THE OFFICIAL REPORT for the governors of the BBC on its coverage of the Palestine-Israeli conflict found predictably that there was “was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias” but then went on to list a series of measurements by which the BBC could be said to be biased in favour of Israel.
This produced mocking guffaws in my own newsroom, where some of the BBC’s greatest hits — or perhaps misses — remain fresh in the memory. There was the hagiographic send-off for Yassir Arafat by a BBC reporter with tears in her eyes and that half-hour profile of Arafat in 2002 which called him a “hero” and “an icon” and concluded that the corrupt old brute was “the stuff of legends.
There was the extraordinarily naive coverage of the London visit of Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, the predominant imam of Mecca, to open London’s largest new mosque. He was described as a widely respected religious figure who works for “community cohesion”, and a video on the BBC website was captioned “The BBC’s Mark Easton: ‘Events like today offer grounds for optimism’.”
The BBC must have missed his sermon of February 1, 2004, that said “the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels . . . calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers . . . the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs . . . These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil, and corruption . . .”
These are isolated examples, but they stick longer in the memory because they are reinforced by a broader pattern of coverage that seems to play down that Israel is a democracy that elects Israeli Arabs to the Knesset and which does not engage in systematic terrorism and suicide bombing of civilians. So it was startling to read the report for the BBC governors finding so much bias in favour of Israelis. This was based largely on the quantitative content analysis done by outside researchers which found “significant differences across BBC news programmes and services in the allocation of talk time”.
By contrast, Israeli politics are easily followed in Israel’s free press, where critics of the occupation and of Israeli military tactics abound and where the Israeli media does sterling work, including the kind of combative investigative reporting that is virtually unknown in the Palestinian press.
There is one piece of good news. BBC reporters will henceforth be allowed to use the T-word to describe “relevant events, since it is the most accurate expression for actions which involve violence against randomly selected civilians with the intention of causing terror for ideological, including political or religious, objectives, whether perpetrated by state or non-state agencies”.
So think of the poor hack on deadline in a flak jacket trying to remember whether to say some crazed Jihadist killer was “a terrorist from Hamas” rather than “a Hamas terrorist” while squeezing more historical background and more Palestinian talk-time into the news report.
Read it in full in The Times here.