The BBC debates gay execution. Let’s debate whether the BBC should be killed.
Uganda is considering a law that would allow the state to execute homosexuals.
So the BBC World Services had this excellent idea for a public debate. They asked their readers whether “homosexuals should be executed.” According to these serious journalist types, they felt that given the debate in Uganda over whether homosexuals should be killed, such a debate seemed like a “legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion.”
The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused. But it’s important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.
Obviously many people thought debating whether homos should be killed in Uganda was a bit like debating whether Jews should be killed in Nazi Germany. But it got me thinking about other people we could debate killing. Like
Should women living under the Taliban be stoned to death for breaking Sharia law? Yes or no?
Should suspected terrorists be tortured? What about convicted ones? Yes or no.
I think it’s clear where this is going. Serious journalism demands that we ask these questions.
Should politicians who purposefully lie to start wars of aggression be executed without trial? After a trial? Yes or no.
Should bankers who profit off the misery of millions of people and then pay themselves record salaries be executed? Yes or no.
Should these same bankers be tortured? Yes or no.
Should Tiger Woods be executed? Or just tortured? Please choose one.
Should the journalists who thought debating the execution of homosexuals was good journalism be forced to complete an intensive seminar in ethics? Or should they just be fired? Or should these journalists be executed? Please choose one.
The problem with old-school, BBC-style reporting is that its ridiculous claims to “objectivity” and “neutrality” leave it open to just these kinds of mistakes. The claim to objectivity, in journalism as well as in other fields of inquiry, is based on the belief that a body can rise above its position in the social world and view life from above, an Archimedean viewpoint.
But this claim to objectivity is a fantasy. Everyone has a particular point of view forged from particular positions in the world- race, gender, class, nationality, and yes, sexuality. Would a gay journalist ever ask the question “Should homosexuals be executed”? Probably not. But the more privilege a journalist has in terms of race, class, etc., the more likely that that privilege will remain invisible. Straight people don’t have to think about their sexuality anymore than white people think about their race.
Sexuality becomes something “other” people have. And those other people are not, of course, as fully human as “people like us.” And so debating whether homosexuals should be executed becomes “good journalism.” If the journalists at the BBC had stopped for a moment and asked “If I were queer, would I ask this question? How would it feel to be queer and know that if I lived in Uganda I could be killed for loving someone else?” then they’d know that killing people for the gender of the people they love is no different than killing people for the color of their skin or their religion. It’s not really up for debate. Ever.
A much better journalistic exercise would be to ask readers whether they knew there are strong connections between American evangelical Christians and the Ugandan debate over executing homosexuals. Perhaps a better question would be:
Should American evangelical Christian leaders be tried for murder for encouraging Ugandan leaders to execute homosexuals?