The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Feedback’ (which, as readers may know, has a ‘get involved’ facility) describes itself as a “forum for comments, queries, criticisms and congratulations”. The October 30th edition of that programme included an item (from 02:29 here) concerning criticism of the BBC’s reporting on the current wave of terror in Israel, introduced by presenter Roger Bolton as follows:
“But we begin this week with the long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Violence has escalated once again and with it, allegations of bias in the BBC’s coverage.”
Later on, a statement from BBC News concerning such allegations was read out on air.
“The BBC’s responsibility is to remain impartial and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments. We cover stories as they happen and our role is to explain and give context and so we endeavor to reflect a range of voices amid deeply held views. BBC News reports widely and extensively across TV, radio and online on many different aspects of this ongoing and complex conflict and we are committed to do so in an accurate, fair and balanced way across our coverage.”
Listeners then heard from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly.
“The pressure comes and goes according to the pressure of the news. The higher the profile the story has in our news bulletins, the more we will hear from people who have very strong views on the conflict themselves about how our coverage measures up against their own feelings and they will scrutinize every aspect of our language, the words we choose to use, the amount of historical context we manage to add to pieces, the precise manner in which we report disputed factual circumstances. We absolutely accept that, you know, we are accountable to the British public and they are entitled to express what are often very, very strong opinions and a very strong sense of disappointment when they feel that our narrative is not close enough to the narrative of one side or the other.”
Referring specifically to his reports for Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, Connolly goes on to reveal his system of collegial fact checking – which readers may find particularly interesting given his recent item broadcast on that programme.
The BBC’s public purpose remit requires it to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” and “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”. However, Connolly’s above response suggests that the fulfillment of that remit by means of the provision of accurate and impartial information is being eclipsed by the fact that the corporation is caught up in a narrative of narratives.
Of course narratives concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict exist just as they do on many other topics such as climate change, immigration or Britain’s membership of the EU. But there are facts which should transcend any attempt to package a story in a particular fashion and it is that factual information which members of the British public pay to receive – precisely in order to enable them to assess the validity of any particular narrative and enhance their understanding of the facts behind the story.
However, as Matti Friedman wrote last year:
“The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it, a role with consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand a region where they consistently seek, and fail, to productively intervene.”
Were the BBC to get back to journalistic basics, Kevin Connolly might be better placed to appreciate that when members of the public complain about his misrepresentation of Britain’s administration of the Mandate for Palestine, his distorted accounts of the Six Day War or his recent claim that Temple Mount is an exclusively “Islamic” site, it is because he is factually wrong.
Connolly’s dismissive assertion that such complaints are rooted in a wish to see the BBC adhere to a certain “narrative” do little to convince audiences of the BBC’s commitment to accurate and impartial reporting as its main priority – or its capacity for self-criticism.