Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

h/t GB

The May 28th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (from 22:55 here) described in the synopsis thus:FOOC 28 5

“And the news media may love an anniversary, but some of its senior correspondents have dates they’d sooner forget …”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the piece as follows:

“Anniversaries are a regular feature of news coverage these days. Words like ‘it’s 12 months since’ or ‘100 years ago today’ preface many a tale. This can be useful for editors: it provides not only an opportunity to revisit and reassess a story but also, of course, a way to fill up space and airtime. But some anniversaries – as Jeremy Bowen knows – are marked more quietly, away from the public gaze.”

There is nothing “away from the public gaze” about the anniversary Jeremy Bowen chose to mark by broadcasting this particular item on national radio and – as can be seen in the examples in the related articles below – Bowen does not mark that anniversary “quietly”: he in fact makes a point of recounting the story annually.

But whilst the story and its yearly narration by the BBC’s Middle East editor are not novel, it does provide some insight into why the corporation’s coverage of Israel is as it is because it reveals what lies behind the long-standing approach to that country adopted by the gatekeeper of BBC Middle East content.

JB: “Sixteen years ago this week my friend and colleague Abed Takkoush was killed by the Israeli army. Abed was Lebanese from Beirut. He’d worked for the BBC since the [Lebanese] civil war started in the 1970s. Abed was in his early 50s with three boys and a wife. His business card said ‘driver producer’. He was a fixer: the kind of person without whom foreign correspondents could not function. We rely on people like Abed around the world, though he was exceptional because of his experience, his sense of humour and his bravery. He used to pick me up in his battered Mercedes taxi when I arrived at Beirut airport and accelerate away into the traffic, boasting that he was a better driver than Michael Schumacher. Istill miss him when I arrive at the airport and he isn’t there. I’ve never had the heart to delete his phone number from my contacts book.

On the day Abed was killed the Israelis were ending a long occupation of southern Lebanon. They were driven out by Hizballah – the Shia militia that also became a political and social movement. We kept a safe distance from the Israeli forces as they retreated. My big mistake was deciding to stop to do a piece to camera near the Lebanese border with Israel. I didn’t think they’d shoot from the other side of the wire. I asked Abed to pull over. He stayed in the car making a phone call while the cameraman Malek Kenaan and I got out. A couple of minutes later an Israeli tank about a kilometer away on their side of the border fired a shell into the back of the car. Somehow Abed forced his way out of the window and then dropped down onto the road. Malek told me not to go up to the remains of the car, which was on fire, because Abed was dead and the Israelis would kill me too. A colleague on the Israeli side heard the tank crew saying they’d got one of us and they’d kill the other two with a heavy machine gun. When I stuck my head out of the place where Malek and I had taken cover, they opened fire as they said they would. I’m as certain as I can be that the Israelis would have tried to kill me too if I’d gone up to find him. But I still feel guilty that I didn’t.

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

Looking into south Lebanon from the Menara area

A few weeks later when I was back in Israel where I was based at the time, I went to see a General in Tel Aviv whom I’d been promised would explain their version of events. He said they’d thought we were terrorists about to attack them. Hizballah did not drive Israel out in 2000 by sauntering along a road in the midday sun of South Lebanon. They’re way cleverer than that. When I said that to the General he shrugged and said there were frightened boys in the tank who’d been warned they might be attacked.

 I believe the soldiers in the tank could see us clearly for what we were – harmless civilians. It was a bright, blue sky day and the optics in Israeli tanks are excellent. I think, for them, Lebanese lives were cheap and they assumed we were a Lebanese news team – not the BBC. […] Reporting wars is a dangerous business, obviously. I think it’s more dangerous now than it was when I went to my first war in 1989 or in that dreadful week in 2000. The reason is the 24/7 news cycle. Killing journalists is a good way of sending a message about power and ruthlessness.

I gave up going to wars for a while after the awful few days sixteen years ago. But it would be impossible to report the Middle East as it is now without accepting a degree of risk. I try to stay away from the front lines but sometimes they’re part of the job. Many of my working days in the Middle East involve men with guns. If I get an easier job I won’t regret saying goodbye to them. But for now they’re part of my working life and of increasing numbers of journalists in our troubled world.”

In short, the BBC has allowed Jeremy Bowen to use this item to once again promote the unsupported, unproven and unfounded allegation that Israel deliberately targets and kills journalists/civilians. And yet, for the last decade (since the creation of the position of Middle East editor in 2006) the man shooting that accusation from the hip at every opportunity has also been the person entrusted with ensuring that BBC coverage of Israel is accurate and impartial.

That, sadly for the BBC’s reputation, says it all.

Related Articles:

Middle East Editor – Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

13 comments on “Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

  1. Howse about Bowen hating Hizballah for attacking Israel in the first place and causing the retaliatory tank fire ? No chance !

