Sunday, 22 May 2011


Image from
Mic Righteous – an up-and-coming MC raised in Margate – rattled BBC execs after his freestyle rap on 1Xtra was censored because he dared to spit a rhyme about Palestine on a late night radio show. The offending lyric – "I can still scream 'Free Palestine' for my pride" – was masked with sound effects in what seems like a chilling attempt to stifle an artist's right to freedom of expression.

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign has written a press release about it, calling the BBC's decision to edit Mic Righteous's rap "an extraordinary act of censorship." Sarah Colborne, Director of PSC, said:

"Ironically, the lyrics were “I can say Free Palestine”. Well, apparently, you can’t if you try to say them on the BBC. What kind of Orwellian world are BBC directors living in? How can the BBC possibly justify removing these words? This kind of censorship of artists should be strongly opposed by anybody who believes in a free society, and anybody who wants to uphold the centuries old tradition of making political comment through art."

This is what the BBC had to say in response:

"All BBC programmes have a responsibility to be impartial when dealing with controversial subjects and an edit was made to Mic Righteous' freestyle to ensure that impartiality was maintained."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't hip hop supposed to encourage listeners to engage with social issues and political concerns? The best MCs over the decades have been the ones who are socially conscious and don't shy away from rapping about politically sensitive ideas (such as KRS-One, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, etc.). Afrika Bambaataa, one of the founding fathers of hip hop in the early 1980s, said it best:

"Well, a lot of people within government and big business are nervous of Hip Hop and Hip Hop artists, because they speak their minds. They talk about what they see and what they feel and what they know. They reflect what's around them."

In this instance, this is exactly what Mic Righteous was doing. Within the wider context of his rap, he was trying to engage with the political issues facing the modern world. Clearly, that made the BBC nervous. Tell me, what is the point of the Beeb running a radio station specifically for urban, hip hop, R&B, drum 'n' bass, dancehall and garage if they're going to get the collywobbles whenever an MC voices a controversial opinion?

I'm aware that the BBC has its remit to consider on the subject of political impartiality, but this seems a bit OTT to me. Politically, whatever side of the fence you're on regarding the Israeli-Palestine debate, the Beeb shouldn't feel obligated to deny someone's right to an opinion and quash a potential debate on subjects they're not comfortable with. I guess Joe Strummer of The Clash was right: "You have the right to free speech as long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it."


  1. Robert Williams22 May 2011 at 20:14

    Actually, Luke, having regard to the current situation in that part of the world, the lyric of the rap could be construed as inflamatory and the BBC cannot have any part in that.

    Having views is one thing but too frequently they are based on little knowledge of the true situation and, at this time, delicate peace negotiations are going on.

    Also in fairness to the BBC, they did recently screen 'The Promise' which was hardly pro Israeli in its portrayal of the time of the British withdrawal from Palestine and subsequent treatment of the Palestians. Perhaps a responsible drama is considered better than turning the issue into a street song.

  2. I believe The Promise was screened on Channel 4, not the BBC. But yes, I do see your point.

  3. Robert Williams23 May 2011 at 13:51

    You are right, Luke, it was Channel 4. Should have known that as it became one of my few bits of compulsive viewing.