The BBC issued a forceful denial after The Guardian reported that the broadcaster would refuse to air an episode of a David Attenborough-narrated documentary series for fear of angering conservatives.
Five episodes of the show, called “Wild Isles,” document the varied natural species around the British Isles. The Guardian reported that a sixth episode focusing on the decline of those species would only be available on BBC’s streaming platform, iPlayer, instead of airing in a prime-time Sunday slot.
The BBC, which has been promoting the series heavily in anticipation of its debut this week, said The Guardian’s reporting was “totally inaccurate,” and denied that a sixth episode was ever part of the series.
“Wild Isles is — and always was — a 5 part series,” the BBC’s press office said in a statement.
The World Wildlife Fund, one of two environmental charities that helped fund the project, said that what The Guardian described as a sixth episode was actually a “complementary documentary” that was “inspired by the series.”
The Guardian said it had heard from multiple senior sources at the BBC, one of whom said the network was bowing to pressure from right-wing lobbying groups with “dinosaurian ways.” The source also criticized the decision to separate the conservation message from the main attraction.
“Frankly, this idea that you sort of put it in a separate programme to almost parcel it to one side is disingenuous,” this source said, per The Guardian. “Why don’t they integrate those stories into all of them at the time?”
The BBC fielded earlier criticism from The Telegraph over taking money from the WWF and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Because the BBC receives its funding through taxpayers, it is broadly not supposed to advocate for specific public policies, and the charities had recently come out against a government plan to loosen development regulations.
Attenborough, however, has long been an outspoken voice on the urgent need to respond to environmental destruction and climate change. In 2018, a poll found him to be the most popular person in Britain, followed closely by Tom Hanks.
The BBC’s impartiality mandate sparked another controversy this week in its sports programming, after longtime soccer commentator Gary Lineker slammed a British government proposal to curb migration. Lineker was forced to “step back” from presenting, leading to a furious response from sports fans.