BBC apologises, Ugandan Parliament debates anti-gay bill today
After defending, then ditching a controversial Uganda gay execution poll, the BBC has apologized after complaints about yesterday's on-line debate which asked "Should homosexuals face execution?" The BBC ditched the poll after coming under fire from gay rights groups and replaced it with a more moderate question "Should Uganda debate gay execution?" The BBC debate was in response to proposed anti-gay legislation scheduled for debate today by the Ugandan parliament.
Critics flooded the British broadcaster's website after it launched the provocative debate ahead of a World Service Africa Have Your Say feature.
The headline question asking if gays should face execution was later changed to: "Should Uganda debate gay laws?" and the BBC World Service admitted the original version overstepped the mark.
"The original headline on our website was, in hindsight, too stark. We apologise for any offence it caused," the director of BBC World Service, Peter Horrocks, said in a blog on Thursday.
But he insisted: "It's important that this does not detract from what is a crucial debate for Africans and the international community.
"The program was a legitimate and responsible attempt to support a challenging discussion about proposed legislation that advocates the death penalty for those who undertake certain homosexual activities in Uganda."
Some British politicians criticised the move.
"We should be condemning it, and the BBC should be condemning it, just as we do sexual violence in the Congo or genocide in Rwanda or Darfur," said Eric Joyce of the ruling Labour party.
"Instead, it seems to have thought it appropriate to come up with something that suggests it's a subject for discussion," he told the House of Commons.
Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill will be discussed in the country's parliament today.
It is thought that this debate will follow a second reading and and a vote will be taken in January after a third reading.
It would impose the death penalty on those convicted of having gay sex with a minor or disabled person or while infected with HIV. Friends and family members of gay Ugandans who do not report them to authorities could face up to three years in prison.
People who "promote" or assist homosexuality could be jailed for seven years. The bill would also punish Ugandan citizens who have gay sex abroad.
The bill's sponsor, David Bahati MP, has argued that it will curb HIV infections and protect the "traditional family".
It has been subject to worldwide condemnation and since the first reports emerged in mid-October, has received widespread media attention.
UK prime minister Gordon Brown told President Museveni last month of his concerns and the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have said that Uganda may lose the chance to host an important permanent Aids research organisation if the bill is passed.
This week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to strongly condemn the bill. It called on Ugandan authorities "not to approve the bill and to review their laws to decriminalise homosexuality".
The resolution also reminded the Ugandan government of its legally-binding obligations under international treaties as well as its inability to withdraw from ratified international human rights treaties.
Although main world powers such as the US have strongly condemned the bill, along with Sweden threatening to cut aid, Ugandan officials have been keen to stress they will not bow down to international pressure.
Previously on NowPublic by this Author:
BBC Defends, Ditches Controversial Uganda Gay Execution Poll (Dec. 17, 2009)
White House condemns Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill (Dec. 13, '09)
Uganda to drop death penalty, life imprisonment for gays (Dec. 10, '09)
No visible ties, Christian leaders denounce Uganda anti-gay bill (Dec. 9, '09)
It's not so invisible anymore: 'The Family's' influence in Uganda (Nov. 28, '09)
Brown joins Harper against Uganda's Anti-homosexuality Bill 2009 (Nov. 28, '09)
Harper to raise issue of Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill at Summit (Nov. 26, '09)
US fundamentalist group at heart of Uganda's anti-gay law (November 26, '09)
Uganda anti-gay bill has potential to divide Commonwealth leaders (Nov. 25, '09)
Museveni claims European gays are 'recruiting' Ugandan citizens (Nov. 23, '09)
Jefferson Awards winner recognizes genocide looming in Uganda (Oct. 21, '09)
Uganda's Daily Monitor raises its voice on behalf of defenseless (Oct. 20, '09)
Did Exodus conference in Uganda unleash anti-gay vigilantism? (Oct. 19, '09)
Human rights groups blast Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 (Oct. 18, '09)
Exodus International Holding Bryce Faulkner Hostage? (July 16, '09)