A former BBC reporter recounts an interesting episode in BBC history

h/t JS

The April 4th edition of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the new film about the Nigerian civil war ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ . The film’s director Biyi Bandele was interviewed by presenter John Humphrys, along with the author Frederick Forsyth who, as assistant diplomatic correspondent at the time, covered the conflict for the BBC. The item can be heard here for a limited period of time from 2:46:58. Today 4 4 14

Parts of the conversation with Frederick Forsyth include some thought-provoking background on BBC reporting of events at the time.

John Humphrys: “You were sent by the BBC to cover that and you ended up resigning. Well, whether you were sacked or resigned, you left the BBC and that’s because effectively, you did something reporters are never meant to do; you took sides.”

Frederick Forsyth: “Well that’s the great smear and it’s not true.”

JH: “I didn’t mean it as a smear but – it was a very honourable thing that you did…”

FF: “No, no; hold on. In the early days, before the children started dying, it was a non-war and I was sent down there as assistant diplomatic correspondent of the BBC with a briefing and the briefing came from the British High Commissioner in Lagos. It broadly said this is what has led to the secession of eastern Nigeria and therefore the civil war. This is what you’ll find when you get there and this is what’s going to happen in short order: this is a non-war; this is going to be wrapped up in about fourteen days.”

JH: “That’s a load of rubbish.”

FF: “A load of rubbish. I got there and I found absolute garbage from start to finish. But being young and naïve and not knowing anything about internal BBC politics…”

JH: “As they were then.”

FF: “As they were then – and please don’t imperil your mortal soul by suggesting there’s no such thing. Having discovered that what I’d been briefed was complete garbage, I said so, and it didn’t go down well. So I was told virtually to endorse, to authenticate, what I knew to be a tissue of lies and I said I can’t do that.”

JH: “Because millions of children were dying.”

FF: “Well no – this was long before.”

JH: “Or rather they hadn’t started to die at that point.”

FF: “There was nothing emotional about it at that time – it was a straight evaluation of a situation. The Nigerian army was not conquering all before it. It was stuck on the border. Nobody virtually was dying but I was told that I had to report sweeping victories by the Nigerian Federal Army.”

JH: “Told by?”

FF: “By Broadcasting House. This was what you might call the policy. It was being said out of Lagos, you see. Chief Anthony Enahoro’s propaganda ministry was publishing all this […] but Angus McDermott who was the West Africa correspondent was filing these claims from the propaganda ministry and they were appearing with attribution at paragraph three or four, so it sounded like flat statements of fact with the authority of the BBC behind it. So why wouldn’t I confirm? And that was where it was at. Therefore if I couldn’t confirm what must be true because the British High Commissioner was saying it was true, even though he was 400 miles from the fighting – the non-fighting – and I was in the middle of it, then I must be biased.” [….]

JH: “But the story that was put out was that you’d gone native.”

FF: “Yes I know. That was – they had to smear a reporter who’d done the unthinkable.” […]

JH: “I have to say that ehm…and I’m sure you’d accept… well I don’t know whether you’d accept this or not – but ehm…the idea of being told these days to write something, to report something that you knew not to be true is simply – in this organisation – is unthinkable. I mean I’d say that without fear or favour, as it were.”

FF: “OK – well it wasn’t unthinkable then because that was my brief. My brief was simply…”

JH: “It was a long time ago.”

FF: “..my brief was this is what is happening, why are you saying the opposite? You must be biased.”

JH: “Mmm…”

Quaint as it may be to see John Humphrys’ confidence in his claim that it is “unthinkable” that a BBC journalist would, over four decades on, be told “to write something…that you knew not to be true”, one has to conclude that he has not joined the dots between the BBC’s amplification of Nigerian propaganda in 1967 and its contemporary repetition of Hamas and Hizballah propaganda.

Humphrys also appears to prefer to avoid the fact that Broadcasting House “policy” from above clearly still shapes BBC reporting on a variety of topics. Its manifestation may, in the modern era, often be just as much about not writing something a reporter knows to be true, but it certainly still exists and it is facilitated by assorted style guides and editorial guidelines which, for instance, steer reporters towards coy avoidance of use of the word terrorism in certain parts of the world or continue to cause the BBC to embarrass itself with its ridiculous refusal to locate and recognise Israel’s capital city.   

