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GBR Press: BBC ‘set up’ TV cobra clash

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Posted by: W von Papineäu at Thu Jan 10 13:13:38 2008  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papineäu ]  

THE TIMES (London, UK) 06 January 08 BBC ‘set up’ Attenborough clash with deadly cobra (Daniel Foggo)
As Sir David Attenborough approaches a deadly Mozambique spitting cobra lying on a desert rock, he appears to be encroaching dangerously upon its territory.
It is no surprise, therefore, when the reptile defends itself by spattering his protective face visor with venom.
However, the dramatic scene, which is to be screened as part of Life in Cold Blood, BBC1’s new natural history series about reptiles and amphibians, is not entirely as it seems.
The BBC admitted yesterday that the snake was actually a captive animal taken from a snake farm and carefully placed on the rock in the South African desert so that Attenborough could agitate it into spitting for the cameras. Out of shot the animal’s handler and various safety experts were standing by.
Other captive animals were also used in the BBC series. A spokeswoman for the corporation admitted that the producers of the five-part series, which begins later this month, made extensive use of “natural history artifice” during its filming. This is a process by which captive animals are placed in the wild or put in purpose-built sets made to look like the outdoors, for the purposes of filming.
Attenborough yesterday defended the technique used in the snake scene, which was shown on the ITV chat show Parkinson last month as part of the BBC’s publicity drive for Life in Cold Blood.
He said: “It would be a great misuse of licence payers’ money wandering around just hoping I was going to come across a spitting cobra.”
He said they had taken the snake to the desert to “make it more properly at home”.
A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC editorial guidelines are clear that it is totally acceptable and, in some cases like this, more appropriate to use captive animals to demonstrate behaviour which cannot be filmed in the wild.
“We don’t say it was a captive animal but, if you watch the sequence, David is prepared, he has got his visor, so there is no way it is implying that he has come across this snake in the wild.”
She said that the BBC recognised that informing audiences about its use of captive animals made to appear wild was “a very difficult dilemma”.
“Some sequences have used wild animals and some captive animals and it is all part of the artifice of natural history filming.”
To make itself “fully transparent” the BBC is to set up a website explaining many of the techniques used in Life in Cold Blood for members of the public who are interested and have access to the internet, she said.
Attenborough, 81, said he had never made any attempt to conceal the use of such methods in his films and he insisted that often no other methods were possible.
“If you are going to film an animal that lives underground how are you going to get a camera underground?” he said. “You do what you can and very often that may mean building a set.”
John Beyer, director of Media-watch-UK, said the BBC should screen an explanatory statement at the beginning of each episode making it clear that some scenes were “reconstructions” filmed using captive specimens.
“There’s nothing wrong with these things as long as you are honest,” he said.
The snake scene, part of the fourth episode of the series, will be shown on February 18.
BBC ‘set up’ Attenborough clash with deadly cobra


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