Thursday 9 August 2012

Lest We Forget (The BBC Clearly Have)

The BBC's coverage of disabled people over the last couple of years has been very hit and miss, from highs like last week's Panorama investigation of ATOS and the WCA, to lows like Panorama implying we're all on the fiddle and swanning around in yachts and Jags. Mostly it's been bad, with Auntie Beeb foregoing investigative reporting in favour of whatever twisted press release the DWP has put out most recently. And the less said about John Humphrys' propaganda piece for the Tories, or the odious Saints and Scroungers, the better.

When it was announced that the BBC had successfully bid to broadcast the Olympics, but had chosen not to cover the Paralympics, it seemed like more of the same. But I have to admit, their Olympic coverage has been generally superb. Tonight the BBC particularly impressed me, in the run-up to Usain Bolt's defence of his 200m title they chose to focus on one of the black-spots of Olympic history, the persecution of American 200m sprinters Tommie Smith (Gold) and John Carlos (Bronze) for giving Black Power salutes during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, and of Australian medalist Peter Norman (Silver) for supporting them by wearing an "Olympic Project for Human Rights" badge. Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Games, while Norman was reprimanded, excluded from the team for the 1972 Games, despite having set a national record that still stands, and even excluded from being a guest at the 2000 Sydney Games. Not exactly the shining example of the Olympic Spirit we might have hoped for.

After that piece of superb coverage I was even more delighted when they segued into another documentary piece, this one looking at the 1936 Berlin Games, and the horror of Eugenics. And that was when the BBC blew it. Less than three weeks away from the Paralympics, they listed the targets of the Holocaust as "Roma, Trade Unionists, Homosexuals and Jews". In a piece focussed on Eugenics under Hitler, with the Paralympics days away, they forgot to include Disabled People. It's difficult to describe what a kick in the teeth that was. Germany's own disabled people, followed soon enough by disabled people in occupied territories like Poland, were systematically slaughtered in the Aktion T4 programme, and it was the techniques applied against disabled victims that subsequently were targeted against those people the BBC did remember to list. Almost inevitably it is disabled people, the first victims, who are the forgotten victims of the Holocaust, just as the discrimination we face on the streets of contemporary Britain is overlooked or whitewashed away. In the run up to the Paralympics is it really too much to hope that the BBC might do better?

"Then they came for the sick, the so-called incurables,
And I remained silent because I was not disabled"
Pastor Martin Niemoeller (early version)

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