 

Exclusive: how a complainant convinced the BBC Trust’s ESC to uphold his appeal

As we have previously noted, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee recently upheld an appeal regarding a complaint about a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which was broadcast on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme in June 2011. 

As reported by The Times in mid-March:

“The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint which alleged that a five-minute report on Radio 4’s Today programme about the Six-Day War was misleading and biased, The Times has learnt. […]

The latest complaint relates to an item which aired on the Today programme in June 2011. The report, by Kevin Connolly, one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents, examined the legacy of the 1967 conflict between Israel and several neighbouring states.

According to the trust’s findings, which were obtained by The Times, a listener alleged that the Today report wrongly gave the impression that Israel occupied land three times its original size as a result of the war, when it had given 90 per cent of the land captured in 1967 back to Egypt. The programme also, the complainant alleged, gave a misleading impression that Israel was not willing to trade land for peace, when it had reached peace deals with Jordan and Egypt that included transfers of conquered territory.

The trust found that the Today report had been inaccurate on both points and that the complaints should be upheld.”

As previously noted here, this complaint took a shocking two and a half years to make its way through the BBC’s complaints procedure and one of the interesting features of the ESC’s report on the topic (pages 9 -23 here) is the documentation of the sudden about-turn in the BBC’s stance regarding the complaint after input from “the News Division and from the BBC correspondent [Kevin Connolly]“.

“On 3 December 2012 the complainant received an undated letter from the Head of the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit], advising him of the Unit’s provisional finding. The ECU said that by drawing attention to the original extent of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967 without referring to the return of Sinai, the item may have created the impression that Israel remained vastly larger as a result of the war and that land for peace remained an untested option. It had therefore provisionally decided to uphold a breach of accuracy in this respect. [emphasis added]

Following an inquiry by the complainant in March 2013 about whether the decision had been finalised, the complainant was advised that the last letter he had received telling him of the provisional finding, had been sent to him in error; it had been intended as a draft for internal consultation.

As a result of representations from the News Division and from the BBC correspondent in response to the internal circulation of the provisional finding, the Head of the ECU had now altered his view and had decided not to uphold any aspect of the complaint. He said the point had been made to him that the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” as envisaged in those Accords. An integral part of the Accords had been a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Because the ECU was now satisfied that the return of the Sinai did not constitute “land for peace” the significance of any incorrect impression as to the extent of territory Israel had withdrawn from was much reduced and the ECU decided it would not therefore have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the Head of the ECU – who had previously been inclined to uphold the complaint – was persuaded to completely reverse his position by the specious claim of Kevin Connolly et al that Israel’s return of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt within the framework of the peace treaty between the two countries did not constitute ‘land for peace’.  Many of us might simply have given up in the face of such contorted logic, but the complainant did not. Instead, he persevered with a reply to Connolly’s claims.

“The complainant responded to the revised provisional finding on 13 April 2013 with a detailed rebuttal of the ECU’s conclusions, challenging the ECU’s interpretation of the contents of the Camp David Accords.”

Whilst that detailed rebuttal did not prompt the Head of the ECU to change his mind about rejecting the complaint, it was taken into consideration by the Editorial Standards Committee which eventually did uphold the complaint.

BBC Watch contacted the complainant, Sam Green, who kindly agreed to share with us details of his rebuttal of the claims produced by Connolly. Sam’s account below makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever waded into the BBC complaints procedure and raises serious questions about the workings of that procedure as a whole.

“The lowest point in the grinding slog of my BBC complaint was probably receiving the Editorial Complaints Unit proposed final ruling. This was the final stage within the Corporation before I appealed to the BBC Trust, the semi-detached oversight body.

It was so demoralising because, on top of the delay (I was strongly suspicious they were trying to use delay as a tactic to bury the complaint), the logic in this finding was so flawed, so tortuous, so surreal that this letter made me doubt the bona fides of the organisation. The important thing was not the journalism; it was preventing a complaint succeeding.

The second response came after they had previously said they were planning to partly uphold the complaint, and then said I’d been told that by mistake.

Here is their reasoning on why my complaint didn’t hold water:

“…the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” envisaged in those Accords, an integral part of which was a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Put simply, the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai could be regarded as an instance of “land for peace” if that outcome had been achieved, but it has not been.

