Polar bear controversy

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
December 20, 2011, 12:48 PM GMT+0

Over half British public say it was 'acceptable' to broadcast zoo shots on Attenborough BBC show

Over half the British public feels that it 'was acceptable' for the BBC to broadcast shots of polar bears that were filmed in a zoo rather than in the wild, as part of David Attenborough's latest wildlife documentary Frozen Planet, our poll has found.

However, while the majority says this was fine, nearly two in five say that it wasn't acceptable.

  • 51% say that the shots featuring polar bears in a zoo were 'acceptable'
  • 38% disagree, calling the broadcast 'unacceptable'
  • 11% said they didn't know

The results come in light of controversy over the shots, which appear in an episode of David Attenborough's most recent BBC programme, Frozen Planet. The sequence, which captures a polar bear birth, is edited to appear alongside shots from the wild, but for safety reasons – including the danger posed both to the cameraman and the polar bear cubs ‒ the pictures were actually taken from a zoo in the Netherlands, rather than in the arctic conditions seen in the rest of the documentary.

Some viewers reportedly said they felt cheated by the episode, which did not make the distinction explicit during broadcast. However, the BBC deny any wrongdoing or deception, saying that the Frozen Planet website clearly states that the shots were taken from a zoo, and explains in detail why and how the shots were not filmed in the wild.

'Genuine footage'?

MP Therese Coffey raised the issue during an inquiry of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, saying that 'she had believed the footage to be genuine', and that she would 'never look at a BBC nature programme in the same way'.

However, BBC Director General Mark Thompson has hit back, questioning 'whether [the controversy in the newspapers] was really about polar bears or about Lord Leveson' ‒ a reference to the inquiry currently taking place into deception and underhand tactics employed by newspapers including News Corp's now-defunct News of the World, which was embroiled in scandal earlier this year – as reported widely on the BBC ‒ after it emerged that reporters routinely used phone hacking and other techniques to 'get' stories.

'It's not a falsehood'

Seasoned documentary-maker Attenborough was himself unconcerned, and denied deception. 'During the middle of this scene, when you're trying to paint what it's like in the middle of winter in the Pole, do you say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is filmed in a zoo? It would completely ruin the atmosphere and destroy the pleasure of the viewers,' he said. 'It’s not a falsehood.'

From a viewing figure of almost 8m for the programme, 32 people reportedly complained about the way the polar bear shots had been portrayed.

See the survey details and full results here (page 14)