BBC apologises for ‘what is the right punishment for blasphemy?’ tweet

Broadcaster says it never intended to imply blasphemy should be punished and said the tweet was poorly worded

BBC Asia has apologised after it posted the question what is the right punishment for blasphemy? on its Asian Network Twitter account.

The tweet was intended to promote a debate about about blasphemy on social media in Pakistan with presenter Shazia Awan.

In an apology, the network said it never intended to imply that blasphemy should be punished and said the tweet was poorly worded.

BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork)

Apologies for poorly worded question from #AsianNetwork yday. Q was in context of Pak asking FB to help we shd have made that clear 1/2

March 18, 2017

BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork)

We never intend to imply Blasphemy should be punished. Provocative question that got it wrong 2/2

March 18, 2017

It emerged this week that Pakistan has asked Facebook and Twitter to help identify Pakistanis suspected of blasphemy so it can prosecute them or pursue their extradition.

Under the countrys blasphemy laws, anyone found to have insulted Islam or the prophet Muhammad can be sentenced to death.

The interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said an official in Pakistans Washington embassy had approached the two social media companies in an effort to identify Pakistanis, either within the country or abroad, who recently shared material deemed offensive to Islam.

He said Pakistani authorities had identified 11 people for questioning over alleged blasphemy and would seek the extradition of anyone living abroad.

The BBCs tweet prompted anger and disbelief on social media. Human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie said the tweet was disgraceful.

Maryam Namazie (@MaryamNamazie)

Disgraceful that @bbcasiannetwork @ShaziaAwan would ask what ‘punishment’ should be for blasphemy. You know people get killed for it.

March 17, 2017

Malcolm Wood (@Askrigglad)

@BBCNews We could inform the BBC’s Asian Network there should be NO punishment for blasphemy. We’re not living in the Middle Ages

March 18, 2017

Clive Norman (@Clive752)

@bbcasiannetwork The fact that it appears that BBC Asian network has not roundly condemned punishment for blasphemy. One has to conclude you support it!!

March 18, 2017

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Parody of Robert Kelly’s BBC interview imagines how a woman would have coped

Comedy duo produce spoof in which a female interviewee feeds her child, cleans a toilet, cooks dinner and defuses a bomb

A video has emerged parodying the BBCs viral hit which featured a professor interrupted by his children during a live interview, re-imagining how the scene would have unfolded if a woman had been in the hot-seat.

Last week the video of university professor Robert Kelly became world-famous after his four-year-old daughter Marion barged into the room mid-interview, followed by his eight-month-old son James and finally his panicked wife Jung-a Kim.

The New Zealand comedy show Jono and Ben released their spoof on Thursday night, with a woman as the interviewee. The Facebook video has been watched 32m times.

During the one-minute clip the woman is first interrupted by a young child in a yellow jumper. She seamlessly continues answering complex political questions about South Korea while pulling the child onto her lap and feeding her a bottle.

Next, a baby totters into the room with a walker, and the woman continues answering questions, her eyes never leaving the camera, whilst holding the child in her lap, and entertaining the baby with a rattling ball.

As the child wanders out of the room the mother reaches off-camera and pulls out a roast chicken dinner, sniffing it to check if it is ready.

The BBC interviewer observes You do look rather busy there, we can reschedule … but the woman ignores him, reaching for a shirt to de-lint while she speaks, and, a moment later, scrubbing a toilet bowl that appears on her left.

The interview continues as a bomb squad in flak-jackets burst into the room, and the woman defuses a bomb; Oh my god, is that a bomb? asks the interviewer.

As the interview draws to a close a man in bare feet speaking in a broad New Zealand accent rushes into the study, flapping a sock at the womans back.

I cant find my missing sock, I have looked everywhere, I have looked in the sock drawer! he says, panicked.

The BBC presenter thanks the woman for her time, calling the interview interesting. The woman smiles warmly, her eyes finally leaving the camera. OK, lets find this sock then! she says cheerfully.

The Jono and Ben version of the video was greeted with a decidedly mixed response. Some female commentators called the video hilarious and said it was an accurate and amusing reflection of a working mothers life. However many others, both male and female, labelled the parody sexist and said it was a classic example of man-bashing.