…Kevin Connolly’s report was concerned with “land for peace” in the same sense – a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”

I had a problem in how I was going to respond to this; one of the tactics the BBC used was to layer on complication; the more complication they layered on the easier it was for them to say how complicated it all was and they couldn’t possibly hope to deal with all of that. I needed to focus on the internal logic of the report rather than a history of the Middle East. However I did need to engage with their argument, so I dealt with both. It was a long letter.

I started by signposting the attempt to overcomplicate in their response:

I will not be drawn into a line-by-line dissection of the Camp David Accords; it is a diversion from the question of whether your listeners heard an inaccurate and misleading report. They are for the most part not expert in the history and politics of the Middle East, and nor am I. Nor should there be any expectation that we have such specialist knowledge.

If the BBC starts from the expectation that its listeners ought to have postgraduate level knowledge of all the topics it covers it would not benefit your listernership.

I went on to differentiate between the two treaties that made up Camp David, to outline elements of the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty, summarising;

It is called a Peace Treaty. It establishes a state of peace between Egypt and Israel. It links the establishment of that peace with the exchange of territory.

I engaged with the term “land for peace” (their inverted commas) and my efforts to find out where their singular usage they claimed for the phrase had come from. It was not in the other Camp David accord; the Framework for Peace, it was not in the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty. A Google search took me to Security Council Resolution 242 which itself did not contain the phrase, was not raised in the report or previously in the complaint and did not contain a meaning claimed in the ECU provisional ruling.

I moved on to the contradictory and ever fluid meaning of ‘peace’. In the statement from the ECU there was no peace for which land had been traded because the “staged progression  to full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement” did not come to pass, and, at the same time it meant “…a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”. That’s quite an unexplained stretch for a concept. It shows just how desperate the BBC was to retrofit plausible meaning on their report.

I spent quite some words addressing this; if it was about peace with the Palestinians why talk about Syria so much?

The Camp David Accords were between Israel and Egypt. There were no other regional parties who were signatories to those accords or, as far as I understand, who accepted it.

And which parties do you mean? The states involved in the 1967 Six Day War? Syria was excluded from the Camp David accords, Jordan was not a party. And what about Iraq and the Arab League? The PLO, or Fatah, and what about Hamas? Other Arab states? Who are “all parties”? Why is there an assumption that Egypt spoke for and signed on their behalf when they explicitly rejected it?

It was at this point I mentioned the Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994 which also included territorial concessions. Land as part of a peace deal.

And the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005; more complex but still relevant in terms of willingness to withdraw from conquered territory.

In terms of the extent of territory under Israeli control, the ECU had this to say;

“…the significance of such an incorrect impression is much reduced if the resulting inference that ‘land for peace remained an untested option’ is not viewed as misleading; and, on balance, I don’t think it would have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report to the extent that I would regard it as a breach of editorial standards.”

To me it seemed blindingly obvious:

a listener without specialist knowledge would naturally infer that in the absence of any statement to the contrary Israel remains triple the size (or controls territory triple its original size).

After travelling much further into the complex history of the region than I wanted to, I had moved to my real point; the importance in not losing sight of what the listener heard and the natural meaning they would associate with that.

Turning to the question of land for peace. I again suggest it is appropriate for you to rely on natural meaning… the impression your listener would have been left with by the report that went out was one of intransigence and unwillingness to trade territory for peace. An impression that required context.

…on any natural meaning, as understood by a reasonable listener, trading more than 90% of the territory captured in the context of peace treaties, for peace, constitutes land for peace; land pursuant to peace. Trying to use semantics to argue otherwise smacks of casuistry.

This made no impact on the ECU which rejected the complaint. It is only because the complaint managed to reach the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee that these points (along with later submissions) were properly considered, and the Trust ruled that the report was inaccurate and misleading; that it was bad journalism.

The question now is; why didn’t Kevin Connolly understand that? Does he get it now? Does he accept it? Why didn’t the Today programme producers and Editor understand that? Why didn’t the people dealing with the initial complaint understand that and why, for all their lengthy and reflective deliberations didn’t the ECU understand that?

And what are they all going to do about it?

They haven’t said – and I think we can all have a pretty good guess at the answers to all of those questions.” 

