Is this the way to Al-Jazeera?

Video: BBC staff in bad-taste Middle East spoof

By Alexa Baracaia

Evening Standard, 11 September 2006

MEMBERS of the BBC London news team have filmed a spoof video making light of the conflict in the Middle East.

The joke film – a skit on Peter Kay’s Is This The Way To Amarillo? – was made to mark the departure of assistant editor Simon Torkington, who is moving to news channel Al-Jazeera International in Qatar with his wife, former ITV news anchor Shiulie Ghosh.

It was shown at a private leaving party for Torkington – nicknamed “Storky” – last week. But a copy was leaked by a BBC insider angry that licence fee payers’ cash was used to make a “tasteless” skit that could cause offence to Muslims and relatives of the victims of 9/11 and the London bombings.

It is particularly embarrassing coming as the world remembers the 2001 terror attacks. BBC London journalists, including transport correspondent Andrew Winstanley and reporter Sarah Harris are seen singing in tea towel head-dresses and fake beards with a video backdrop of news footage of missile launchers, tanks and soldiers in gas masks.

BBC London special correspondent Kurt Barling – who has reported extensively on the issues facing Britain’s Muslim community – appears bare-chested and dancing in a Muslim prayer hat.

The re-jigged lyrics feature jokes about Osama bin Laden, the traditional Islamic jilbab dress and the Palestinian intifada.

Fronting the video in the Peter Kay role is Ian Wade, a member of BBC London management staff who was caught up in the Piccadilly line bombing last year.

Others said to feature in the video, which sees the group dancing in a stairwell at the BBC’s Marylebone headquarters, in a lift and leaping out of a BBC London van outside the offices, include news anchor Matt Barbet, arts correspondent Brenda Emmanus and reporter Karthi Gnanasegaram, along with half a dozen others. Although the video was never intended to be broadcast outside the BBC, sources say it calls into question the judgment of those involved.

One insider said: “At a time of great community sensitivities, is it right for the BBC’s reporting team in London to be seen dressing up as stereotypical Arabs or Muslims, singing and dancing? The fact is that the staff who made and appeared in the video knew what they had done was open to criticism. They were openly joking about what would happen to the programme and the BBC’s reputation if the video got out.”

The BBC admitted the film was “ill-judged”, but pointed out that it was made in a spirit of fun. A spokeswoman said: “It was made by friends in their spare time and hastily put together. It was always intended solely for private viewing. Nevertheless, we think it was ill-judged, and we will be speaking with those involved.”

Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar condemned the video. He said: “Making fun of anybody in this way is not a sensible thing to do, especially as we are going through a very difficult and challenging time.”


When the day is dawning
On a muggy old Doha morning
How I long to be there
With Osama who’s waiting for me there
Every lonely news room where I hang my hat
Ain’t half as pretty as where my Shiulie’s at
Is this the way to Al-Jazeera?

This is the end of the BBC era
Dreaming dreams of Al-Jazeera
And sweet Shiulie who waits for me
Is this the way to Al-Jazeera?

I’m going to get paid lots of lira
Storky’s off to Al-Jazeera
But the sand is blazing
Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa is waiting
Though it may be harder
I’ll be reporting on the Intifada.

Just beyond the sand dunes
There’s a world so new
Oh jilbabs and palm trees
And there’s camel poo…