IHRA adopts working definition of antisemitism: when will the BBC?

At the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in May 2015, one of the many issues identified was the necessity for media organisations to adopt standard accepted definitions of antisemitism such as the EUMC Working Definition or the US State Department definition.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms.pic BBC

Among the proposals included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter was the following:

“The need for the BBC to work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism in order to ensure that complaints are handled uniformly, objectively and accountably is obvious. In addition, the absence of adoption of an accepted definition of antisemitism means that […] public funding is likely to be wasted on dealing with complaints from the general public which, if a definition were available, might not have been submitted.

Clearly the compilation of such a definition is neither within the role nor the expertise of the BBC and common sense would dictate that the definition adopted by Britain’s public broadcaster should be the one already used by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014) – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition. That definition was also recommended to media organisations as an industry standard by the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in May 2015.”

Last week the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – of which the United Kingdom is a memberadopted a working definition of antisemitism.  

“IHRA Chair, Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu, stated:

“All IHRA Member Countries share concern that incidents of antisemitism are steadily rising and agree that IHRA’s Member Countries and indeed IHRA’s experts need political tools with which to fight this scourge. IHRA’s 31 member countries- 24 of which are EU member countries- are committed to the Stockholm Declaration and thereby to fighting the evil of antisemitism through coordinated international political action.”

The IHRA Chair continued: “By adopting this working definition, the IHRA is setting an example of responsible conduct for other international fora and hopes to inspire them also to take action on a legally binding working definition.””

The text of the IHRA working definition can be found here. Like the EUMC working definition, it too is suitable for use by Britain’s national broadcaster. It is worth bearing in mind that should the proposal concerning the transfer of final adjudication on complaints concerning BBC content to OFCOM as outlined in the recent White Paper be implemented, the adoption of a uniform definition of antisemitism by both the BBC and OFCOM will clearly be crucial.  

 

The BBC must tell its audiences how it defines antisemitism

h/t BB

As was documented here at the time, on July 23rd BBC Radio 4 chose to air a repeat broadcast of a show by comedian-cum-political-activist Jeremy Hardy (originally aired in September 2014) which promoted crude stereotypes and factual inaccuracies.  

A member of the public who complained to the BBC received a response which includes the following interesting statement:

The BBC would never include what it considered to be anti-Semitic material in its comedy programmes; here the production team and Radio 4 took great care in reviewing the programme’s content to ensure this, especially in the satire concerning actions of Israeli governments past and present. No offence was intended by the jokes and satirical observations in the programme.”

The key words in that sentence are obviously “what it considered to be”. As we learned from the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s response to complaints about remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris in January 2015, the BBC does not use the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism and as was observed at the time:

“It is worth noting at this point that Steel’s rejection of the classification of Willcox’s statement as antisemitic is based on the following claim inserted as a footnote:

“In fact the phrase isn’t part of the EUMC definition, but is one of a number of examples provided of what might be considered anti-Semitic under the definition, subject to “taking into account the overall context”.  The EUMC definition was withdrawn in 2009 by its successor organisation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which has published no definition of its own.”

This of course is not the first time that the BBC has exploited the fact that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights has not put out its own definition of antisemitism because its mandate does not include such activities. Whilst the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was indeed removed from the FRA’s website along with other EUMC documents in 2013, it has not been “withdrawn”.”

So, whilst we do know that the BBC does not work according to the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, we do not know which definition it does use and hence the BBC’s funding public has no way of determining what the corporation does in fact consider “to be anti-Semitic material”.goalposts

That of course makes it very difficult for any member of the public wishing to submit a complaint concerning antisemitism in BBC content to know whether it is worth his or her time and effort to do so because the ‘goal posts’ are unclear. It also means that public funding is likely to be wasted on handling complaints which, were the general public privy to the BBC’s definition of antisemitism, may not have been submitted in the first place.

At the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in Jerusalem in May, one of the many issues identified was the need for media organisations to adopt standard accepted definitions of antisemitism such as the EUMC Working Definition or the US State Department definition.

Until the day the BBC recognizes the imperative of working according to internationally accepted definitions, in the interests of transparency and accountability it must at least publish its own definition of antisemitism and inform its funding public with which experts (if any) it consulted in order to arrive at a definition it obviously considers to be superior to and more authoritative than the existing ones.

 

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

As noted previously, last week we attended the biennial Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in Jerusalem and participated in the working group on the issue of Antisemitism on the Internet and in the Media.GFCA logo

Once again the conference presented an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand from delegates from many countries around the world in both the panel discussions and informal conversations. As was to be expected, the attacks in Paris and in Copenhagen earlier this year were at the forefront of discussion.

Readers can view videos of the four panel sessions held on May 13th here and shorter videos of individual speakers can be found on Youtube. Of particular relevance to the working group in which BBC Watch took part was Panel 2 which included representatives from Google and Facebook who were presented with questions from the audience regarding their policies concerning the spread of hate speech and racism via social media.

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

Later this week BBC Watch will be attending in the 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem.GFCA logo

“The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism (GFCA) is the premier biennial gathering for assessing the state of Antisemitism globally, and formulating effective forms of societal and governmental response. The GFCA is an active coalition of public figures, political leaders, heads of civil society, clergy, journalists, diplomats, educators and concerned citizens dedicated to the advance of tolerance towards the other in public life and the defeat of Antisemitism and other forms of racial and ethnic hatred. The Forum serves as an important meeting place for exchange of knowledge and for formulating the global work plan for combating Antisemitism.

The 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism will focus on two main themes:

The Oldest Hatred in the Newest Vessels: Confronting Antisemitism and Hate Speech on the Internet and in Social Media 

The information highway has proven an unprecedented tool for accessibility to knowledge, and the advance of free expression and global interconnectedness; but it also presents unique challenges to human dignity – in the form of unfiltered cyberhate, both antisemitic and other forms of severe hate speech, delivered ubiquitously to every multimedia device. How can we increase the decency of the web without harming its essential freedom?

The Rise of Antisemtism in Europe’s Cities Today: Means of Response

The summer of 2014 saw an eruption of mass anti-Jewish protests and attacks in major European capitals not seen in decades. Many Jews today feel limited in their freedom to identify openly as Jews in their manner of dress or political expression. In parts of Europe, Jewish religious practice is under legislative attack, and the return of Jihadi fighters with EU citizenship marks a security crisis, for Jewish communities first and foremost.  Why is this happening today in Europe? Is there a structural threat to Jewish life? What steps can be taken by European leadership to defeat the new wave of Antisemitism in Europe?”

BBC Watch will be participating in the working group dealing with Antisemitism on the Internet and in the Media.

We look forward to bringing readers our impressions of the conference, as we did after the previous session in 2013.