Compromising public perceptions of BBC impartiality

Sadly – for both its colleagues in the field in which it operates and the many people around the world in need of the human rights sector – there is nothing novel about the seemingly interminable ability of ‘Human Rights Watch’ to bring itself into repeated disrepute and compromise its own reputation for impartiality. 

A long line of scandals includes fund-raising in Saudi Arabia, an HRW employee with a penchant for Nazi memorabilia, cooperation with the Ghaddafi regime and accusations – including from its own founder – of poor research methods.

Only last week the Wall Street Journal informed us of yet another problematic aspect to HRW. It turns out that HRW’s Executive Director of almost twenty years, Kenneth Roth, does not consider Iran to be in violation of the UN Genocide Convention.

“Asked in 2010 about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that Israel “must be wiped off the map,” Mr. Roth suggested that the Iranian president has been misunderstood. “There was a real question as to whether he actually said that,” Mr. Roth told The New Republic, because the Persian language lacks an idiom for wiping off the map. Then again, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s own English-language website translated his words that way, and the main alternative translation—”eliminated from the pages of history”—is no more benign. Nor is Mr. Ahmadinejad an outlier in the regime. Iran’s top military officer declared earlier this year that “the Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.”

Mr. Roth’s main claim is legalistic: Iran’s rhetoric doesn’t qualify as “incitement”—which is illegal under the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948—but amounts merely to “advocacy,” which is legal.”

As the article’s author David Feith rightly points out, Roth’s approach conveniently ignores Iran’s sponsorship of its proxies Hamas and Hizballah which are quite open about their aims.

Three days after the Roth story broke, HRW published yet another of its rapidly produced reports – this time accusing Israel of “a clear violation of the laws of war” during the latest conflict between it and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip.  Like its problematic 2006 report on the Second Lebanon War, this report is based on ‘evidence’ gathered from local residents – with apparently no attempt made to first establish the possibility of their affiliations to terror organisations – and without the author Fred Abrahams – who is not a munitions expert – having been able to inspect the remnants of what he presumes was ” a large aerial bomb”.

Needless to say, the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians – with fatal results or without – is not yet the subject of a report by HRW.

Of course known Hamas cheerleaders were quick to embrace, publicise and promote the latest HRW report. Among them was professional anti-Israel campaigner, BDS promoter and advocate of the one-state ‘solution’ Ben White who is perhaps best known for his ‘understanding’ of antisemites.  

White chose two BBC journalists – Paul Danahar and Jon Donnison – as recipients of one of his many Tweets on the subject of the HRW report. 

White HRW report

Less than three hours later, Paul Danahar sent Tweets of his own on the subject:

Danahar HRW report


Even if White’s Tweet did not prompt Danahar’s own, the many problematic aspects of HRW’s reputation and the fact that its latest report had already been warmly embraced as propaganda material by known anti-Israel activists should surely have prompted Danahar to recall that the BBC Editorial Guidelines state in section 4.4.13:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.”


22 comments on “Compromising public perceptions of BBC impartiality

  1. Just imagine the shock and disorientation if one of the above should mention that Israeli families were under attack. Imagine them slamming Hamas for the deaths in Kiryat Malachi. It couldn’t happen. They asked for it by being Israeli and on the wrong side of trendiness.

    • An interesting thing here: Ms Sela mentions HRW’s funding.

      Could Ms Sela clarify who’s funding ‘BBC Watch’?

  2. Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. Its headquarters are in New York City and it has offices in Berlin, Beirut, Brussels, Chicago, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Toronto, and Washington.

    ‘CIF Watch’ is a website run by one person – Mr Adam Levick.

    • Wrong copying and pasting, you disgusting troll…
      This is BBCwatch you’re presently harassing, not CiFW.
      Revise the trolling handbook, moron.

        • You said this was “CiFWatch”, idiot…
          Or is your troll brain now filtering out your former comments?
          That would explain how you morphed from an American, to a Swede, to an Israeli without batting an eye.
          As I’ve said many time before, find someplace else to troll, scum.

          • “Nat”, you ought to have taken my advice seriously:
            Troll somewhere else.
            You said in one of your most asinine comments to date(and let’s face it, there was quite the competition) that this was CiFW.
            Hence, you’ve let your copy-and-paste routine slip.
            Now, run along, scum.

          • Again… “Nat”, while your attempts at trolling are especially lap today, I’ll continue to insist:
            Find a different place to spam.
            Secondly, you said this website was “CifWatch” — it isn’t.
            While you were preparing yet another batch of concocted nonsense, comprised of barely legible, collaged hyperboles, you also pasted the name of another one of your trolling haunts.
            Happens to every nuisance, eventually.
            Now scurry off, miscreant.

          • Commentary, why do you resort to insulting people?

            I am very disappointed by your behaviour. Israel is a democracy where freedom of expression is important and where people are used to debating with others who may express different views, but still respect them. I wish you were not so rude. Please come and visit Israel, you will see how people manage to live together while not always sharing the same views on very important issues. This is what you need to learn – dialogue and coexistence. There is no better place for this than Israel.

          • For pity’s sake, you fervid troll: your obfuscation here is utterly pointless.
            You copied and pasted the wrong blather, moron.
            Hence you’re a troll.
            You claimed this site IS CiFW — it isn’t.
            Now you suggest, ever so flimsily, that you’re Israeli.
            Funny, how does that settle with your earlier averring that you are, either, Swedish, American, French, and/or perhaps even Papuan…
            You’re so maladroit at trolling, you can’t even keep track of your own lies.
            You’ve been warned, now skedaddle.

    • HRW has been strongly criticised by its own founder for bias against Israel. It has that in common with many international NGOs. Most NGOs are not even close to being impartial on most issues.

    • So your point, Nat, is that size and international reach makes you right? Hmmm…

      Don’t worry, Mr POTUS. That Martin Luther King, he’s just a trouble maker, don’t listen to him.

      Muhatma Ghandi? Pah! One man – can’t know what he’s talking about. Besides, he’s got the gaul to criticise the British Empire! We’ve got “offices” in a third of the world!

        • No, you idiot. I am not. I will spell out the point I am making, as it is clearly too complex for you…

          You pointed out the large size and international reach of HRW, and compared it to the small size of CifWatch (sic). You implied by that that HRW is beyond criticism from a blog run by one (or two) concerned individuals, and that somehow the relevant sizes of HRW and CifWatch (sic) should be determinative in deciding which is correct in its analysis of Iran’s intentions towards Israel.

          I questioned this implication by pointing out two examples from history where small, poorly funded individuals have stood up against large, well-funded bodies and in which history has shown the smaller had the better understanding of what was “right”.

          I will make it even simpler for you – being “big” doesn’t make you “right”, and being “small” doesn’t make you “wrong”. Got it now?

        • DO you have some mental problems, Nat? You clearly struggle with English comprehension, althoughyou seem reasonably familiar with the language; you do not seem to be able to learn things despite repeated explanations being provided to you, and you also appear to have a multiple-personality disorder. Should we be cutting you some slack here?

  3. “Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”

    They shouldn’t, but clearly, obviously, patently, transparently, they can tell the prejudices, not just from presenters, but in headlines and announcements.

    If the above mission statement means anything at all, the BBC Trust ought to have addressed this major failure. That they haven’t speaks volumes about the BBC Trust and the people running it.

    I agree with Stephen – most NGO’s are not impartial – I think it goes with the territory – if you want to raise money as a charity, you need to promote yourself as being in favour of the victim, and who does the BBC paint as victims?…..

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