The BBC Trust yesterday called into question the corporation’s reporting of the most sensitive news story of modern times, publishing findings that the BBC Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, had breached guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. The ruling will be seized upon by campaigners who claim that BBC News is prejudiced against Israel in its coverage of the Middle East.
But the decision to censure Bowen caused anger within the BBC, with some alleging that the trust, which oversees the corporation, was undermining the credibility of its news.
Bowen was censured for a piece which he wrote for the BBC website last June under the headline “Six days that changed the Middle East”, attempting to give context to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by analysing the events of the 1967 Six Day War. The Middle East editor referred to “Zionism’s innate instinct to push out the frontier”. He wrote that Israel showed a “defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own” and that its generals felt that they were dealing with “unfinished business”, left over from the 1948 War of Independence.
The committee ruled that Bowen’s reporting partially breached the BBC’s rules on accuracy and impartiality.
“Readers might come away from the article thinking that the interpretation offered was the only sensible view of the war,” it said. “It was not necessary for equal space to be given to the other arguments, but … the existence of alternative theses should have been more clearly signposted.”
A spokesman for BBC News said action would be taken to amend the website article but Bowen would not face any disciplinary measures.
Spineless, utterly spineless, and it follows on directly from their equally craven refusal to broadcast the DEC Emergency appeal for Gaza. Apparently they felt that broadcasting the appeal would have equally breached their rules on impartiality. Excuse me, how exactly? I thought the BBC’s ultimate responsibility was to report the news. Isn’t this nonsense about impartiality at all costs and under all circumstances what’s got American news into the catastrophic state it’s in now? At times like this I’m reminded of the quote from ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, denying that on every story there are two equal and logical sides to an argument. This is one of those stories. Robert Fisk is more outspoken in his condemnation:
The BBC Trust’s report on Jeremy Bowen’s dispatches from the Middle East is pusillanimous, cowardly, outrageous, factually wrong and ethically dishonest.
The trust – how I love that word which so dishonours everything about the BBC – has collapsed, in the most shameful way, against the usual Israeli lobbyists who have claimed – against all the facts – that Bowen was wrong to tell the truth.
The BBC’s preposterous committee claims that Bowen’s article “breached the rules [sic] on impartiality” because “readers might come away from the article thinking that the interpretation offered was the only sensible view of the war”.
Well, yes of course. Because I suppose the BBC believes that Israel’s claim to own land which in fact belongs to other people is another “sensible” view of the war. The BBC Trust – and I now find this word nauseous each time I tap it on my laptop – says that Bowen didn’t give evidence to prove the Jewish settlement at Har Homa was illegal. But the US authorities said so, right from the start. Our own late foreign secretary, Robin Cook – under screamed abuse from Zionists when he visited the settlement– said the same thing. The fact that the BBC Trust uses the Hebrew name for Har Homa – not the original Arab name, Jebel Abu Ghoneim – shows just how far it is now a mouthpiece for the Israeli lobby which so diligently abused Bowen.
In all honesty the BBC is becoming a watchword for bias and propaganda, be it recently referring to the arrest of environmental protesters as a ‘foiled plot’, trying to rewrite history to suggest Ian Tomlinson was merely shoved and not hit, and then this. If I as a consumer of news am sick to death of this, I can’t imagine how fed up genuinely talented journalists like Bowen must feel. Something is deeply wrong with the BBC; I’d be interested to hear if people think it was so pre-Hutton or whether this current problem is down to managerial spinelessness post-Hutton.