The original video became a global hit, making Kellys family overnight internet stars.

While the candid video was mostly embraced as a charming and spontaneous moment of family life interrupting a professional interview, some viewers were critical of the professors reaction, saying he should have responded to his children instead of ignoring them.

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Angela Merkel urged to ban Erdoan over jailed German journalist

Chancellor under pressure to stop Turkish president from entering country while reporter is held in Istanbul prison

Angela Merkel is facing calls to ban the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, from entering Germany while a German journalist continues to be held in an Istanbul prison.

Erdoan, who campaigned in Germany in 2011 and 2014, was rumoured to be planning a political rally to secure the symbolically important diaspora vote before Aprils referendum in Turkey on giving him greater powers.

But Merkels government is under increasing pressure from German coalition and opposition parties to stand up to the Turkish president after the Turkey correspondent of Die Welt newspaper, Deniz Ycel, last month became the first German citizen to be arrested as part of Erdogans crackdown on the press.

Ralf Jger, the interior minister of North-Rhine Westphalia and a member of the Social Democratic party that forms a coalition with Merkels CDU, called on the government to ensure that such rallies take place neither in North-Rhine Westphalia or elsewhere in Germany. Stephan Mayer, of the Bavarian party CSU, said a Turkish president who imprisoned German journalists was not welcome as a guest in Germany.

Sevim Dadelen, a Left party MP with Kurdish origins, said Merkel had a political duty and the legal means to stop the Turkish head of state from campaigning on German soil for the abolition of democracy and the introduction of the death penalty.

Austria has already told Erdogan he is not welcome to campaign for votes amongst the Turkish diaspora in the country, with foreign minister Sebastian Kurz saying in a statement that we clearly reject bringing the Turkish campaign and polarisation to Austria.

But on Wednesday Merkels spokesman said a ban would send the wrong signal.

Steffen Seibert said: The German government deplores the fact that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are currently limited in Turkey to an unacceptable degree.

If we deplore this in another country, then we should be even more alert to make sure that freedom of speech is respected, within the framework of the law, in our own country. We should demonstrate what we demand from others.

Niels Annen, the Social Democrats foreign policy spokesman, praised the governments decision to rule out a ban but said the current diplomatic crisis was a result of the German chancellor letting the refugee swap deal between Turkey and the EU influence her dealings with Erdoan. Merkel is no longer a believable advocate for democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, he said.

In the referendum on 18 April, the Turkish public will vote on proposed changes that would boost the powers of the president, allowing Erdoan to scrap the post of prime minister, control budgets, appoint more judges and stay in office for two more terms.

The support of the Turkish diaspora in Germany, a community of about 1.4 million people, holds an important symbolic significance to Erdoans party. Pictures of German stadiums filled with pro-Erdoan supporters allow the AKP to project itself back to Turkey as the one party that protects Turks around the world, said Alexander Clarkson, a researcher on the interaction between German politics and migrant communities at Kings College London.

In reality, he said, the impression of overwhelming support for Erdoan among Turks living in Germany is a statistical card trick. Clarkson added: Of those with Turkish roots entitled to vote at the last election, only 40% turned out to the polling booth, of which 60% voted for Erdoan. Many diaspora Turks in Germany are indifferent to Turkish politics, if not actively hostile to the current president.

TGD, an association that represents a large part of the Turkish community in Germany, has announced that it will campaign for a no vote in the referendum, stating in a resolution that it rejects all attempts to turn the country into a one-man regime.

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WikiHow apologises for turning Barack Obama, Beyonc and Jay-Z white

Cartoon for How to become a congressman tutorial was based on photo taken after a fundraising event but website says illustrator got the skin colors wrong

The how-to website WikiHow has apologised for a disgraceful cartoon showing Barack Obama, Beyonc and Jay-Z as white people on an article about how to become a congressman.

Billed as the worlds leading how-to website, wikiHow publishes crowdsourced instructional articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Illustrating its seven-point tutorial on How to become a congressman was a cartoon rendition of a photograph of Barack Obama with Beyonc and Jay-Z that depicted all three individuals as white.

