Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is homosexuality un-African? That's was the title of a BBC World Service Debate, first broadcast yesterday. Why choose that topic for debate when they might have asked so many other questions. They could have debated whether ginger hair is un-African; or whether having blue eyes is un-African; or whether being white is un-African.

Fifteen months ago the BBC asked 'Should homosexuals face execution?' That debate caused considerable offence, and Peter Horrocks explained the BBC's rationale. In doing so Peter acknowledged that the question was too stark, especially when taken out of context and circulated on social media. Nevertheless he believed it was "an absolutely legitimate debate to have."

Peter Horrocks: That wasn't just the BBC plucking that question out of the air. It was because it's being considered by the Ugandan parliament. The context within the programme was absolutely clear. The context within the website was absolutely clear. But if you just take that headline away and say "the BBC is asking this," I can absolutely understand why some people were significantly offended by that, and we apologise for that, and that's something which we're going to learn from.

What exactly was learnt from the December 2009 controversy? If they'd been a bit more thoughtful, they might have posed the question in a different way. Instead of asking 'Is homosexuality un-African?' and thereby lending credence to the notion and reinforcing prejudice, the BBC could have challenged their intended audience by calling the debate 'Is homophobia un-African?'

So why didn't they choose that title? Perhaps because it would have attracted a smaller audience, or perhaps because David Bahati - the Ugandan MP who wants to legislate the judicial murder of gay people - would be less willing to participate as a panelist. Would that have been such a bad thing? In fact aren't we really back to the question of why the BBC wanted such a debate in the first place?

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