By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's public broadcaster has refused to ban the song "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" after anti-Margaret Thatcher campaigners sent it soaring into the charts following the death of the former prime minister.
The BBC said it would only play a clip of the 74-year-old song as part of a "news item" on its weekly Radio 1 chart show after the campaign pushed it into the UK top 10 list to "celebrate" Thatcher's death.
The BBC, politicians of all stripes and some members of the public called the song campaign "distasteful". Many asked for the track from the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" to be banned.
By Friday Ding Dong was ranked second in the week's singles chart after selling 20,000 copies and could reach the No. 1 slot by Sunday, according to a spokeswoman from Britain's Official Charts company.
The debate was seen as a critical test for the new head of the BBC, Tony Hall, appointed after a sex scandal involving the late TV presenter Jimmy Savile threw the broadcaster into turmoil and raised questions about the organization's ethics.
After days of silence, the BBC said in a statement on Friday that it would play a clip of the song on Sunday.
"The BBC finds this campaign distasteful but does not believe the record should be banned," the BBC 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."
The campaign urging people to buy the song started out as a novelty news item after Thatcher's death on Monday but it quickly became political as sales surged and politicians divided on whether or not it should be banned.
The BBC has banned other songs in the past, including the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" which was released in 1977 at the time of the Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee.
Prime Minister David Cameron was steering clear of the debate on Friday, having struggled all week to find a unified approach towards handling Thatcher's death and her funeral on Wednesday.
Earlier in the week he described so-called death parties by her detractors as "distasteful" and a spokesman on Friday said he had no further comment to add over the Wicked Witch song.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat party leader, said it was not for politicians to tell the BBC what to play even though he did not feel the online campaign was "in very good taste at all".
"Whatever your views are about the song or the campaign, or indeed about Margaret Thatcher, I really don't think we should start telling broadcasters what songs they should play," Clegg, whose party is the junior partner in Britain's coalition government, told BBC South Today.
Some politicians argued it was insensitive to literally dance on Thatcher's grave just six days after she died of a stroke, aged 87.
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casciato)