Screenshots comparing the cartoon with the original image, taken after a fundraising event in New York in 2012, was circulated by a Beyonc fan account on Twitter on Monday.

FORMATION (@beyupdates_)

Wikihow turned Obama, Beyonc, and Jay Z white to explain “How to become a congressman.”

January 22, 2017

A representative of wikiHow responded on Twitter, calling the image disgraceful and stating that an investigation had been launched into its origins.

In a fuller apology and explanation tweeted on Wednesday, a representative said wikiHow was disgusted and ashamed to have published the image, but that it did not believe it to have been intentionally whitewashed.

When we saw the whitewashed image of Obama, Jay Z and Beyonc, we were disgusted and ashamed. It never should have been on wikiHow.

Jack Herrick, the founder of wikiHow, told the Guardian that the image had been removed, as well as the instruction it accompanied (schedule and attend fundraising events), because the article was being re-written and re-illustrated.

According to the tweeted statement, WikiHows investigation had found that the image was created in January 2014 by a team of illustrators.

One person sketches, the other person colors. The sketcher sent the colorist a black and white sketch. The colorist did not know the race of the models [and] wasnt aware it was Obama and Beyonc. We dont think the illustrator intentionally whitewashed here.

This doesnt excuse the fact that we hosted a terrible image on wikiHow and we needed more diversity on that article, period. Were talking with our illustrators to prevent recurrence and encourage diversity. Especially in positions of power.

Herrick said that wikiHow had issued a style guide in September 2014 that requested more gender and ethnic diversity in images, and since then pushed our requests for diversity further and further.

The 2016 style guide strongly encourages illustrators to be mindful of diversity and asks that they strive to achieve 50:50 male to female character ratio; no more than 50% of characters with white or light-coloured skin; and a variety of body types and, when applicable, ages.

Weve improved a lot on this issue over the last three years, said Herrick. You can and should expect wikiHow to be even better about this in our future work.

The site is infamous for its often bizarre illustrations, which are often circulated without context for comic effect on Twitter, Tumblr and elsewhere on social media.

An online game matching cartoons with the titles of the wikiHow article they accompanied went viral in April last year.

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115 journalists killed in 2016 – simply for doing their jobs

Report by International News Safety Institute names Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq and Russia as top five most dangerous countries for journalists

A total of 115 journalists died in 2016 simply for doing their jobs, according to the annual report compiled by the International News Safety Institute (INSI), Killing the Messenger.

The year began and ended with mass tragedies involving media workers in Afghanistan, Colombia and Russia. An attack in January by the Taliban on Tolo TV, one of Afghanistans largest entertainment channels, claimed eight lives in a direct assault on press freedom.

In late December, nine journalists were among the 92 people killed when a Russian military plane crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria. The accident came less than a month after 20 journalists were killed when a plane carrying the Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed in Colombia.

This year, 115 of our media colleagues were killed doing their work, said INSI director Hannah Storm. Most were not international journalists, few had the support of major news outlets, and most died after fighting insurmountable odds, daily threats and constant pressures.

Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq and Russia were the top five most dangerous countries for journalists this year, according to the report, which is compiled for INSI by the Cardiff school of journalism.

Five citizen journalists lost their lives in 2016, all in Syria. There has been a marked decrease in the number of professional journalists reporting from this long-running conflict, leaving it up to activists and untrained locals to document and broadcast the atrocities being committed there.

Out of the 115 media casualties, 60 died in countries supposedly at peace, such as Guatemala, where the government is battling drug cartels, plus India and Brazil.

The vast majority of casualties were local journalists, living and working where they died. INSI identified four cases where suspects were identified or arrests made, though this is a slight improvement on previous surveys.

For all the darkness that seems to have pervaded this year, it is perhaps a small sign of hope, said Storm.

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How I learned to love Guardian style

Departing Guardian US production editor Maraithe Thomas considers the pros and cons of adapting to British English

Last month, I closed the book on five years at the helm of Guardian USs production department. Its not a terribly long time, and only a fraction of the time spent at the Guardian by David Marsh, who in August signed off after two decades as the style guide editor, but in that time I saw a lot of action: Occupy Wall Street, the NSA series on Edward Snowden, The Counted and two presidential elections.