  2. I was a tankist at the time and I can assure Mr. Bowen, not that he cares, that in atank no matter how good the optics it is very hard to make out who might be a civilian and who might be a terrorist in civilian clothes.

    “JB: “Sixteen years ago this week my friend and colleague Abed Takkoush was killed by the Israeli army. ”

    On of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed, I assume he means.

    Check to see if the BBC noticed another event – the hundred year “anniversary” of Verdun. While not perhaps as awful as the death of JB’s pal, it might deserve a mention: Of course, its hard to blame the Jews for that one (unless you are Hitler and Ken Livingstone, I presume):

    VERDUN, France — In solemn ceremonies on Sunday in the forests of eastern France, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked 100 years since the Battle of Verdun, determined to show that, despite the bloodbath of World War I, their countries’ improbable friendship is a source of hope for today’s fractured Europe.

    The 10-month battle at Verdun — the longest in World War I — killed 163,000 French and 143,000 German soldiers and wounded hundreds of thousands of others

  3. Was there any indication on the car that it was a “Press” vehicle, was it even flying a white flag to show it is a non-combatant? If not, there has to be some sense of assumption of the risk for Bowen’s decision to expose himself and his two companions by entering a war zone populated by – to be charitable about it – a group of “fighters” the world has decided to exempt from following the laws of armed combat. Just because Bowen works for the BBC does not grant him some sort of automatic immunity or cloak of invisibility.
    I suppose he marks the anniversary of his friend’s death in the manner he does because the alternative is for him to accept some measure of guilt and responsibility for his poor decision. Instead, he takes the easy and popular way out and projects his guilt on Israel and would no doubt deflect any questions about his narrative as “blaming the victim.” It is not exactly an unheard of or unusual reaction when Israel or Jews are involved, sadly.

    • The Savages must have missed his monogrammed blazer JB and his distinctive albeit small BBC ring. Then again Savages don’t read and he does look so “Jewish” he naturally became a target of opportunity Yes he blamed Israel does he even know how to blame someone else when there is shooting or Human Rights like Iran Saudi Arabia Iraq Syria Pakistan Afghanistan Hamastan (Gaza Summary executions death for apostasy blasphemy LGBT lifestyle Honor Killings FGM Sex Slaves. No for JB anything bad in the Mid East he assigns to Israel. You might even think that he is Anti-Semitic!

  4. Nick Tomalin, a BBC journalist, was also killed while reporting for the BBC. Tomalin was killed in Israel by a Syrian wire missile on 17 October 1973 while reporting on the Yom Kippur War. I even translated his death certificate for the British authorities. No such diatribe against Syria for taking his life came from the BBC of course. How DARE the BBC allow this man to stay in post after this.

  5. Dear Ms Sela,

    I have just forwarded you my e-mail to Mr Montague at the JC, & would like to ask if either you or any of your colleagues managed to attend the JC 3 Editors meeting on last May 3rd, & in that case whether you were able to raise any of the critical comments on the BBC News coverage of Israel that I described.

    Meanwhile, I feel strongly that your 2 latest posts should not be restricted just to your regular mailing list, but should also be forwarded to the relevant officials at BBC news for their information, which I suggested in my previous e-mail last March. Since then I have forwarded my dossier of evidence to the Culture Minister Mr John Whittingdale’s team, as background evidence for his BBC Charter Review, which was published as a White Paper 2 weeks ago.

    Since I was able to make direct personal contact with his 2 private secretaries during this process, I would be able to forward these 2 posts through them for the Minister’s urgent attention, before he issues the final version of the BBC Charter next December 2016.

    Therefore, I propose to forward these 2 posts to both the BBC News officials, & the Minister’s secretaries, unless you have any valid objections.

    Yours Sincerely, David Lass.

  6. journalists put themselves in harm’s way when they can blame Israel – it’s win win. compare & contrast Gaza & Yarmouk – same Palestinians, only difference is the blame Israel appeal & that’s the real attraction.

  7. I should add the comment that Frank Gardner, a BBC correspondent, was shot by the Saudis and is now paralysed from the waist down. Does he blame the Saudis? Not a bit of it! He loves Arabic and the Arabs. Had this appalling event made him anti-Arab no doubt the BBC would have fired him.

  8. “I think for the Israelis, Lebanese life is cheap”

    Jeez. I think that for Hezbollah, Lebanese life is cheap, for Hamas, Gazans’ lives are cheap, for a shedload of Syrians Syrian life is cheap, for Sunnis Shias lives are cheap and vice versa.

    But no, for Bowen and his vile ilk, it’s always the Israelis, the Jews.

  9. Pingback: 06/04 Links: Incitement rife in Palestinian textbooks; 35 years on: mission to bomb Saddam’s nuke reactor – 24/6 Magazine

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