Placement of a pay-walled article in a newspaper read by less than 5% of the population midweek was probably not the best advice ever given to a British politician apparently seeking to reassure Israelis but nevertheless, on July 18th the Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, had an article published in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz under the title “My Understanding of anti-Semitism Was Lacking“.
The same sentiment was voiced by Shah in an interview with Becky Milligan on BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ on the same day (from 29:11 here) and that interview prompted articles at additional outlets including the Independent, the Jewish Chronicle and on the BBC News website’s UK politics and ‘Leeds & West Yorkshire’ pages.
The BBC’s promotion of the radio interview included a choice of language that – given its past approach to the same story – was remarkable.
As readers may recall, when the story of Naz Shah’s offensive social media posts broke in April, the BBC refrained from informing its audiences that their content was antisemitic.
In subsequent related articles, the corporation likewise gave audiences an anodyne description of just one of Shah’s controversial Facebook posts while ignoring the others.
“It follows the suspension of Bradford West MP Naz Shah after it emerged she had once suggested, among other things, that Israel should be moved to the United States.” (BBC News website, 29/04/2016)
“Ms Shah, the MP for Bradford West, was suspended after social media posts emerged in which she suggested Israel should be moved to the United States.” (BBC News website, 30/06/2016)
“Ms Shah was stripped of the parliamentary whip in April over comments about Israel she made online, including one suggesting Israel should be moved to the United States.” (BBC News website, 05/07/2016)
However, now that Naz Shah has herself acknowledged her use of antisemitic discourse, the BBC has redefined those Facebook posts and is suddenly able to tell its audiences that they were in fact antisemitic.
So what happened here? Did the BBC really not know that before Shah’s admission? If not, then the fact that the corporation does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism has clearly once again failed audiences. If, on the other hand, the BBC was able to identify the antisemitic discourse in Shah’s posts back in April but nevertheless refrained from describing them accurately, then audiences have been similarly sold short.
One cannot of course imagine that the corporation would wait until the writer of a homophobic or anti-black racist social media post defined them as such in his or her own words before it got round to telling its audiences exactly why such posts were offensive.