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article imageFrozen Planet footage of Arctic polar bear cubs was filmed in zoo

By JohnThomas Didymus     Dec 13, 2011 in World
London - One of the most dramatic scenes in the acclaimed BBC show "Frozen Planet," was footage of a polar bear nursing its newborn cubs. It has been revealed, however, that the footage was filmed in a zoo and not in the Arctic as viewers were made to believe.
Eight million people who tuned in to watch the Frozen Planet series thought they were viewing a scene shot by BBC cameraman in an underground cave in sub-zero temperature of the Arctic. The scene narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and mixed with actual Arctic scenes was actually filmed in an underground den made of plaster, wood and fake snow in a Dutch zoo. The "carefully worded" commentary accompanying the scene avoided hinting to viewers that the footage was produced in an underground den in a zoo. The den had been fitted with cameras before the cubs were born.
However, there is a video clip which explains that the footage was actually filmed in a zoo. But according to Daily Mail, the video is only one of 14 others on the BBC website. Only very few viewers who visited the Frozen Planet website and found the video clip by the producer Kathryn Jeffs, knew that the footage came from a zoo and not from the Arctic wild. In the clip, Jeffs said: "The problem for us is that they give birth in these dens of ice and there’s absolutely no way we can get our cameras down there."
Sir David Attenborough was accused of fakery on the grounds that he gave eight million viewers the misleading impression that the footage was from the wild. According to The Telegraph, the commentary by Attenborough referred to the cubs being born "beneath the snow" and the footage was mixed with scenes of polar bears in the wild, creating the impression that the footage was shot in the wild.
Daily Mail quotes BBC editorial guidelines on wildlife programmes which say that when it is not possible to film a scene in the wild, "it can be editorially and ethically justified to accept captive animals." But the guidelines go on to say that "we must never claim that such sequences were shot in the actual location depicted in the film."
John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sports committee, said that misleading viewers was "hugely disappointing." He said: "Broadcasters should not seek to give viewers a false impression. If this was not filmed in the wild it would have been much better to have made that clear in the commentary."
Whittingdale said further: "It is questionable how many people would visit the website and find the video clip which explained the circumstances of the filming."
But Attenborough, 85, defending the production said: "If you had tried to put a camera in the wild in a polar bear den, she would either have killed the cub or the cameraman....It’s not falsehood, and we don’t keep it secret either."
The BBC also defended Attenborough, saying that how the scene was shot was "clearly explained" on the Frozen Planet website. The BBC, according to Digital Journal, said, “The commentary accompanying the sequence is carefully worded so it doesn't mislead the audience and the way the footage was captured is clearly explained on the programme website.”
The Telegraph also reports that Attenborough has been evasive about the matter refusing to answer direct questions from the press. When asked, as he left his house, whether he thought the clip may have misled viewers, he said: "I'm in a real rush, I've got to go."
Daily Mail reports that Attenborough has been accused in the past of misleading viewers in his wildlife documentaries. In 1997, a similar scene in which a polar bear was filmed giving birth gave the impression that the scene was captured in the Arctic wild though it was actually filmed in a Frankfurt zoo. In 2001, Sir David was accused of misleading viewers in his documentary Blue Planet that a scene filmed in a British aquarium showing lobsters spawning was filmed off the coast of Nova Scotia. Also in 2008, he was accused of faking an encounter with a cobra in a South African desert in the series Life in Cold Blood.
While Alexander Baron, in an opinion piece in Digital Journal, acknowledges that Frozen Planet captured remarkable and fascinating footage in the wild, he says, "The sequence in the documentary does clearly give the impression that this was filmed in situ at the North Pole, and there is no getting away from that, but by the same token, there is currently a clip on the Frozen Planet webpage which explains how and where it was actually filmed. This explanation though is rather akin to the small print in an insurance contract. But does it matter? The short answer is yes. Having said that...this is a practice that is far from new." Baron cites examples of "staged" scenes in "docu-soaps." He quotes an article in The Scotsman about how "documentary makers fake it." According to The Scotsman: “The police will often stage a raid if you ask. If you say you've only got a day to film, they'll often set one up because it's good PR for them.” According to Baron, "Many documentaries and even news programmes include footage that is clearly staged...We see this sort of thing all the time, and we take it for granted. But should we?"
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