I was among the first Americans to join, as a copy editor, in 2011, and I was initially uneasy about how naked Guardian articles seemed, having been brought up on Associated Press style. The Guardian only uses periods (or full stops, as I soon learned to call them) at the end of sentences, and it seems as though everything is lower case. But I quickly came to adore this minimalist, progressive approach. (The Guardian was one of the first news organizations, in 1999, to lowercase internet. The AP and the New York Times finally adopted the rule in 2016.)

I loved how clean everything looked, and soon I was bristling at other publications overuse of capitalization. NASA or UNICEF looked like shouting to me (the Guardian writes Nasa and Unicef, and not a week goes by without it receiving a complaint that it has spelled Nasa wrong). Washington, D.C. looks like its in desperate need of tidying up. Washington DC thats better.

I loved the way it insisted on not using woman as an adjective because man is never used that way, as in man president, and how it shunned words like actress and postmistress. I wish more American news outlets, and writers in general, would do the same.

But as more Americans joined the Guardian, particularly reporters, some resistance against the style guide began to creep up. I remember one particularly heated argument with the sports desk about St Louis. A US sports writer was in disbelief that we would format the Missouri city without the full stop after St. Americans will think we dont know what were talking about! he claimed. How could we possibly be serious about America, they said, if we didnt write St. Louis? I dont know if Cardinals fans ended up concluding we were clueless, but it went in period-less.

Beyond punctuation and formatting, it became clear that we had to confront a central quandary: what do we do with American reporters copy? Should we convert it to the Queens English? We might be born of a British news organisation but we were here to report on the US and to carve out our own space as a fully American news outlet. But then were we going to change the English of veteran British journalists, who were reporting over here, into American English? That didnt feel right.

One of the overarching purposes of a style guide is consistency. We make rules so that there arent navy seals and Navy Seals and navy SEALs all over the place. So this problem of wrestling with American and British English seemed significant, and also seemed to fly in the face of all that.

What we decided to do, as I did my best to explain to the Atlantic, was to honor the individual reporters voice. British English would of course be maintained throughout the Guardian newspaper, but online we would follow the reporters lead. This isnt a perfect system, and we still run into obstacles. What do we do when a British and American reporter collaborate on a story? We speak to the news editor and get a sense of which reporter was the lead, and go with that. Its not a perfect system, but its one Im happy to have played a part in developing.

There are a couple style rulings in particular that Im proud of. Helping to change our style on named storms so that the word hurricane is capitalized, eg Hurricane Sandy, not hurricane Sandy. Or banning the police-jargon phrase active shooter when its not in quoted speech.

One of my last office-wide style missives was against the word pantsuit, which unfortunately is now somewhat irrelevant. But think about it: what do you call an outfit consisting of a jacket, trousers and a dress shirt? Whether one calls it a suit or a pantsuit depends on whether its worn by a woman, and that didnt seem right. Further I dont think any of our readers would be confused if we wrote, for example, that Hillary Clinton wore a green suit.

My next move may be to an American news organization that writes U.S. and Web site and capitalizes President when its in the middle of a sentence, and thats fine. Although maybe I can squeeze through a few more changes.

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RT editor disputes US hacking report’s implication of Russian news channel

A US intelligence report claimed RTs negative election coverage of Hillary Clinton was deliberate, which Margarita Simonyan called a sad commentary

The editor-in-chief of RT, the Russian government-backed 24-hour news network, has hit back at claims in a US intelligence report that the news organization engaged in a longstanding effort aimed at undermining US viewers trust in US democratic procedures.

In comments provided to the Guardian by email, Margarita Simonyan disputed US intelligence claims linking RT to Russian efforts allegedly ordered by President Vladimir Putin, to influence the presidential election in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.

In the words of the declassified CIA, FBI and NSA report, RTs coverage of Hillary Clinton throughout the US presidential campaign was consistently negative and focused on her leaked emails and accused her of corruption, poor physical and mental health and ties to Islamic extremism.

