BBC will show dead soldiers despite row

Al-Jazeera: Iraq war coverage included footage of killed British soldiers’ bodies (pixelated by Press Gazette)

A row has broken out between the BBC and the Ministry of Defence after the corporation insisted it would go ahead with plans to show footage of the boties of two British soldiers killed in Iraq.

An episode of BBC Two documentary series Correspondent, scheduled to be shown this Sunday, will look at the approach Qatar-based satellite news channel Al-Jazeera took in reporting the war.

Against a backdrop of condemnation from UK and US Governments, Al-Jazeera originally showed the bodies of Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp lying on a road after their Land Rover was ambushed in southern Iraq on 23 March. The bodies were found in a shallow grave near Az Zubayr.

Now the BBC programme intends to show some of that footage as a means of illustrating Al-Jazeera’s editorial approach.

However, the MoD, which is representing the families of the two soldiers in its demands, said the government department was “disappointed and hoped the BBC will reconsider”.

“We do not condone the BBC’s intentions. We find it unacceptable and request co-operation on behalf of the families of the soldiers,” an MoD spokeswoman said.

The Prime Minister’s office has also waded into the dispute in support of the MoD’s demand that the BBC withdraw the programme. Tony Blair was publicly critical of Al-Jazeera for showing the footage in March, amid suggestions that the soldiers were executed by Iraqi soldiers.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We are saying to any television station showing pictures of soldiers injured or killed that the media should respect the feelings of families, as this really must be a very difficult time for them. We fully endorse what the Ministry of Defence has said and support its decision to ask the BBC to reconsider and not broadcast this footage.”

However, the BBC said the programme would be shown in the public interest and would observe corporation guidelines on war reporting, which include notifying family members before broadcast and pixelating the faces of Cullingworth and Allsopp. It had already postponed the programme once in order to put some distance between the broadcast and the soldiers’ funerals.

“We believe there is an overwhelming public interest issue in using the footage in this way,” a BBC spokeswoman said. “It is a very short excerpt of this film, for a story on Al-Jazeera’s war coverage. It gained exclusives from various sources – this footage is one such. When it comes up in the programme, it is only for a few seconds and their faces are pixelated. We feel this is a legitimate topic for Correspondent to address.”

By Wale Azeez

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