A BBC Sunday Morning Live Executive Producer has responded to my complaint. Below you will see his email and my reply.
8 September 2010
Dear Maryam Namazie
Thank you for your email to Sunday Morning Live this afternoon, which I am pleased to respond to. I understand two of my colleagues have also apologised to you for the fact that you were not able to take part in Sunday’s discussion.
Our debate on Sunday was whether we were right to condemn Iran over the stoning of women. On our studio panel we had two contributors who both condemned stoning and argued that we were right to condemn Iran for carrying it out, and a third who condemned the stonings themselves. The discussion was introduced using a filmed interview with a campaigner for women’s rights in Iran. We also had two contributors via webcam: one who spoke on Sharia law; and a lawyer from Tehran who tried to explain the position of the authorities in Iran.
I regret that there was insufficient time during what was a heated discussion for us to take a contribution from yourself, and would like to take this opportunity to apologise for that. I do not believe, however, that the debate was an unbalanced one. Indeed, all our guests in the studio went out of their way to condemn this medieval practice.
As we’ve said, the Sunday Morning Live focus was on whether it was right for countries such as ours to try to intervene. We certainly do not believe we in any way minimised the horror of stoning, and I don’t think anyone watching the debate could come away feeling that it had been anything other than condemned in the strongest terms.
When the “murder” issue was raised, Susanna Reid pointed out that Ms Ashtiani’s guilt was contested.
We take some exception, therefore, to the suggestion that the programme gave any succour, even unwittingly, to a regime that may indeed be manoeuvring for ways to implement a penal policy which we clearly signalled, at the start of the item, as belonging to the Middle Ages.
For many of the reasons you mention it may be all too likely that we return to Ms Ashtiani’s plight in a future programme. If and when that happens we would of course want to consider your making a contribution to the on-air debate.
With very best wishes.
Executive Producer | Sunday Morning Live | BBC One
Here is my reply:
9 September 2010
Dear Mr Pattinson
Thank you for your prompt albeit disappointing response to my email regarding the 5 September BBC Sunday Morning Live programme on the Iran stoning case. Whilst I am not surprised, I must still insist on the provision of factual corrections with regards stoning in Iran and Sakineh’s case in your upcoming programme.
Your response clearly fails to address the main point I made, which is that your presenter, Susanna Reid, made factually incorrect statements that gave the impression to viewers that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is not to be stoned, that stoning does not take place in Iran or is rare and that Ms Ashtiani is facing execution for murder rather than adultery. Even where your presenter added that her guilt was ‘contested’ (as you mention) it was to reiterate the fabricated murder charge against her. Also, the introduction by a women’s rights campaigner, whilst interesting, gave no information on Ms Ashtiani’s specific case in order to help contradict statements made as facts by your presenter. Moreover, that some of your studio guests condemned stoning and the government despite your programme’s misinformation is a credit to them not the programme itself.
Unfortunately your response makes it seem as if my complaint is about my not being able to participate in the debate. It is not. It is about the adverse effects of the programme’s bias on the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
Saying that stoning is no longer in existence in Iran or labeling Ms Ashtiani a murderer has direct bearings on her case. As I have said before, we must not forget that a woman’s life is at stake. After all, if we agree with her son that it is the international campaign in her defence that is keeping her alive, then such misinformation has direct and adverse effects on her situation. Also, isn’t the media bound to provide accurate information even in a religious programme? Is it accurate for your presenter to say: ‘the Iranian government says it is stopping stoning as a punishment for adultery and homosexuality’ and then go on to make a contradictory statement saying: ‘Officially the Iranian government does not condone stoning. There has been an official moratorium since 2002. Officially it has been dropped from the penal code?’
As an aside, your email states that the reason I was not brought on was the result of insufficient time. However, a phone call message from your colleague on 5 September said it was because viewers in the poll taken were ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of condemning Iran for stoning which is why you had two proponents of stoning join via webcam and no-one opposed to it. Since the poll conducted was about whether ‘money [was] ruining sports, I find both her explanation and yours lacking.
In any case, I look forward to a resolution of this matter.