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ESPN’s Hillsborough documentary can’t be aired in the United Kingdom thanks to British laws

The British do many things very differently from North Americans, and one example shows up with ESPN’s latest 30 For 30 documentary, a look at England’s Hillsborough Stadium disaster 25 years afterwards. The documentary’s airing Tuesday night on ESPN at 8 p.m. Eastern, but viewers in Britain likely won’t be able to watch it legally for at least a year. That’s not thanks to a lack of ESPN presence in the UK, but rather thanks to British laws, according to Debbie Emery of The Hollywood Reporter (via Charles Smith):

ESPN Films documentary series 30 for 30 is releasing a collection of Soccer Stories leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in June.

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Rather than just celebrating the love of the game, the first episode, titled Hillsborough (airing on April 15), takes on one of the darkest days in European football in a documentary that can’t be aired in the U.K. due to a new inquest launched 25 years after the incident and strict contempt of court laws.

From this side of the pond, that seems pretty crazy. Yes, juries are often ordered to avoid media coverage of a case, and there are frequently publication bans on what media can report from court, but banning a show from airing in an entire country thanks to an ongoing inquest is a step of another level. Daniel Gordon, director of the documentary, explained more on that in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl:

Because the new inquest has started just two weeks ago, it can’t be shown in the UK until the jury delivers its verdict. Which is a year from now. I really want it to be shown now. You want it to have the impact now, but you can’t. It’s as simple as that.

It would be interesting to figure out exactly where that censorship line is drawn. After all, the ongoing inquest hasn’t stopped British newspapers from covering the 25th anniversary of the disaster; the Liverpool Echo just did a front page featuring photos of the victims, and they and most other British papers have been covering the disaster’s anniversary extensively. Is there something particularly problematic in the film, or do the court rules just treat documentaries as different than print media coverage? In any case, banning a film like this from airing in a country doesn’t seem particularly productive; those who are interested will probably still find ways to see it, so all the British rules are doing is preventing people from doing so legally. It seems very odd from a North American perspective, but then again, so do blood puddings and driving on the left…

Andrew Bucholtz

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing. He also covers the CFL and other sports for Yahoo! Canada.

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