Tara Conlan and John Beyer: Careful Now….
I’ve been wearing my Angry Pants for 3 days now. I’ve tried turning them inside-out, but I think the time has come to drop them in the laundry basket. I also have my hands on a lot of new data.
Please note that the following post is meant for clarification purposes, and such a post requires me to give everyone concerned The Benefit Of The Doubt wherever possible.
1. This is the email/circular that is central to the affair.
It is what caused the initial level of outrage and led to the number of complaints that made this ‘newsworthy’. The BBC and Ofcom received mainly email complaints until papers like The Sun got on board. Others may have provided the spark or fanned the flames further their own agenda, but this is the true cause of last week’s blaze:
The Sikhs have made a stand – but will Christians?
Below is a transcript of a television billing that is scheduled to be shown on BBC2 on 8th January 2005 at 9pm (unless we get enough people to complain).
“BBC2 plans to broadcast Jerry Springer’s “The Opera”, immediately after Christmas. This musical, notorious for containing over 8000 expletives, depicts the characters of Jesus, Mary and God as self-centered sexual deviants who give and receive extreme verbal abuse and a horrific series of blasphemies, all in the name of comedy. The show’s artistic director admits that it is a deliberate attack on “good taste”, and the BBC concedes that the intended broadcast “pushes back the boundaries of taste and decency”. Nevertheless, the show is scheduled to be transmitted without any cuts.”
If you disagree with the BBC’s plan to broadcast this material, please register your feelings with the BBC email@example.com tel 08700 100222) or OfCom (firstname.lastname@example.org tel 0845 456 3000). Could you also forward this message to anyone else you feel would want to be aware of this. This does make a difference – 500 calls are considered as a very significant complaint, so I am sure we can do this!!!!!!!!! You need to complain to both OfCom and the BBC.
The following URL is a direct link to the Ofcom website – and to register a complaint online. Please make use of this:
Please forward this message to as many people as possible, because time is of the essence as the 8th Jan gets nearer. Let us also pray for the material that is now being presented as entertainment on the BBC, and let us make a difference by being salt and light. The BBC plans to show the most expletive-strewn programme in history despite the following review from their own BBC reporter:
(Note – there then follows a full repeat of this review)
2. There is no direct link between Tara Conlan, John Beyer or Mediawatch UK and the circular at the centre of this affair.
It relies heavily on content provided by these two, but Tara Conlan is a journalist (not a campaigner) and is therefore an unlikely suspect. However, the Daily Mail – despite being aware of subsequent threats made to BBC bosses and (hopefully) being aware that the risk of harm coming to someone prior to transmission – does not appear to have denounced these threats until after transmission (1, 2).
John Beyer is a campaigner, but has denied categorically that he or any member of his organisation is behind this circular and claims to have no knowledge of its origin. But he also failed to publicly denounce it before transmission of JS:TO, and – presumably knowing it was out there – drafted and published this Jan 4 press release (note addition at tail).
3. Content used by the circular, quoted from The Daily Mail, contains questionable and misleading information
This Dec 3 2004 article by Tara Conlan was used as the centrepiece of the circular. It contains the following claims:
Roly Keating said the show would “push back the boundaries of taste and decency” – There is no record of Roly Keating actually speaking these words apart from this one article, but the BBC have failed to issue a denial. These same words just happen to contain a favourite catchphrase of John Beyer (1, 2, 3). LexisNexis reveals 21 Tara Conlan articles that quote John Beyer, dating back to July 2001 and no less than 12 of these attack the BBC, so some form of collusion or magical serendipity isn’t out of the question (e.g. John Beyer somehow colouring Tara Conlan’s line of questioning and Roly Keating phrasing his response using words from that question) but there is no proof of this. Conlan being on the ‘showbiz’ beat and writing for a newspaper known for its conservative views also more than accounts for the frequency of her encounters with John Beyer.
More than 8,000 obscenities will be broadcast when BBC2 shows a screen version of the musical Jerry Springer The Opera in January…. It contains 3,168 mentions of the f-word and 297 of the c-word… – Tara Conlan is not the origin of the inflated number of expletives. Thanks to further Googling, that claim can be traced back to this Nov 15 2004 Times article by Jack Malvern and even further back to this Oct 30 2004 Times article, also by Jack Malvern. The latter just happens to report “bitter legal action” between the producers of JS:TO and the Daily Mail. This case was due to be heard in December. The same month in which the article by Tara Conlan appeared. A later Mail article (with no byline) did take the time to acknowledge that; “The total number of obscenities is calculated by multiplying the number of swear-words by the number of people singing them.”
This didn’t happen until 6 Jan 2005, and another article followed on Jan 8 2005 that used the same 8,000 figure without this clarification, but it also has to be acknowledged that the producers of the show did not seek to refute the numbers until this late stage and the BBC (as far as I can tell) did not refute or seek to clarify the numbers until after transmission.
So, if you were so inclined as to speculate that the Mail deliberately targeted the broadcast of the opera because of their dispute with the producers of the stage show, you would also have to be willing to speculate that the producers and the BBC may have considered the claim to be so ridiculous as to be obvious, and/or allowing the claim to go uncorrected would do little harm by way of publicity.
It could also be speculated that the producers of the show themselves were the origin of the inflated numbers. But all this is just speculation. I plan to email John Malvern and continue following the trail, myself.
4. The circular further enhances these falsehoods to make it seem as if the BBC were being deliberately provocative
(The show) depicts the characters of Jesus, Mary and God as self-centered sexual deviants – the exact phrase “self-centred sexual deviants” appeared in the majority of initial email complaints to the BBC, so they can be traced directly back to this email. We can also draw from this that the author of the email know just which buttons to push to get action. For proof that the show did not depict Jesus, Mary and God as self-centered sexual deviants… well, you should have watched the broadcast. Exact phrases when taken out of context are certainly open to interpretation, but when you understand the intent of the show and see it in full it should be clear that these religious figures are not the targets of this satire.
