‘Mark of Cain’

Channel 4 is under pressure to postpone tomorrow’s “hard-hitting Middle East drama” programme, ‘The Mark of Cain’, over fears it could ignite diplomatic tensions over the hostage crisis in Iran, involving 15 British Royal Navy sailors and marines.

As reported earlier this week, Defence Secretary Des Brown said that airing ‘The Mark of Cain’, which dramatises the treatment of Iraqi detainees by UK soldiers, could put the lives of thousands of British military personnel in the Middle East at risk from attack by insurgents.

Channel 4 is now considering postponing the two-hour programme until further notice, over fears it could impede efforts to secure the release of 15 Royal Navy sailors who were captured by Iranian forces on March 23. Iran accused Britain of crossing into its territorial waters and has demanded an apology. It has also condoned attacks on the British embassy in Tehran.

The broadcaster said it is in “hourly discussions” with the Foreign Office over whether to broadcast ‘The Mark of Cain’, which is loosely based on the story of three soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who were convicted in 2005 of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

But neither its writer Tony Marchant (he of ‘Holding on’ et cetera) nor the C4 commissioning editor believe their abuse drama will cause any problems.

“It is very difficult. Of course, like anybody else, I am extremely concerned for the welfare of those 15 marines and sailors. But I have to say hand on heart I don’t feel it could in any way adversely affect negotiations. It seems a bit of a leap to me.

“But if there is a perception the film is problematic and Channel 4 decided to take action, I am going to have to accept that,” Marchant said.

Liza Marshall, commissioning editor for drama at Channel 4, said: “We are not entirely convinced there is a serious danger of the drama influencing the outcome of the negotiations, but of course we are open to further dialogue.”

Critics have already described the programme, which is written by Tony Marchant, as hard-hitting and gritty, and there have been concerns over the reaction it could provoke from Islamic militants towards UK troops.

It often appears that when the BBC and Channel 4 do something military related it is negative in nature. ‘Mark of Cain looks like an example of that. As was a BBC ‘Timewatch’ programme earlier this week about the disaster that was ‘The sinking of the Sir Galahad’, which out of all the stories that could be told is a funny thing to look back upon on the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War. That could just be me.

I don’t have a problem with Channel 4 making the ‘Mark of Cain’, but feel it would do no harm to delay it a few weeks rather than ride the publicity train as it did with Big Brother.