BBC Admits: Several ‘Frozen Planet’ Scenes Are Fake

The cheek of it! BBC boss claims Press is using outcry over fakery to take revenge for his hacking inquiry coverage (Daily Mail, Dec. 14, 2011):

  • Mark Thompson suggests criticism misleading footage comes from bitterness about Corporation’s reporting of the Leveson inquiry
  • Bosses stun viewers by admitting they often fake documentary footage
  • Sequence of caterpillar freezing and thawing was filmed ‘in a box’
  • ‘We’re making movies’ says presenter Sir David Attenborough
  • The head of the BBC yesterday blamed the deluge of criticism about its ‘faked’ scenes of polar bear cubs on newspaper bitterness over the corporation’s comprehensive coverage of the phone-hacking inquiry.

    Director-general Mark Thompson suggested the issue of the misleading Frozen Planet footage was being used as a way of retaliating against the BBC for its reporting of the Leveson inquiry into Press standards.

    ‘I do rather wonder whether this is really about polar bears or about Lord Leveson and other matters,’ he said.

    Mr Thompson also said viewers had already effectively given it the go-ahead to fake scenes in natural history shows without telling them.

    Millions thought the scene had been captured by BBC cameramen inside an underground cave in the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic wilderness.

    But the footage, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and interspersed with real shots of the Arctic, was in fact filmed in a den made of plaster and wood in a wildlife enclosure at a Dutch zoo.

    Appearing before MPs yesterday to answer questions over the BBC’s annual report, Mr Thompson played down the controversy about the footage in the Winter episode of the hit wildlife series.

    The director-general said the BBC would not be re-editing the show’s commentary, adding that the corporation had done audience research and that viewers were fine with the practice.

    He told MPs on the Commons culture, media and sport committee: ‘Some years ago we asked the public the specific question of whether they would prefer it if there were on-air mentions, either captions or labels, and the overwhelming response of the public is they did not want us to do that.

    ‘They were quite happy with the idea of us simply explaining where we can after the programme, always on the website, how we do it, so those who want to know how it is made can find out.’

    He claimed it had ‘talked to the public’ and ‘sought their advice’ and that they ‘understand’, provided the commentary is ‘written extremely carefully’ and was ‘generic’.

    But Tory MP Therese Coffey said she was one of those that ‘did believe that the extraordinary coverage of the polar bears was genuine’.

    She said the BBC had ‘spoilt’ the ‘fantastic’ programme, adding:

    ‘For me I will probably never look at a BBC nature programme in the same way, [but instead] to see, was it trick cameras.’

    Mr Thompson then turned his fire on newspaper coverage of the issue.

    He said: ‘All I would say is there is a leader in today’s Mirror that is quite interesting – “The national broadcaster is quick on the draw when it comes to pointing fingers at others.

    Perhaps when it comes to their own editorial standards and ethics a little more action and a little less pontificating would be handy”.

    ‘I do rather wonder whether this is really about polar bears or about Lord Leveson and other matters.’
    BBC chairman Lord Patten told the committee the fakery had probably only come to light as a result of an item on the show’s website which explained how the images were achieved.

    Sir David, 85, has also defended the methods used by Frozen Planet. He said: ‘If you had tried to put a camera in the wild in a polar bear den, she would either have killed the cub or the cameraman.’

    Mr Thompson and Lord Patten also faced a call from Labour MP Jim Sheridan to sack Jeremy Clarkson over his comments on the One Show about striking public sector workers being shot.

    Lord Patten said the Top Gear presenter and the One Show had apologised for the remarks.

    Mr Thompson said: ‘I don’t intend to sack him because in my view the remarks were clearly intended as a joke.’

    Conservative MP Philip Davies attacked the BBC’s coverage of Europe, saying he had seen research which showed that a minuscule percentage of guests on news programmes were from a point of view that the UK should withdraw from the European project.

    Mr Thompson replied that voices of scepticism could be heard ‘morning, noon and night’ across the BBC’s network.’

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