What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Dec. 18 2009 - 12:27 am | 57 views | 1 recommendation | 6 comments

The BBC debates gay execution. Let’s debate whether the BBC should be killed.

Auguste Vaillants execution.

Image via Wikipedia Uganda is considering a law that would make homosexuality punishable by death.

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.

BBC apologises for ‘Should gays be executed?’ debate – from Pink News – all the latest gay news from the gay community – Pink News.

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?


2 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 6 Total Comments
Post your comment »
  1. collapse expand

    But this shows a touching faith in the media’s willingness or ability to really handle or address such international complexity. Not likely.

  2. collapse expand

    Without yet having read the BBC “debate” article — I’m going there next — I have to wonder aloud who said “Yes” to executions? How do you validate that side of the so-called debate? “I’m pro-Uganda and I vote!”?
    “Hands off Uganda!”?

    • collapse expand

      Sadly I believe a lot of people did vote “yes” to executions of homosexuals. But I was thinking maybe we could have a similar debate on T/S. Should heterosexuals be executed? It might be interesting?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I can’t help but recall uber-christian, singer Anita Bryant’s campaign against homosexuality back in the 70s. (remember Paper Roses? Me neither).. She once stated that she was afraid of being murdered by an enraged homosexual. Gore Vidal quipped something like: “An enraged homosexual? More likely an enraged music lover.”
        BTW, her fundamentalist marriage, career and lucrative deal as spokesperson for Florida orange juice soon collapsed. Allah ho Akbar.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    Or Obama’s nagging question: “Is it in our national interests to pursue a war in Afghanistan?”

  4. collapse expand

    I think it is interesting to ask how one comes to view such a “debate” as legitimate? In a society where it is impolitic to criticize other cultures and customs, we end up with such inane questions. But the “homosexual execution” question is too easily dismissed as nonsensical. Let’s ask a more relevant question: Are some cultures and customs superior to others? And are we allowed to say so?

Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    I'm an academic who does not believe in abstract knowledge. Like Marx, I think the point isn't just to describe the world, but to change it. Unlike Marx I don't have Engels sending me my monthly rent. So I have a day job teaching sociology at Middlebury College. In my real life, I'm a fighter (taekwondo) and a writer

    (Salon, Legal Affairs, NPR's "All Things Considered") and now this blog. My second book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Spirit of Our Time, is a critique of neoliberal capitalism through cosmetic surgery. American Plastic will be published by Beacon in 2010.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 221
    Contributor Since: December 2008
    Location:Montreal, QC & Burlington, VT

    What I'm Up To

    Buy the book

    If you want to buy my book now and avoid the holiday rush (obviously it will be a hot hot item come December- kinda like an i-Pad or maybe more like a Cabbage Patch Doll?) you can do it here.