BBC Editor Breached Station's Bias Guidelines

By Cnaan Liphshiz (Haaretz)

Published April 15, 2009.

In reporting about Israel, BBC’s Middle East Editor has breached the corporation’s guideline on accuracy and impartiality, an internal BBC complaints panel on Wednesday stated.

The Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland said that the findings show that the BBC has an anti-Israel “bias” and that the position of the editor, Jeremy Bowen, is “untenable.” The corporation rejected these claims.

“The findings are extremely serious,” Jonathan Hoffman, the Federation’s co-vice chair, told Haaretz. “They demand urgent and visible action by the BBC to restore public confidence. The BBC should start by publishing the Balen Report, which it has spent five years and a reported £200,000 trying to keep under wraps.”

The Balen Report from 2004 is an internal BBC document about alleged anti-Israel bias which the BBC, a public service based body and the world’s largest broadcasting corporation - has been requested but refused to release.

The findings of the complaints committee released on Wednesday dealt with two articles: A written item entitled “How 1967 defined the Middle East” published in 2007, and a radio show called “From Our Own Correspondent” aired on BBC Radio 4 last year. The panel reviewed the items following complaints by a member of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

In its review, the Trust Editorial Standards Committee panel found that the 1967 article breaches the guideline on accuracy in saying that Israel’s settlements are “in defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own,” and in referring to Zionism’s “innate instinct to push out the frontier”.

In reviewing the complaint by Jonathan Turner from the Zionist Federation, the committee also found that a statement in the radio show saying that the Har Homa settlement was considered illegal by the United States, breached the BBC’s guideline on accuracy. A BBC spokesperson told Haaretz that Bowen “had been informed that that was the American view by an authoritative source.”

The committee also found fault in the use of the phrase “unfinished business” in the written article, which reads: “The Israeli generals, hugely self-confident, mainly sabras (native-born Israeli Jews) in their late 30s and early 40s, had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel’s independence war of 1948 for most of their careers.”

While defining some of the findings in the panel’s 72-page report as “particularly significant,” the Zionist Federation complained that the document fails to offer correctional steps and that the committee’s performance was lackadaisical in processing complaints.

“Even now the BBC Trust has not recommended any remedial action in the light of its findings, despite the fact that Mr. Bowen’s article has been advertised for months on the main Middle East News Page,” the Federation wrote in a statement.

“The BBC Trust took an inordinate length of time to address these complaints, which were filed in June 2007 and January 2008” the statement also said. “These delays have allowed Bowen and his colleagues to continue their biased coverage of Israel.”

The Federation added it believed this has been “a significant contributor” to a recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.K. The Federation has called on the government to “bring the BBC under full regulation, like all other broadcasting media.”

A BBC spokesperson reacted to this in saying: “We completely refute the assertion made by the Federation’s that we have ‘biased coverage of Israel’ - this is a single, partially-upheld finding related to one piece of output about events that took place over forty years ago and our Middle East Editor was simply exercising his professional judgment on history.”

The spokesperson referred to the Thomas Report from April 2006 on the matter, which said: “Apart from individual lapses, there was little to suggest deliberate or systematic [BBC] bias.”



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