 

 

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

The BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee findings published on March 25th include details of its rejection of the presentation of an appeal concerning the June 14th 2013 edition of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme. 

Readers can remind themselves of that interview on the subject of Iran with Jack Straw and Dore Gold here. During the interview Jack Straw said:

“It [Israel] has no territorial ambitions apart from stealing the land of the Palestinians…”

That assertion was not challenged or corrected by the programme’s presenter John Humphrys.

The ESC’s decision can be read on pages 104 to 111 here.

One of the more interesting aspect of that decision is the fact that the BBC’s rejection of the complaint at earlier stages and the decision not to bring the complaint to appeal is based in no small part upon the claim that Dr Dore Gold did not challenge Jack Straw’s gratuitous slur.

“He [the Complaints Director] considered [….] that Dr Gold had a reasonable opportunity to respond to the comments that had been made.”

“She [the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser] also noted that Dr Gold had chosen not to respond to Jack Straw’s comment about land theft. She considered that overall, Trustees would be likely to conclude that Dr Gold had been given an appropriate amount of time to make the points that he wished to make.”

“However, the Committee believed that Dr Dore [sic] had made it clear, in his responses, that he did not wish to discuss Israel’s policies, although he was given opportunities to do so.”

That of course seems to suggest that according to the BBC’s perception, an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation is not only responsible for refuting any and every falsehood which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality, but his or her very presence absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify slurs which may mislead audiences. 

 

More on the uselessness of BBC complaints response targets

The same BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee report referred to in this recent post also includes the ESC’s findings regarding complaints made concerning another edition of the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme which was broadcast on November 7th 2012 – see details of that programme here.

The appeal was not upheld (see pages 24 – 29 here).  Among several interesting aspects of the committee’s decision is that fact that it seems to embrace a quaint belief that if something has been written or said by a journalist – any journalist – it must be true.

“The Committee considered that the range of submissions from the BBC demonstrated that the World Affairs Editor’s analysis was broadly representative of the media coverage at the time…”

In its findings regarding the two and a half year-long complaint concerning the ‘Today’ programme’s June 10th 2011 edition which appears before this one in the ESC report, it was noted that the stage 1A reply took over six times the acceptable defined time to reach the complainant than designated by the BBC. target

“the Stage 1A response from Audience Services took 65 working days, against the target of 10 days.” [emphasis added]

One of the people who made a complaint about the ‘Today’ programme’s  November 7th 2012 edition has informed us that:

“I made my complaint at Stage 1A on 9th November 2012 and got my first response (despite numerous phone calls and emails in the meanwhile, which were recorded and given their own BBC Complaints reference numbers) on 24th May 2013.”

In other words, the 10 day target was in that case exceeded by an incredible 186 days.

And yet the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee is not persuaded of “any shortcoming in the procedure itself“.

 

Two and a half years a BBC complainant

Earlier this month we noted a Times report on the subject of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee’s upholding of a complaint against an edition of the ‘Today’ programme broadcast on June 10th 2011. 

The BBC Trust has now published its findings and they can be read on pages 9 – 23 here.

Beyond the substance of the complaint itself, the ESC also relates to the fact that it took a shocking two and a half years for the complaint to be resolved and documents the serial failures of the BBC’s complaints mechanism to adhere to its own standards. [all emphasis added]

“The Committee noted the detailed timeline of how the complaint had been handled which had been compiled by the Editorial Adviser. It noted in particular the following points:

*the Stage 1A response from Audience Services took 65 working days, against the target of 10 days.

*the Stage 1B response was not forthcoming until the complainant wrote to the Director of News to inquire why he had not received a reply to his letter.

* the Stage 1B response from Audience Services was received approximately 250 working days after the complainant’s submission (the target is 20-35 working days).

*the ECU sent an undated provisional finding to the complainant approximately 60 working days after he asked the ECU to investigate. This was about 20 working days later than he had been advised he could expect to receive a response (it later transpired that the finding was sent in error and had been intended for circulation internally; that provisional decision to uphold his complaint was subsequently reversed).

*three months later, on 5 March 2013, having received no further notification, the complainant wrote to the ECU to inquire about the final outcome of his complaint.

The Head of the ECU responded promptly stating that something had “gone badly amiss” with the handling of the complaint and he would respond fully within a week.