Simonyan called the report a sad commentary on the state of affairs in the American intelligence analyst community.

The agencies only charge against RT is that we were critical of Clinton in reporting actual facts about her, she wrote. This is our supposed crime! What a resounding endorsement of journalism and freedom of speech.

The report cited comments made by Simonyan in early November to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in which she said the US itself lacked democracy and had no moral right to teach the rest of the world.

Simonyans comments are unlikely to throw critics of the state-funded broadcaster, after the US intelligence report accused RT America of deliberately seeking to obscure any legal ties to the Russian government.

The report may, however, strengthen those ties, said Alexey Kovalev, who runs a website debunking Russian propaganda.

There are many legitimate reasons to criticise RT, he said, but the report singles out the channel for all the wrong reasons. Covering protests and other social and political fissures is a perfectly legitimate media activity.

Kovalev added that the prominence given to the channel by the US intelligence report is likely to be seen as a huge success by its management, and may lead to increased funding.

He also suggested that by viewing RT reporters in the US as saboteurs and spies, the report would give Russian authorities more ammunition when dealing with critical western coverage of Russia.

Simonyan denied that RTs reporting constituted propaganda or interference.

Apparently, she wrote, all foreign media organisations have to follow an approved script of acceptable coverage, lest they are accused of interference. And make no mistake, were not talking about neutrality. The only acceptable approach was, Support Clinton, attack Trump.

The alternative is that they would have to reckon with the fact that RTs reporting often reflects the reality on the ground, in the US and elsewhere, much better than the mainstream media.

How else to explain years of totally out-of-touch coverage that failed to acknowledge the momentum behind not just Trump but Bernie Sanders, leaving mainstream media journalists and punditry collectively speechless on 9 November?

Simonyan declined to address why US intelligence agencies would identify RTs importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US government and fuel political protest.

That question, she wrote, was among the many, many other questions left unanswered by their report, for instance about actual evidence supporting their judgments. So far they havent provided any intel aside from up-to-a-decade-old, publicly available interviews and obsolete but likewise public data.

RT receives funding from the budget of the Russian Federation. Its executives say its journalists are independent.

The intelligence report was particularly embarrassing for the Trump camp because its nominee for national security adviser, retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn, has been a frequent guest on RT news programmes. In December 2015 he was paid by the network to give a speech in Russia and attend a lavish party, at which he sat next to Putin.

Simonyan said RT was no different from other state-sponsored broadcasters.

She wrote: I think the fact that the BBC World Service, Germanys Deutsche Welleand the US Broadcasting Board of Governors receive considerably more funding than RT (BBG nearly three times as much!) to get their respective countries points of view across to a global audience, points to a fact that media-political establishments of the United States and Europe cant let go of the monopoly on messaging.

Simonyan claimed proof of this lay in the Guardians own endorsement of Clinton.

Somehow, she wrote, nobody is raising alarm over British interference in the US elections when the Guardian published an actual endorsement of a foreign countrys candidate (Dont vote for Trump, elect Clinton).

Guardian US is a US-registered media company and subsidiary of the Guardian.

You had nearly all the US media in the bag for Clinton, Simonyan continued, all the pundits prophesising a virtual coronation for several years, and an outsider won regardless.

Whats obvious is that the US has a very imperfect system, and yet its leaders are obsessed with lecturing the rest of the world on how to organise their affairs.

  • Additional reporting by Shaun Walker in Moscow

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Guardian US wins Online Journalism award for The County series

Five-part series of investigative and video journalism concerning the Kern County police force honored by Online News Association

Guardian US has won an Online Journalism award for topical reporting, for the series The County.

The County is an offshoot of The Counted, the Guardians continuing and multi-award-winning project to count all people killed by police in the US in 2015 and 2016.

The County tied for the 2016 Online News Association (ONA) award for topical reporting with Missing and Murdered, a report by the Toronto-based Globe and Mail.

At a dinner and ceremony in Denver, Guardian US head of video Valerie Lapinski accepted the award on behalf of The County team.

It was an honour to be recognized by our peers at ONA, Lapinski said, and inspiring to see all the important and beautifully executed work that has been published in the last year.

