Ilan Ziv, the Israeli-born documentary maker behind Jerusalem: an Archaeological Mystery Story, which questions the scale of the exodus of the Jewish people from Jerusalem in AD70, also said the official reason given by the BBC for pulling it from the schedules contradicts the one made to him in private.
“This is ultimately a sad saga of what I believe is a mixture of incompetence, political naiveté, conscious or subconscious political pressure and ultimately, I believe, a lack of courage of broadcasters when they are faced with the complexity of the Middle East issue and the intense emotions, fears and aggression it generates,” Ziv wrote on his blog.
He also accused the BBC of trying to “camouflage” the real content of the documentary by changing its title and of secretly planning with one of the film’s co-producers to remove Ziv’s name from the programme and to present it as an “adaptation” of his work.
The film was due to go out last Thursday as part of a BBC4 season on archaeology but was replaced at the last minute by a repeat of a documentary about Egyptologist Flinders Petrie.
The BBC denied it had been dropped because it was too controversial, saying it had done so because the film did “not fit editorially” with the tone of the season.
In a lengthy blogpost, Ziv said he believed the BBC dropped the documentary because they were afraid of his research, which was backed by a “detailed and substantial defence” and reviewed by “academics” and “reputable scholars” who did not find any factual errors or misrepresentations.
He said the film has nothing to do with the present conflict in the Middle East and has been screened elsewhere with little controversy, calling on the BBC to “rise above the hysteria and the attempts at self censorship”.
Ziv claimed an unnamed freelance hired by the BBC to reversion the film had called it “propaganda” and another had claimed it would “prop up the myth of exile ‘which we all know did not happen'”.
The BBC said it acquired Jerusalem: an Archaeological Mystery Story to supplement a BBC4 season exploring the history of archaeology. “However, it was decided that it did not fit editorially so we did not show the programme as part of the season,” the corporation said in a statement.
Ziv said the BBC acquired the documentary months ago but contacted him “barely a week before [the planned broadcast]” asking for his comments about a new cut of the film. He added that the corporation’s official version of events did not make sense.
“The BBC have had the film for almost six months. So why was this sudden rush which supposedly was the excuse given to me as to why the film was pulled out. Why was I contacted so late in the game? And why was there a discrepancy between what was told to me and the ‘official version’,” Ziv said.
“I discovered only 3 days before the broadcast that the BBC has been using a different name for the film: Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story. It struck me as an odd choice that seems to camouflage the film’s real subject and repackages it as a neutral archeological mystery of sorts – like the hundreds of hours one can see on cable and satellite channels throughout the world.”.
“When I was given only a few days before a broadcast date that no one bothered to inform me about, I pleaded for more time. It was only when one of the programming executives called me, I realised that there were much bigger issues for her than my complaint about being pushed into an impossible schedule,” he said.