*on 19 March 2013 the Head of the ECU wrote to the complainant saying he should not have received the undated provisional finding he was sent in late 2012:

“What seems to have happened is that a draft of my provisional finding which was intended for internal consultation was sent to you in error. I should explain that the procedure, when we’re minded to uphold any aspect of a complaint, is to allow a period for the BBC Division responsible for the item complained of to make any representations, and I put the proposed finding to the Division – in this instance, News – in the form of a draft letter to the complainant. The reason for this part of the complaints procedure is that the programme-makers and their editorial management don’t have right of appeal to the BBC Trust, whereas complainants do. The consultation period is therefore their last opportunity to correct any errors on our part, or to make a case for altering the finding.”

*the Head of the ECU said that he had received representations from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and from the BBC correspondent which had caused him to change his initial view that the item had been misleading in one respect. He was now not intending to uphold the complaint.

*this substantive Stage 2 finding was issued six months after the complainant had first written to the ECU and almost two years after he had initially lodged the complaint.

* the complainant challenged the finding within the time scale he had been provided. He heard nothing, and five months later on 17 September 2013 he wrote to the ECU inquiring what had happened.

The Head of the ECU responded on 20 September 2013:

“I must apologise profusely for my long silence. An office move in July caused some disruption, and it appears that our correspondence was one of the casualties of it. I have now retrieved the papers, and am reviewing the issues and arguments afresh. I shall aim to give you a definitive ruling by the end of the month, though if circumstances arise in which further consultation with News management is required, it may take me a little longer. In that event, I shall write again to let you know the likely extent of the delay.”  

The Head of the ECU wrote to the complainant on 15 October 2013 advising that he remained of the view that the complaint should not be upheld. He again apologised for the delays which had beset the process.

The Committee noted the reasons given by Audience Services for the Stage 1 delays and by the ECU for the delays and mismanagement at Stage 2 appear to have been the result of an unfortunate series of human errors. The Committee noted the complainant had received an apology from Audience Services. The Head of the ECU had acknowledged the chapter of accidents were inexcusable and that it was an extremely poor example of complaints handling. complaints

The Committee noted this aspect of the complaint related to 19.4 of the Editorial Guidelines which requires the BBC to observe the complaints framework, including the stipulated timelines.

The Committee noted that the relevant test related to the following clause from section 19.4.2  of the Accountability guideline:

 “Complaints should be responded to in a timely manner”

The Committee said the delays at Stages 1 and 2 and the inadvertent dispatch of the provisional finding to the complainant ahead of its circulation internally were deeply regrettable. The Committee added its apology to those already made to the complainant and recorded its dismay that a complaint could be so seriously and repeatedly mishandled.

The Committee noted the complainant’s query in his submission for this appeal as to whether it was routine that complaints were treated in this way and whether in effect the procedure was fit for purpose. The Committee advised that the errors in complaint handling on this occasion were in its view unprecedented, that the complaints procedure outlines clearly how the BBC is required to deal with complaints, along with the required time scale and that this had made it possible for the BBC Trust to speedily and transparently adjudicate on the allegation. The Committee was satisfied that the problems which had beset this complaint at each stage were not the result of any shortcoming in the procedure itself.”

Ah – so that’s alright then.

Of course the many other members of the BBC’s funding public who have written to BBC Watch to inform us of unexplained delays to replies to complaints they have made – and in some cases the complete absence of any response whatsoever – might be somewhat disconcerted by the glaring complacency which enabled that final line to be written. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ECU publishes findings on complaint about R4 ‘Today’ programme

Back in January we noted that a listener’s complaint concerning the November 15th 2013 edition of BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme had been upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit after initially being rejected by the programme’s assistant editor.

The ECU has now published its findings.

Complaint Today prog Sarah Montague

The ECU notes:

“The Editor of Today discussed the findings with the presenter who conducted the interview and underlined the need for care when making references to specific countries in the context of controversial subjects.”

