The digital edition of the Radio Times recently included an interview with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which is part of the promotion campaign for his current BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.
Titled “Jeremy Bowen on reporting in the Middle East: “I kept getting dreams about having to bury the cameraman”“, the article opens with context-free presentation of a story which Bowen retells at every opportunity and an unverifiable allegation:
“When Jeremy Bowen offered to relive more than a quarter of a century of Middle East reporting for a new “personal” 25-part Radio 4 series, I wonder if he had bargained for the memories it would unleash. Death, depression, and years on the road in near-constant danger have all left their mark on one of the BBC’s most distinguished correspondents.
Today is proving particularly tough because he’s writing about Abed Takkoush, his Lebanese driver who was killed by Israeli mortar fire in May 2000 while they were covering Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Bowen, 57, suffered “symptoms of PTSD”, and retreated from the field for a time to co-host a relaunched BBC Breakfast show with Sophie Raworth.
“It was a really, really awful event, Abed’s death and its repercussions,” he says. “His wife died not long after, sadly; she had cancer and I’m sure it was related to the grief. Some of his kids went off the rails for a while… they were teenage boys and suddenly they didn’t have a dad.” He still sometimes works with Abed’s nephews, who are also drivers.” [emphasis added]
Later on in the article, readers find the following:
“As well as being attacked physically – in 2013 he was caught in crossfire from the Egyptian military in Tahrir Square in Cairo – the veteran reporter is regularly ambushed verbally. He remains indignant about being ticked off eight years ago by the BBC Trust for breaching the corporation’s guidelines on accuracy and impartiality during his reports on the history of 1967’s Six Day War. A pro-Israel group in the US accused him of bias on 24 occasions; the BBC Trust fully or partially upheld three of the allegations.
“That was totally unjust. The complaints were made by professional complainants, including one in the United States… [who] intended to give ammunition to [the BBC’s] enemies. I was backed very well in private by the management; I wasn’t backed well enough in public by them.””
One of the two complaints which eventually reached the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee was submitted by CAMERA. The aim of that complaint was of course to ensure that BBC audiences were provided with accurate and impartial information in a report concerning a particularly significant Middle East event. However, Jeremy Bowen is clearly unable to accept that fact, preferring instead to promote the bizarre notion that it was “intended to give ammunition to [the BBC’s] enemies” – whoever they are supposed to be.
Eight years have passed since that BBC Trust ESC ruling about which Bowen “remains indignant” and remarkably, his ability to accept and embrace criticism does not appear to have improved over the years. As was noted by CAMERA in 2009:
“Instead of admitting error, Bowen and others in the BBC redoubled their commitment to the flawed article, spending their time (and British stakeholder resources) coming up with disingenuous defenses to the article’s distortions.”
The subject has been raised by Bowen in interviews before and as we can see from this latest one, the man entrusted with ensuring that all BBC reporting on Israel meets standards of accuracy and impartiality has made no progress whatsoever in the decade since the article which was the subject of the complaint was published – and is still apparently entirely convinced of his own infallibility.