LONDON — The British Broadcasting Corp. 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 of the former prime minister on Monday, 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. Downloads and sales of the song had put it among the top three songs on the charts by Friday evening.
After a furious debate — with Thatcher supporters calling on the BBC to ban the song and anti-Thatcherites demanding that the broadcaster give vent to lingering anger over her policies — the BBC decided it would air a five-second taste of the tune.
"The BBC finds this campaign distasteful but does not believe the record should be banned," the network said in a statement. "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."