However, no information is provided as to what steps, if any, will be taken to inform listeners of the fact that the impression that Christians in Israel suffer from violence – as given by Sarah Montague’s words –  is inaccurate and misleading. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4′s ‘Today’ programme implies persecution of Christians in Israel

BBC acknowledges breach of accuracy guidelines by ‘Today’ presenter Sarah Montague

BBC’s ‘Today’ repeats basic historical inaccuracy corrected two weeks ago

The February 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item presented by James Naughtie in which he spoke to Lyse Doucet about conditions in the Yarmouk camp area of Damascus. The programme is available for a limited period of time here and the relevant segment begins at around 02:34:20. 

A couple of minutes into the item, Naughtie says:

“And of course they’ve been refugees from a time long before this awful conflict began.”

Doucet replies:

“Yarmouk camp was set up in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war which led to the establishment of the State of Israel. They fled there.”

As we noted here earlier this month, a similarly inaccurate claim was made in an article by Yolande Knell and Yousef Shomali about the same subject which appeared on the BBC News website.  

“The unofficial camp [Yarmouk] was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

And as we remarked at the time (and as is equally applicable to Doucet’s inaccurate statement):

“Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers. “

The BBC News website’s Middle East desk later revised that statement in response to a complaint and noted in its reply that:

“As you correctly point out, the war followed the creation of Israel, and we have changed the wording accordingly.”

But two weeks on it seems that basic facts of Israeli history still evade other BBC reporters too.

We look forward to an on-air correction by the Today programme, together with some equally urgently needed context for listeners regarding the political motivations which lie behind the fact that Syria and other countries have deliberately kept the refugees their attack upon the new Israeli state created – and generations of their descendants – in second-class refugee status for the last sixty-six years. 

BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

h/t J

On Friday January 31st the BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme included an item (here from 02:42:55) by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly titled “Scarlett Johansson ‘should know better’“. 

Today Connolly

At 0:50 into Connolly’s item, listeners hear the sound of shouting and chanting:

“One, two, three, four, occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state.”

Connolly then comes in saying:

“Now SodaStream, and Scarlett, find themselves caught up in the bitter politics of the Middle East and in particular the calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses that trade on the lands that Israel captured in the war of 1967.”

The same shouting and chanting continues in the background throughout the whole time that Connolly is speaking – clearly the result of two separate recordings being intentionally spliced together. He continues:

“Israel disputes that its activities in the West Bank, like the operations of the SodaStream factory there, are a breach of international law but these protesters gathered at the Israeli embassy in London are in no doubt. Among them was Amena Saleem who says you should know that buying a SodaStream props up the occupation and that Scarlett Johansson should know better.”

Amena Saleem: “She’s advertising SodaStream and she’s promoting it so she’s promoting the occupation, she’s promoting apartheid in the West Bank. By supporting SodaStream which supports the occupation you are supporting the occupation as well and Scarlett Johansson unfortunately is supporting the Israeli occupation and Israeli apartheid.”

Does Connolly bother to inform the millions of listeners to the ‘Today’ programme that Saleem’s defamatory claims of “Israeli apartheid” are inaccurate? No he does not. Does he bother to tell them that Amena Saleem is a professional activist with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign who writes for outlets such as Electronic Intifada and the UK-based Hamas mouthpiece MEMO? No he does not. Does he even bother to make it clear who organized that noisy demonstration outside the Israeli embassy which the BBC’s sound engineers took such pains to splice into his item? No he does not. 

Readers will no doubt remember that not too long ago, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed the corporation’s commitment to “clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”. Interestingly, that statement came about as the result of a complaint from none other than the murkily funded Palestine Solidarity Campaign itself. But in this case Connolly and the editors of the ‘Today’ programme have made no effort whatsoever to identify Amena Saleem as a representative of that organization or to explain the politically motivated ideology and aims which lie behind it and the BDS campaign it supports. 

Clearly this broadcast is in breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which – as reaffirmed by the ECU – state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

That breach of impartiality makes the BBC (not for the first time) a party in the promotion and amplification of the PSC’s campaigning and in the sanitisation of an extremist fringe group which supports a terrorist organization proscribed by the British government.

The ‘Today’ programme’s contact details are here

PSC in Gaza 

Related Articles:

Zaher Birawi profile

Mohammad Kozber profile

Muhammed Sawalha  profile

Sarah Colborne PSC  profile

Palestine Solidarity Campaign  profile

What is the PSC?

PSC invites Terror Activist to House of Commons

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Hamas

BBC justifies anti-Israel campaign slogans as “a form of expression”

Who has the ear of ‘senior BBC executives’?

