The BBC appears to have broken its own editorial guidelines by becoming the first major British media outlet to publish an offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
BBC1’s flagship 10pm news bulletin on Thursday featured library footage of Charlie Hebdo editor Stéphane Charbonnier, who was shot and killed in Wednesday’s attack on the French satirical magazine’s Paris offices, holding up a special edition of the magazine four years ago featuring a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad (saw) on its front page threatening readers with “a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing”.
This appeared to contradict the BBC’s own editorial guidelines which were read out on BBC1’s Question Time, which followed the news.
Question Time presenter David Dimbleby said: “I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I didn’t read this out from the BBC editorial guidelines.”
Dimbleby quoted extensively from a section of the guidelines on the use of still photographs and images which said: “Due care and consideration must be made regarding the use of religious symbols in images which may cause offence. The Prophet Mohammed must not be represented in any shape or form.”
The BBC said the guidelines were out of date and indicated that the process of revising them had been under way for some time and was unrelated to the events in Paris.
In a statement the BBC said: “This guidance is old, out of date and does not reflect the BBC’s long-standing position that programme makers have freedom to exercise their editorial judgement with the editorial policy team available to provide advice around sensitive issues on a case-by-case basis. The guidance is currently being revised.”
Most UK media did not reprint any of the satirical magazine’s caricatures of Muhammad (pbuh) or the cartoons from Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, with which Charlie Hebdo first provoked international outrage in 2006.
Independent editor Amol Rajan said “every instinct” told him to publish the cartoons but described it as “too much of a risk”.