A five-part series of investigative and video journalism, The County concerned the police force of Kern County, California, which killed more people per capita than police in any other US county in 2015.

In June, The County won an Edward R Murrow award, bestowed by the Radio Television Digital News Association, in the video investigative reporting category.

Pieces in the series were written by reporters Jon Swaine and Oliver Laughland, with video and photography by Mae Ryan and Grant Slater and design by the award-winning Guardian US interactive team.

Guardian US was also a category finalist for its coverage of the US presidential election primaries; for its investigation of the Homan Square Chicago police facility (in two categories); and for 69: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement.

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The week’s best podcasts: Stephen King, BoJack Horseman, Werner Herzog

The horror meister delves into Batman and Robin and with a plethora of political podcasts, theres plenty of real-world listening to alarm us as well

Podcasts are quickly becoming an important part of the presidential election, with Hillary Clinton launching her own podcast, called With Her. In the first episode of the show, which is hosted by Longforms Max Linsky, Clinton talks about how she stays focused on the campaign trail.

Recodes Too Embarrassed to Ask conscripted the Verge reporter Russell Brandom to look at what would happen if voting machines were hacked. While Brandom doesnt think its particularly likely, he thinks it could be done. Youre not hacking Bank of America, where someone has spent a lot of money to make sure that no one can get into that, Brandom said. Im worried about voting machines just not working. I dont know if its extremely likely, but the results would be so catastrophic to the body politic.

The FiveThirtyEight Elections show explains why this is the perfect year for a third-party candidate, while On the Media explores what could happen if a viable third party ever took root in the US political landscape. They also examine how so-called strategic voting could shake things up in the coming election. Speaking of the upcoming election, the New York Times has launched its own election podcast called The Run-Up. Hosted by Michael Barbaro, the show, which will drop episodes twice a week, features interviews with New York Times reporters and columnists, as well as guests like Newt Gingrich and Donald Trumps construction manager. As for Trump himself, on MTVs The Stakes, Marcus Ellsworth wrote a lullaby for the baby Trump kicked out of his political rally.

If politics makes you want to change the channel, Song Exploder took a close look at the BoJack Horseman theme, which was created for the Netflix series by Patrick Carney, one half of the Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with artists such as Tom Waits, St Vincent, and Galaxie 500.

The Worst Bestsellers, the auditory book fair hosted by a librarian and a writer, opened up its collection of books by RL Stein, the teen-friendly horror master, including Goosebumps and Fear Street. Turns out they may not be as good as you remember. The Penumbra Podcast, a storytelling show that gives classic tales a head-spinning twist, released an entertaining intergalactic whodunit. Over on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast that as its name implies treats JK Rowlings fictions as if they were gospel, looks at the message of hope inside Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, including the so-called sacred space of Quidditch.

Inside Amy Schumer head writer Jessi Klein stopped by the Earwolf podcast Ronna and Beverly to chat about the joy of motherhood, the bigger joy of shaking Gwyneth Paltrows hand, and her new book Youll Grow Out of It.

In other literary news, the rather fusty series Selected Shorts, which has famous people read short stories on air, has gotten a makeover for the podcast age. The new series, Welcome to Selected Shorts: Too Hot For Radio, is hosted by comedian Aparna Nancherla and seems determined to shake off any lingering dustballs. The show kicked things off with an intense take on the relationship between Batman and Robin by Stephen King, read by Avatar star Stephen Lang.

Speaking of odd takes on pop cultural phenomena, have you heard the one about Beyonc holding Sia prisoner? Internet Explorer takes a deep dive into the Brazilian conspiracy theory and its definitely an eye-opening story. For its season finale, the Buzzfeed podcast also got legendary film-maker Werner Herzog to talk about the internets favorite movies cat videos.

Another famous director stopped by podcast-land when so-called Sultan of Sleaze John Waters stopped by The Talkhouse for a chat with White Reindeer director Zach Clark. The entertaining and wide-ranging conversation covered everything from the time Waters met Justin Bieber to his mothers reaction to seeing his first film, and his love-hate relationship with Terrence Malicks movies. In other movie news, Dead Last Podcast was joined by comedian Owen Linders for a very in-depth discussion of the movie Predator.

