Sensitivity is not the same thing as censorship


doctor who

There’s a bit of a debate going on across a number of circles online at the moment, regarding the decision of the BBC to edit a scene out of this weekend’s Doctor Who episode. The scene, in “Robot of Sherlock”, features a beheading.

It was presumably not that graphic — it’s still Doctor Who we’re talking about, and even Game of Thrones cuts away at, er, vital moments. But nonetheless, with cases such as that of journalist James Foley being all over the news, the BBC decided to omit the particular seen.

Quoth the BBC:

In light of recent news events, we have made an edit to episode three out of respect.

It seems, I reckon, fair enough. But there are others who disagree; they take to the internet with their perennial battlecry: “CENSORSHIP!”

Firstly, censorship is almost always bad. I don’t believe that “free speech” should be an arbitrary shield for anyone to say anything at all, but by and large I would accept that no one should be stopped from speaking their mind; simply not liking what someone says alone is not sufficient to stop them from saying it.

But censorship isn’t what has happened here.

Merriam-Webster defines censorship as meaning:

…to examine books, movies, letters, etc., in order to remove things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.

What the BBC did was voluntarily decide that a certain (minor — I didn’t even notice when it should have been) element of a single episode might be upsetting to some viewers at a particular time. I have heard no indication that this will be a permanent redaction, and I fully expect it to be re-included in the DVD release.

But they are sensitive to the current climate, and decided that this is too sensitive an issue to risk. They’re probably right, and after all the complaints about a lesbian, inter-species kiss in “Deep Breath”, you know that Ofcom would get a few hundred (at least) complaints. You can’t win.

It reminds me, really, of the “political correctness gone mad” brigade. There are very definitely situations where a fear of causing offence can be taken too far and cause harm. But most of the time the catchphrase is employed by the man put out that he can’t make the horridly racist joke, or the boss who can’t sexually harass his female employees.

That is the same order as the people who think this is an absolute outrage. The fact is that people have died in horrific ways, and Doctor Who is entertainment, escapism. I like Doctor Who when it does venture into its dark places, but that is not the same as poking fresh wounds — and for some people this will be very fresh.

What the BBC has shown here isn’t censorship; it’s sensitivity. And in my opinion, they were entirely right to do so.

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