Past BBC interviewee on antisemitism gets jail term for antisemitic incitement

Long-time readers may recall that five years ago both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story that was portrayed by the then ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman as a ‘free speech’ issue:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

That ‘Newsnight’ report included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonné” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”. BBC audiences were told nothing of Soral’s far-Right affiliations and record of antisemitism before they heard him whitewashing the antisemitism of his “close friend” by means of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

In April 2017 Soral was featured in an article about the French elections on the BBC News website with readers told that “what makes him so controversial are the anti-Semitic views he is accused of peddling – under the guise of “anti-Zionism” – on his hugely successful website” and that:

“…on one issue Alain Soral undoubtedly has a point: speech is being policed with increasing zeal in France.”

Last week the man the BBC found it appropriate to interview on the subject of antisemitism was sentenced to a year in prison.

“A French court on Thursday sentenced far-right Holocaust denier Alain Soral to one year in prison for insulting a magistrate and making anti-Semitic comments on his website.

On the site, which is called “Equality and Reconciliation,” Soral wrote that Jews “are manipulative, domineering and hateful.”

Soral, 60, has been convicted multiple times of incitement to hatred over a constant stream of anti-Semitic comments over the years.”

While this latest conviction will come as no surprise to those familiar with Soral, five years on it is still unclear how BBC editors could have been so uninformed as to consider the airing of his antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his “close friend” to be any kind of contribution to audience understanding of antisemitism.

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Former BBC interviewee on antisemitism resurfaces on Holocaust denial list

Former BBC interviewee on antisemitism resurfaces on Holocaust denial list

Via the CST we learn of the compilation by an Israeli government department of a list of social media accounts promoting Holocaust denial.   

“On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, anti-Semitism on the Internet is thriving, completely undeterred. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs published today (Sunday) worrisome information regarding Holocaust denial on social networks on the internet, including a list of the most virulently anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, which was determined in turn by the number of their posts, the number of their followers, the frequency with which they posted and “virility” of the various accounts. […]

According to data provided by Ministry of the Diaspora, over 7,500 tweets purporting denial and ridicule of the Holocaust have been posted on Twitter in English over this past month, and more than seven million visitors have been exposed to them. The average number of followers garnered by anti-Semitic posters is 4,500, a number indicating that the networks of incitement are rapidly expanding.”

Number seven on that list of antisemitic Holocaust deniers is Alain Soral and number eight is Dieudonné.

Readers may recall that in early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story that was portrayed by the then ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman as follows:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

The ‘Newsnight’ item included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonné” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.

On BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonné has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

As was noted here at the time, in spite of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, no effort was made to inform audiences of the far-right background and political agenda of the interviewee selected to supposedly enhance their understanding of the story.

The BBC’s funding public never did find out why in the first place ‘Newsnight’ editors considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his ‘close friend’ to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion.

Nearly two years after his ‘Newsnight’ interview, Soral was convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism and Dieudonné also since been convicted on similar charges. Nevertheless, in a 2015 report on one case , BBC News found it appropriate to inform audiences that the latter “insists he is not anti-Semitic” and as recently as April 2017 visitors to the BBC News website were informed that:

“…on one issue Alain Soral undoubtedly has a point: speech is being policed with increasing zeal in France.” 

It of course comes as no surprise whatsoever to find Soral – together with his associate  – on a list of antisemitic Holocaust denying social media accounts. What is still chilling, however, is that the BBC even considered inviting him to appear as a commentator on antisemitism.

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BBC interviewee selected to comment on antisemitism story convicted of antisemitism

In early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story portrayed as follows by ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

The ‘Newsnight’ item included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonne” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.Newsnight Soral

On Radio 4 Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonne has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

As was noted here at the time, in spite of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality no effort was made to inform audiences of the far-right background and political agenda of the interviewee selected to supposedly enhance their understanding of the story.

Paxman: “I began by asking him what on earth it [the quenelle gesture] meant.”

Alain Soral: “It’s a gesture against the system, against the powers that be in France. It has only recently become – since it’s a gesture that’s been around for almost ten years – only recently the most powerful Jewish organization in France, the CRIF, decreed that it was an anti-Semitic gesture. So basically, their idea is that an anti-system gesture is an anti-Semitic one. So at the end of the day, is that simply an improper accusation? Or is there a deep link between the system of domination that Mr Dieudonne is fighting against and the organized Jewish community? Well that’s the question.”

Paxman: “But you don’t deny that Mr Dieudonne is an anti-Semite, do you?”

AS: “The problem is that this word has become a word used to scare people. A long time ago Dieudonne had a partner – a young Jew called Eli Simoun – but all of these accusations started arriving the day he did a sketch on Israeli settlers. So today we have a very powerful Zionist lobby in France which treats anyone who doesn’t subscribe to its vision of the world and to its politics as antisemitic.”

Although the BBC’s funding public never did find out why in the first place ‘Newsnight’ editors considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his ‘close friend’ to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion, the news that Soral has now been convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism should surely prompt some belated self-examination of the editorial decisions made in the run-up to the airing of that interview.

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The BBC’s coverage of the request by the French government to ban shows by the ‘comedian’ Dieudonne on the grounds of threat to public order continued on January 8th on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. Readers will no doubt recall that the same subject was covered the previous evening on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and on Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’. 