The show’s artistic director admits that it is a deliberate attack on “good taste” – this is used in unison with the Roly Keating quote to suggest that both parties were doing this in a deliberately provocative manner. Stewart Lee, who co-wrote and directed the show, said on Jan 3 2005: “Neither Mary, God, not Jesus are represented as ‘self-centred sexual deviants’ – unless being ‘a bit gay’, which Jesus says he is, counts a sexual deviance, which we hardly feel it does. Both God and Mary are represented with the utmost respect, as is their holy due.”
Of course, from this sprang the whole BBC to claim Jesus is a bit gay ‘debate’, but I choose not to go into that. Because, at the end of the day, Jesus was a bit gay. But only if you consider being gay a sin. (See? That’s why I’m not going to get into it.)
The circular’s author – when using the Daily Mail content and his/her own – also describes all of the above as being from a transcript of a television billing that is scheduled to be shown on BBC2, further suggesting to any recipient that the the BBC was going out of their way to offend. There is no record of this information being posted as an official billing for the show.
5. The circular suggests the use of violence
And in the very first sentence, too: The Sikhs have made a stand – but will Christians?
6. Christian Voice prompted violence, but cannot be confirmed as the origin of this circular
It has been hinted that they are, but you have to note the differing approaches to complaints and how they were expected to be received…
The circular suggested that complaints to Ofcom would have the show taken of the air (when the truth is that Ofcom cannot act until after a show has been broadcast). It also suggested that if enough people complained to the BBC, the show would be withdrawn.
The Christian Voice website that notoriously published the home addresses of BBC executives did not express this view. It said that; Neither the BBC nor Ofcom care what you think anyway. So we have to do something a bit more direct.
And here we stray into the realms of the suggested use of violence. In the interests of balance, I will precede these quotes with a statement made by Stephen Green (after transmission): “We completely distance ourselves from it and condemn these threats. We were a little naive in thinking our website was used only by Christians. Some criminal element have taken matters as they have.”
So – doing my very best to keep The Benefit Of The Doubt tocking over – we must maintain here that it was naivety that led Stephen Green to put his name to the above text and the text that follows, publish it alongside the home addresses of two BBC executives and also advise readers that the names and addresses other big wigs were available to members and supporters (who “are at liberty to share that publicly-available information”): It is interesting that this story should break a week after four hundred Sikhs felt strongly enough about the play Behzti (Dishonour), which depicted sex abuse and murder in a Sikh temple, to protest outside (and inside) the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. There were some arrests, but you have to admire their willingness to stand up for their religion. Is Almighty God sending Christians a challenge? Is He testing how strongly Christians feel about the sacred name of Jesus Christ?
7. The author of the circular remains unknown… for now
The first instance I can find of it being posted on the internet is a post to uk.religion.christian dated 23 Dec 2004. The author claimed to have received it “from 4 or 5 different sources,” so it’s more than likely that it had been bouncing around via email long before this. I’ve emailed the author of this post in an attempt to follow the trail, but if anybody else has any leads, I’d be very happy to hear from you.
UPDATE – In the Guardian article linked below, we have the following: What is clear is that by the end of last week thousands of people within the evangelical community were receiving details from Christian Voice of how to complain about the musical to the BBC. Mr Green said: “We sent an email to our supporters who sent it on to other people. It’s impossible to say how many of the complaints came from our group.”
Is he referring to the circular quoted above? Following this admission, the simplest thing to do is ask. With you shortly.
I still have more data to collect. An FOI request is with Ofcom and the BBC (to see all of the complaints… this may take a few weeks, but it will at the very least let me know *when* the circular began its journey) and there are a couple of warm trails to follow – but for now, here’s where I am…
Tara Conlan: Cannot be blamed directly for the threats of violence made against BBC executives, but she bears great moral responsibility in my view. Her article of Dec 3 2004 still warrants a complaint to the PCC and – at this stage – I still intend to make one.
John Beyer: Should also be getting a hot, uncomfortable feeling on the back of his neck. He has earned from this episode my determination to keep a much closer eye on the way he runs his organisation.
Neither Conlan or Beyer are directly responsible for threats of violence made against BBC executives, but I stand by my charge that they misled the Christian community.
Stephen Green: Is either naive, dangerous, or dangerously naive. And that’s giving him The Benefit Of the Doubt.
UPDATE – Shed a tear for journalism in this country. This kind of thing should have been investigated and reported last week…
Guardian – Christian protest targets BBC boss: A rightwing Christian group last night vowed to step up the campaign against the BBC after its screening of Jerry Springer – The Opera as details emerged of how a small number of determined activists was largely responsible for the biggest-ever protest against the broadcaster… BBC insiders also point out that only 14 of the complaints were received by post, suggesting that a large number were the result of orchestrated email and phone campaigns. They are yet to do a geographical breakdown, but anecdotally are convinced that thousands of protests came from multiple calls or were generated by email campaigns. They believe that ad hoc call centres were set up to bombard the BBC with complaints. One operator said she had received several calls in a row from the same number, each claiming to be a different person. Many of the emails used similar forms of words and were sent from around the world, apparently after Christian groups in the US and elsewhere were enlisted to join the campaign. Some of the electronic protests are also believed to have been the result of software that automatically sends out multiple emails, each appearing to come from a different address.
For the record, my FOI request to the BBC was designed to ferret out this kind of information and provide proof of such claims.