Whether youre waiting for a Predator showing, a cronut, a ramen burger, or a brunch reservation (or something non-food-related), Freakonomics looked at the psychology of standing in line.

The Guestlist got rapper and once upon a time Secret Skin podcaster Open Mike Eagle to talk about his own psychological profile and how he uses his educational background in his songwriting. Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilberts podcast, Magic Lessons, asked comedian and How to Be Amazing podcaster Michael Ian Black to coach an up-and-coming improv comedy performer on how to create a compelling one-man show.

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Denis Thatcher wrote to BBC over ‘disgraceful and libellous’ satire

Never in the history of public broadcasting has so foul a libel been published against anyone, PMs husband claimed

A satirical story broadcast on BBC Radio 4s Today programme about Margaret Thatcher legalising hard drugs prompted her loyal husband, Denis, to savage the corporation in a furious private letter to the chair of the governors.

The prime minister herself took legal advice about the mini-saga, entitled Thatcherism: The Final Solution, which was broadcast on Radio 4 in mid-January 1988, and considered whether she should instruct lawyers to sue for defamation, files released to the National Archives in Kew on Thursday reveal.

The item had been written by a listener, Vincent Hill, in a competition for mini-sagas stories composed in no more than 50 words. In an exaggerated parody of Tory free-market economics, he imagined the political consequences of a libertarian approach to heroin.

The compressed story read: Ingenious: Individual choice must be paramount. With growing confidence she legalised hard drugs. Prices fell sharply. Legitimate outlets replaced bankrupt drug syndicates. Crime figures plunged. Crematorium shares surged. City populations thinned as the weak spirited succumbed. Unemployment vanished. Only the worthiest survived. Nobody could complain. The unfit died of freedom.

Thatchers principal private secretary, Nigel Wicks, wrote to the law officers department seeking advice. He asked whether the tale was defamatory. It is not the prime ministers normal practice, or indeed wish, to send solicitors letters to media organisations which issue statements which defame her, he explained. But I wonder whether this item might not be an exception to the PMs normal practice?

Thatchers office was told by the law officers department at the Royal Courts of Justice that the story was indeed libellous. The offending passages included: The Final Solution, in its inherent connotation; the unfit died of freedom, with its innuendo of intention to secure the death of the unfit; crematorium shares surged, which was said to be particularly revolting in its innuendo that this was a consequence desired by the prime minister ; and She legalised hard drugs, which personalises her as the target for the sting and not mere Thatcherism.

The prime minister evidently decided not to pursue legal action. Her private secretary recorded that she did not want to consult lawyers who specialised in defamation.

But the matter did not end there. On 18 January, her husband, using his own 10 Downing Street stationery, dispatched a sternly worded letter to Marmaduke Hussey, who was chairman of the BBCs board of governors.

Dear Duke, Mr Thatcher wrote. With deference may I ask you to study the enclosed manuscript (extract) of the Radio 4 Today programme. The extent and depth of political bias in the BBC is a matter of opinion, but this is a disgrace by any standard, however low.

I cannot believe that the management of a public broadcasting system can continue to employ a producer who publishes so foul and deliberate an untruth against anyone or on such a subject. Surely such gross professional misconduct can neither be excused or condoned? He signed it: Regards to you both, Yours ever, Denis.

Denis Thatcher, who was normally careful to keep out of public affairs, rarely appears in the prime ministerial files. Wicks, the private secretary, however, noted that Mr Thatcher had crossed Husseys name off a guest list for a public reception a few days later.

The civil servant suggested that Hussey should be invited so that the prime minster could talk to him about the disgraceful episode. You could then have a quiet word with him about the mini-saga after the reception, he suggested.

But the note was returned with a comment from Denis, explaining his action. I only crossed out [his name] because I did not think a general reception is (a) suitable for Duke [because he used a stick and might have had difficulty standing for a long time] (b) important enough. I did discuss with PM.

Denis Thatcher explained that he had already privately written to Hussey. Never in the history of public broadcasting, he added, has so foul a libel been published against ANYONE let alone a prime minister.

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