 

BBC acknowledges breach of accuracy guidelines by ‘Today’ presenter Sarah Montague

In November 2013, whilst interviewing Baroness Warsi on the subject of persecution of Christians for the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, Sarah Montague said

“But are you saying – can I just ask – countries like Pakistan that you refer to, or perhaps Israel or even Iraq where there is a functioning government – is it just down to the politicians in those countries to speak out and this problem could be solved?”

Listeners would of course have understood from Sarah Montague’s reference to Israel – alongside Pakistan and Iraq – that Christians are subject to persecution in that country too.

A complaint lodged at the time produced the following unsatisfactory response from the programme’s assistant editor Dominic Groves:

“Thank you for your email. Sarah Montague cited Israel not as an example of a country which persecutes Christians but of a country where there is a functioning Government. She did this in the context of asking what responsibility politicians should bear for promoting harmony between those of different faiths.”

The listener pursued his complaint further and has now received a response from the Head of Editorial Complaints which includes the following:

“Your complaint has been considered in the light of the BBC’s guidelines on Accuracy. You felt that a question asked of Baroness Warsi during an interview on the persecution of Christians gave the misleading impression that this was happening in Israel: 

Sarah Montague: But are you saying – can I just ask – countries like Pakistan that you refer to, or perhaps Israel or even Iraq where there is a functioning government – is it just down to the politicians in those countries to speak out and this problem could be solved? 

While I take Dominic Groves’ point that the intention was to cite Israel as an example of a country with a functioning government, rather than a country which persecutes Christians, it seems to me that bracketing it with Pakistan and Iraq, in the context of an item arising from Baroness Warsi’s warning that Christians in some parts of the world face extinction because of violence against them, nevertheless tended to give the impression that Christians in Israel were suffering violence comparable to what had been experienced in the other countries named, and that this impression, however inadvertent, was misleading. 

I’m therefore proposing to uphold your complaint.” 

It of course remains to be seen how the BBC will deal with the issue of informing the ‘Today’ programme’s millions of listeners of that breach of Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and correcting the mistaken impression created by Sarah Montague.  

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BBC Radio 4′s ‘Today’ joins ‘Newsnight’ in breach of editorial guidelines

The BBC’s coverage of the request by the French government to ban shows by the ‘comedian’ Dieudonne on the grounds of threat to public order continued on January 8th on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ programme. Readers will no doubt recall that the same subject was covered the previous evening on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and on Radio 4′s ‘The World Tonight’. 

The relevant edition of the ‘Today’ programme is available here and the item concerned begins from around 2:22:50. Presenter Sarah Montague opens the report:

“The French president Francois Hollande has written to local authorities in France urging them to ban the controversial comedian Dieudonne on public order grounds. He has six convictions for hate speech against Jews. Here’s the president explaining his move.”

The programme than cuts to a recording of President Hollande, after which Montague continues:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonne has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

Once again, no attempt is made to comply with the BBC editorial guidelines which state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

No mention is made of Soral’s past membership of the Far-Right Front National or of his collaboration with Dieudonne in the ‘Anti-Zionist List’ in the 2009 European elections. His photographed neo-Nazi ‘quenelle’ salute at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial is likewise concealed from Radio 4 listeners.

The part of the ‘Newsnight’ interview repeated on the ‘Today’ programme is one of its milder passages.

AS: “I don’t think you’ve quite understood that Dieudonne is a comedian. He performs comedy, he does sketches. So if you take one phrase from a sketch you won’t understand. You need to ask the people who have seen his entire show which lasts an hour and a half. Then you’ll see that his very diverse audience, which reflects the whole of French public opinion, has never thought that he’s antisemitic.”

Montague then moves on to speak to the French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy. That part of the interview was also promoted as a podcast which can be heard here.

One listener who apparently found the interview with Bernard Henri Levy interesting was the ‘Newsnight’ editor Ian Katz. 

Katz tweet 1

Katz tweet 2

That soon prompted the following reply:

Katz tweet reply

To which Katz answered:

Katz tweet 3

In other words, the editor of the BBC’s flagship news programme is in no doubt that the denial of national rights to the Jewish people is not an expression of racism.

Well that does explain a lot, doesn’t it?

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BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism