LONDON — The British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) faced a dilemma Friday: Would it play “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” when everyone knows the song has become a biting reference to the late Margaret Thatcher?
The network’s solution: turn the song into a sound bite.
Amid divisive reactions to the death Monday of the former prime minister, anti-Thatcher protesters have campaigned to bring the song from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” to the top of the charts in time for a BBC program Sunday night that counts down the current top hits.
By late Friday the online campaign had propelled the “Wizard of Oz” song to No. 1 on British iTunes and into the top three of the music chart used by the BBC to compile its weekly radio countdown.
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After a furious debate — with Thatcher supporters calling on the BBC to ban the song and anti-Thatcherites demanding the broadcaster give vent to lingering anger over her social and economic policies — the BBC decided it would air a 5-second taste of the tune.
“The BBC finds this campaign distasteful but does not believe the record should be banned,” the network said. “On Sunday, the Radio 1 Chart Show will contain a news item explaining why the song is in the charts, during which a short clip will be played as it has been in some of our news programs.”
Ben Cooper, director of Radio 1, the BBC station targeted at young people, said he thought the track was “disrespectful.”
“It’s not a political track,” he added. “It is actually a personal attack on an individual who has just died. But on the other hand, if I ban the track, then you have arguments about censorship and freedom of speech. I also take into account there is also a grieving family here who want to bury a loved one.”
Padraig Ready, a spokesman for the anti-censorship magazine Index on Censorship, told Sky News, “I don’t think the people who want it to be banned completely will be happy about the fact that it’s played and I don’t think that the people who bought this record will be happy that … less than one minute in its entirety is being played.”
Thatcher will be honored at a funeral Wednesday with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in attendance, along with about 2,000 other guests from around the world. Preparations for the ceremony included police response to planned protests.