In January 2018 an edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with one of the founders of the Hamas terror group, Mahmoud Zahar.
That was by no means the first time that the BBC’s “hard-hitting flagship” interview show had hosted members of Hamas. For example the terror group’s spokesman Osama Hamdan and its then political bureau leader Khaled Masha’al both appeared on the programme in 2014 and Masha’al had also been interviewed the year before. Ghazi Hamad appeared on the programme in both 2011 and 2012 and Mahmoud Zahar had previously been a guest on the show in 2010.
Those who took part in the BBC’s consultation on revised editorial guidelines last autumn may have noticed some interesting draft clauses under the sub-heading ‘Mandatory Referrals’ in the section titled ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’ (p. 122).
“11.2.1 Any proposal to attend an event staged by proscribed organisations or groups known for mounting acts of terror, in order to be recorded, must be referred to a senior editorial figure or, for independent production companies, to the commissioning editor. Referral must also be made to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.
11.2.5 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.
11.2.6 Any proposal to broadcast material recorded at legitimate events when paramilitary or other groups with a known record of violence or intimidation stage an appearance must be referred to a senior editorial figure, or for independent production companies to the commissioning editor, who may consult Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”
While the UK government currently proscribes only the so-called ‘military wings’ of Hamas and Hizballah it does proscribe in full the PFLP-GC and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) – which has been featured in BBC content in the past.
If those clauses do find their way into the new BBC editorial guidelines scheduled to be published this year, it will be interesting to see whether or not they will have any effect on the appearance of interviews with representatives of Hamas and Hizballah and whether BBC journalists will continue to report from events such as the ‘Great Return March’ which is organised and facilitated by an organisation “responsible for acts of terror”.
It is after all worth remembering that in April 2017 the BBC had this to say:
“Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.”