Press freedom anger over Australia royal skit axe

30th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Press freedom advocates on Saturday slammed the axing of a satirical Australian programme about the royal wedding on official request as a troubling example for authoritarian regimes.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it "deplored" the BBC and Associated Press Television News (APTN) for "censoring satirical coverage" of the nuptials by Australian comedy group The Chaser.

Notorious for breaching security at an APEC summit in an Osama bin Laden costume, The Chaser had planned to broadcast irreverent commentary over the BBC's live feed, but were forced to cancel after the royals reportedly objected.

Clarence House, the private office of Prince William's father Charles, was widely cited as being behind last-minute changes to broadcasting conditions forbidding the use of footage in any comedy or satire.

The revisions led the BBC to threaten to block Australia's public broadcaster ABC -- host to The Chaser -- from any wedding coverage if it did not comply.

"Satire is an important element of free expression in a democratic country," RSF said in a statement.

"This interference with Australian broadcasting sends the wrong message to many countries where the right to caricature is constantly denied," it added.

"The BBC and the royal family should have shown more tolerance and perhaps a bit more of a sense of humour."

RSF noted comments from The Chaser that a "large proportion of the cost of the wedding is being paid for by the (British) public" and that the value of parody and satire in a democracy were recognised under Australian law.

It was also critical of other royal-imposed restrictions on coverage, which included the installation of signal-blocking equipment to prevent the use of Twitter and other sites on mobile phones inside Westminster Abbey.

RSF congratulated The Chaser for responding to the situation with a satirical letter to Queen Elizabeth II requesting a "stay of execution" for the show, which had been three months in the making.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd last week urged the BBC to "lighten up" and appreciate the "Australian sense of humour."

The Chaser released some of the clips they had shot for the special on You Tube Saturday, the credits for which featured baked beans and toast being sloshed over a commemorative wedding plate.

One segment overlaid captions about the wedding on footage and interviews with Libyan rebels, screaming Afghan women and victims of Japan's devastating tsunami.

"I cannot sleep anymore," the programme dubbed a Japanese woman in an evacuation centre saying. "My mind is so active with thoughts of Kate's dress."

The footage was met with a cool reception online.

"Right decision by Clarence House. Over the line," Jason Franklin wrote on the Twitter microblogging site.

© 2011 AFP

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