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BBC Frozen Planet Team under fire for misleading the public

December 13, 2011

The BBC Frozen Planet Team have come under fire for misleading the public in a recent episode of the excellent series.

The accusation is centred around the fact that a clip of Polar Bear Cubs feeding was actually filmed in captivity and not the wild.

In this clip http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16142580 Alastair Fothergill defends the action saying there was no intentional misleading of the public and that filming of bear cubs in the wild is impossible.

While it the latter may be true, the former is dubious. There may have been no intent to mislead, and the programme commentary, as acknowledged by Fothergill, is very careful not to link the pictures shown with the wild facts stated. It is not made clear that the cubs shown are captive cubs.

While many watching would have worked out that the footage could not have been wild footage, many others would also have not considered it and just assumed that the cubs were wild, because that is the context of the programme.

Fothergill is being disingenuous in his stance by saying that the wording was intentionally generalistic so as not to give the wrong impression because while he was not misleading by intent, there was certainly the capability of being mislead through omission. By not making it utterly clear what the situation was, the film was allowing the impression to be made.

The issue is one of a wider obsession with documentary makers of having to tell a story. They are not content to give the facts and let an intelligent audience appreciate the beauty of what is filmed and the associated commentary. Film makers pander to short attention spans and the myth that a story is tantamount and create a false world by mixing location footage with created scenes in the mistaken belief that prettier is better.

The cubs scene concerned is truly a beautiful piece and deserving of broadcast in its own right, it didn’t however, add anything to the episode in question. If anything the revelation has distracted from the rest of the episode, which is a great shame.

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