (it would be odd if a documentary on baby loss wasn’t) but has moments of humour, hope and optimism.

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