Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Frozen Planet" will air in the US, but Attenborough criticized by Lawson

For a while there, rumors (rumours?) were circulating that the excellent BBC series on arctic ecology, Frozen Planet, would be censored in the US.

(Deep background -- I hate censorship with a vengeance, and despise those who practice it. There's nothing so ruinous to democracy, freedom, and even the environmental movement than the urge to censor. Former Supreme Court Justice Renquist once wrote a book call All the Laws but One, a good read, discussing the idea that, of all the freedoms we enjoy in the constitutional and Common Law tradition, habeus corpus and the freedom from unjust imprisonment that it represents was the most foundational, and so democracy might survive without every other law or constitutional right but this one. That's a good theoretical debate and one that would be enjoyable in any serious college class, but I tend to think freedom of expression is actually the more foundational. Just look at the events of last year in the middle east, the so-called Arab Spring, which ran and runs on the new-found freedom of repressed peoples to express themselves using social media. No surprise there: look at our own history: Ben Franklin was a printer and pamphleteer, a master of the social network technology of his day. And where would we be without Tom Paine or the great abolitionists and feminist pamphleteers? Academics everywhere, real academics who care about ideas, must uphold freedom of expression first and foremost.)

Anyway, back to the main thread.

Apparently the Discovery Channel was worried about the backlash that might occur in the US after airing the seventh episode, in which David Attenborough, the godfather of TV biology, explains how climate change is affecting the arctic and makes a plea for action.

All this was of course happening in slow motion by British standards as the series has come and gone on the BBC. I've seen it, and it is absolutely excellent. If anything, the last episode is a masterpiece of understated argument. The notion that Discovery might censor it was very disturbing.

This Guardian article settles the question by announcing in the background that the show will run in its entirety this March, but then publicizes former Chancellor Nigel Lawson's criticism of Attenborough.

Honestly, how could anyone criticize David Attenborough? That's a bit like criticizing Mother Teresa. Or Leonardo Da Vinci. The man's a national treasure. He should be preserved in the Tower, with the Crown Jewels.

But he was forced to defend himself and does so in the article.

If anything, this episode begins to show how the climate change idea has survived everything that the denialists could throw at it, and is coming back up. Their attempt to control the national discussion has failed, and from here on out we should begin to see recovery and, eventually, policy.

Which, if you think about it, is a great victory for freedom of expression.

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