5.4.04

The furore over showing foetuses

Channel 4 has defended its position over the screening of a film showing aborted foetuses. Entitled 'My Foetus' the programme which will be broadcast later this month, contains graphic images of a vacuum-pump abortion as well as 10 and 20 week old foetuses. Channel 4 claims the images contained in the film should be viewed within the context of the wider debate surrounding the emotive issue of abortion.

The independent filmmaker behind the production has herself had an abortion and wanted to produce a film that challenged her own pro-choice position and offered a balanced debate about the issues.

The difficulty in striking or resolving such a balance was made clear by the less than satisfactory judgment of the House of Lords last year HERE in Pro-Life Alliance's case against the BBC. There has been a long-standing taboo surrounding showing images of foetuses and highlighting their likeness to miniature babies. People are uncomfortable with things that look too human. The long running battle between Pro-Life and the BBC concerned a film they submitted as their party election broadcast for the last election. It contained similar images to those Channel 4 is proposing to show but was banned by the BBC on taste & decency grounds. Clearly - as was established in the Court of Appeal - freedom of expression should allow such images to be screened and enable the debate it was meant to provoke. However the House of Lords concluded that the BBC were entitled to exercise their discretion in following their guidelines and refuse to broadcast the film. While on a narrow interpretation of the rules concerning the following of guidelines this may be sound it ignores the larger issue. The judges were themselves in disagreement over this and the real answer is perhaps that Pro-Life should have been allowed to freely express their views - though perhaps not within the confines of a 4 minute party election broadcast.

So Channel 4's stance on the matter provides viewers with the debate and lawyers with an answer to the freedom of expression issue. We should show such things but just get the context right. This is what Prash Naik (C4's head of legal) said - "The pro-life film contained 23 images in a 4 minute film ...this film uses 4 images in a 30 minute film which carefully explains the issues."

Hopefully it will achieve its aim of a balanced debate that gets over the taboo and doesn't shock too many sensitive viewers. More HERE and HERE

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