Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Piping Up on the Wireless

Yesterday I wrote about the literary restrictions BBC broadcast must inevitably place on the short stories in the National Short Story Competition, but today we witness the BBC imposing a restriction of a different, but maybe not unconnected, kind: political censorship, as Hanif Kureishi calls the cancellation of his short-listed story Weddings and Beheadings 'in the wake of the news that BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston has been killed by a jihadist group'. Kureishi is implied to be furious, and is crying freedom of speech, as authors half-delight in doing on such occasions, knowing full well that if a piece of work is worth banning then it must have hit a true nerve and is probably pretty something.

And on this morning's BBC Today programme fellow short-lister Julian Gough, who made clear that his story too has profound political undercurrents, gave somewhat excited and rebellious voice to the idea that forcing literature into marketing time-slots is crazy: 'The art gets mangled going down that pipe.'

You can't hear Jackie Kay talking about her story yesterday, as the links on the BBC website seem in fact to have got mangled. Broadcast yesterday afternoon, it was the beautifully captured perspective of a Glaswegian man in despair and intent on committing suicide but slowly pulling himself together as he gets involved in the practicalities. For me, though, it was less subtle than many of her other stories, and you can just imagine that clever Jackie pitching it, with its single focus and repetitions, specifically for the parameters of radio.
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