Human rights

Outrage after BBC censors Bob Dylan’s civil rights song

Former Racial Equality chief Trevor Phillips hits out at BBC for censoring N-word in Bob Dylan’s anti-racism protest song Hurricane

  • The BBC has been criticized for banning the N-word in an anti-racism song
  • Bob Dylan wrote the song Hurricane which uses the offensive word
  • The word, n*****, was censored by officials at BBC headquarters

Sir Trevor Phillips has attacked the BBC for censoring the N-word in Bob Dylan’s anti-racism protest song Hurricane.

The former race equality chief said it was “incredibly condescending” to the BBC for letting black artists from urban radio station 1Xtra use the word but then censoring other musicians.

He described the decision by Radio 6 Music bosses to edit a line from Dylan’s song containing the word as “absurd and insulting”.

Sir Trevor Phillips has attacked the BBC for censoring the N-word in Bob Dylan’s anti-racism protest song Hurricane

The song, about boxer Rubin Carter, who was wrongfully convicted of murder, had the line

The song, about boxer Rubin Carter, who was wrongfully convicted of murder, had the line “and to black people he was just a n******” dropped when it aired in the show 6 Music by Tom Robinson, Now On show, April 24.

The song, about boxer Rubin Carter, who was wrongfully convicted of murder, had the line “and to black people he was just a n******” dropped when it aired in the show 6 Music by Tom Robinson, Now On show, April 24.

But an outraged listener – who had noticed that station bosses had “cleverly omitted” a line from the song without telling the audience – contacted Radio 4’s audience response program Feedback.

The listener pointed out that the song itself was a “passionate anti-racist tale of a notorious miscarriage of justice” and that “the line you deleted is a pivotal moment in history.” Sir Trevor, chairman of Censorship Index, appeared on Radio 4 to discuss the issue and was scathing about how the BBC had performed.

He told the programme: “Bob Dylan used that word for a particular reason in one of his most powerful works – which is by the way deeply anti-racist work and for someone, who frankly shouldn’t be there judging a genius, telling me I’m too fragile to listen to what Bob Dylan has done with his artwork – I think that’s both absurd and insulting and actually not what the BBC is here for To do.

When Feedback presenter Roger Bolton suggested the BBC would allow the word to be played occasionally on Radio 1Xtra because the word had been ‘claimed’ by black musicians, Sir Trevor disagreed.

He told the show, “Isn’t that incredibly condescending?” I mean, listen, get together guys. Decide if this word is 100% unacceptable or decide it has artistic meaning and context.

But journalist and broadcaster Marverine Cole insisted the BBC “absolutely made the right decision” in removing the N-word from the track. She said she found the term “completely offensive” and “it hurts to hear it as a black person.”

A BBC spokesperson told the programme: ‘There is no specific policy on any track. But decisions about what we play and how those songs are presented on air are always made with the audience and context in mind.

“There must be exceptional editorial reasons for the dissemination of the strongest racist language and our editorial policy states that the use of such terms – even where the intention might be to expose or condemn discrimination – does not constitute editorial justification.”

The spokesperson added: “Radio 1Xtra listeners will know that we play radio-friendly versions of tracks that fully comply with BBC guidelines, which cover all of our radio stations.”

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