Bristol TV production firm caught up in BBC ‘censorship’ row over new David Attenborough series

March 10, 2023

The Bristol-based natural history TV production company behind David Attenborough’s flagship new BBC wildlife series has found itself at the centre of a dispute between the corporation and environmental groups.

Silverback Films, a long-term collaborator of Attenborough, has produced six episodes of Wild Isles, pictured, fronted by the veteran broadcaster and made with the Bristol-based BBC Natural History Unit. 

The highly anticipated series, looking at the beauty of nature in the British Isles, starts this Sunday.

But while five of the episodes will be broadcast in primetime slots on BBC One, the sixth – which according to The Guardian website is understood to be a “stark look at the losses of nature in the UK and what has caused the declines” – will only be made available on the BBC’s iPlayer service.

The Guardian says it has been told that the BBC decided not to broadcast the episode due to fears it could trigger “a backlash from Tory politicians and the right-wing press”.

The decision, according to its report, has angered the programme-makers and some BBC insiders who fear it has succumbed to pressure from lobbying groups.

The documentary was part-funded by nature charities the WWF and RSPB.

The Guardian quotes an unnamed BBC source as saying lobbying groups such as the farming and game industry would “kick off” if the show had too political a message.

They added: “Frankly, this idea that you sort of put it in a separate programme to almost parcel it to one side is disingenuous. Why don’t they integrate those stories into all of them at the time?”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “For the BBC to censor of one of the nation’s most informed and trusted voices on the nature and climate emergencies is nothing short of an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to public service broadcasting.

“BBC bosses must not be cowed by antagonistic, culture war-stoking government ministers, putting populist and petty political games above delivering serious action to protect and restore our natural world. This episode simply must be televised.”

Silverback producer Laura Howard, who produced the programme, told the Guardian: “We’ve worked really closely with the RSPB in particular who are able to factcheck all of our scripts and provide us with detailed scientific data and information about the loss of wildlife in this country.

“And it is undeniable, we are incredibly nature-depleted. And I don’t think that that is political, I think it’s just facts.”

Silverback was founded in 2012 by leading natural history TV figures Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey.

It produced the documentary David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, which had a worldwide cinema release and became the widest-ever documentary release in British cinema history before being launched globally on Netflix as its first landmark natural history series.

Silverback’s ground-breaking wildlife documentaries for the BBC have included the seven-part series The Hunt, which revealed the remarkable strategies use by hunters to catch their prey.

The team has also produced 11 out of 16 Disneynature films released on streaming platform Disney+, including Bears, Monkey Kingdom, Penguins and Dolphin ReefElephant, narrated by The Duchess of Sussex, was released this year.

In December 2020 it was acquired by All3Media, joining a stable of 40-plus production and distribution companies across the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific and the US responsible for programmes as diverse as Flea Bag, The Only Way is Essex and Gogglebox. 

Wild Isles photo: Alex Board/BBC/Silverback Films

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