The relevant edition of the ‘Today’ programme is available here and the item concerned begins from around 2:22:50. Presenter Sarah Montague opens the report:

“The French president Francois Hollande has written to local authorities in France urging them to ban the controversial comedian Dieudonne on public order grounds. He has six convictions for hate speech against Jews. Here’s the president explaining his move.”

The programme than cuts to a recording of President Hollande, after which Montague continues:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonne has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

Once again, no attempt is made to comply with the BBC editorial guidelines which state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

No mention is made of Soral’s past membership of the Far-Right Front National or of his collaboration with Dieudonne in the ‘Anti-Zionist List’ in the 2009 European elections. His photographed neo-Nazi ‘quenelle’ salute at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial is likewise concealed from Radio 4 listeners.

The part of the ‘Newsnight’ interview repeated on the ‘Today’ programme is one of its milder passages.

AS: “I don’t think you’ve quite understood that Dieudonne is a comedian. He performs comedy, he does sketches. So if you take one phrase from a sketch you won’t understand. You need to ask the people who have seen his entire show which lasts an hour and a half. Then you’ll see that his very diverse audience, which reflects the whole of French public opinion, has never thought that he’s antisemitic.”

Montague then moves on to speak to the French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy. That part of the interview was also promoted as a podcast which can be heard here.

One listener who apparently found the interview with Bernard Henri Levy interesting was the ‘Newsnight’ editor Ian Katz. 

Katz tweet 1

Katz tweet 2

That soon prompted the following reply:

Katz tweet reply

To which Katz answered:

Katz tweet 3

In other words, the editor of the BBC’s flagship news programme is in no doubt that the denial of national rights to the Jewish people is not an expression of racism.

Well that does explain a lot, doesn’t it?

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BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ breaches editorial guidelines, fudges on antisemitism

h/t J

“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.” 

That statement was made by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit just a few months ago as part of its ruling on a complaint.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions when the BBC has failed to make the affiliations of those interviewed and/or quoted clear, its editorial guidelines on impartiality do indeed state in section 4.4.14:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The January 7th edition of BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight’ included an item concerning the French government’s request to ban shows by the ‘comedian’ Dieudonne on the grounds of threat to public order. The programme can be seen here by those in the UK able to view BBC iPlayer, with the relevant section beginning from 38:00.

As Harry’s Place reports:

“According to BBC Newsnight […], this was principally a free speech issue. Jeremy Paxman introduced a report by saying:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ Before we talk about the limits of free speech, Hugh Schofield reports from Paris…” “

An audio version of Schofield’s report was also promoted on BBC radio and on social media, so those without access to iPlayer can hear it in this podcast or from 16:30 here in the January 7th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’.

Following Schofield’s filmed report, ‘Newsnight’ moves on to an interview with one Alain Soral, who is introduced to BBC audiences by the programme’s presenter Jeremy Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” (with the same description appearing on screen) and described as “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonne” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.

Newsnight Soral

In fact, as noted here by the CST, Soral is a former member (until 2009) of the Front National in France with a long record of antisemitic statements and dubious connections. As Harry’s Place notes:

“He soon became notorious for campaigning alongside Dieudonné in his “Liste Anti-Sioniste” (LAS) [anti-Zionist list – ed.]  for the 2009 European elections. […] Soral is not just a friend of Dieudonné, but his Far Right political ally.”

Had viewers been informed of Soral’s background, they may of course have been able to put the statements he makes during the interview with Paxman into their correct context. But they were not, and instead Soral’s Far-Right affiliations and record of antisemitism are obscured by the fluffy description of him as a “writer and film-maker”.

The interview begins with Paxman (who curiously seems to have toned down his famous bulldog style of interviewing in this instance) telling audiences:

“I began by asking him what on earth it [the quenelle gesture] meant.”

Alain Soral: “It’s a gesture against the system, against the powers that be in France. It has only recently become – since it’s a gesture that’s been around for almost ten years – only recently the most powerful Jewish organization in France, the CRIF, decreed that it was an anti-Semitic gesture. So basically, their idea is that an anti-system gesture is an anti-Semitic one. So at the end of the day, is that simply an improper accusation? Or is there a deep link between the system of domination that Mr Dieudonne is fighting against and the organized Jewish community? Well that’s the question.”

Paxman: “But you don’t deny that Mr Dieudonne is an anti-Semite, do you?”

AS: “The problem is that this word has become a word used to scare people. A long time ago Dieudonne had a partner – a young Jew called Eli Simoun – but all of these accusations started arriving the day he did a sketch on Israeli settlers. So today we have a very powerful Zionist lobby in France which treats anyone who doesn’t subscribe to its vision of the world and to its politics as antisemitic.”

There is more, but readers have no doubt got the antisemitic conspiracy theory gist by now. 

In fact, a photograph of Soral making the quenelle gesture at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin appears in Hugh Schofield’s filmed report, but – as the CST notes – apparently no-one on the ‘Newsnight’ team was able to join the dots.

Newsnight Soral Berlin

The fact that ‘Newsnight’ breached BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by not informing audiences of Soral’s “particular viewpoint” is abundantly clear. What is less comprehensible is why in the first place the editor of the programme considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion and why the BBC continues to be incapable of improving its increasingly dismal record on the reporting of antisemitism.

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