When R4 audiences got an on-air correction about Israel – but not from a BBC journalist

On January 11th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World This Weekend’ focused entirely on the subject of the terror attacks in Paris and that day’s rally, with presenter Mark Mardell reverting to the usual BBC’s usual ‘value judgement’ free formula for describing terrorists in his introduction.Mardell R4

“We’re live in Paris as world leaders gather to show support after a week when Islamic militants murdered seventeen people.”

Available here for a limited period of time, the programme’s attempts to ‘contextualise’ the terror attacks for BBC audiences are particularly remarkable because of what is omitted from the framing. At 11:24, during an interview with Andrew Hussey of the University of London, Mardell asks:

“What do you think, when we see radicalisation causing obviously terrible massacre here this week but also problems in the United States, in Britain and of course throughout the Middle East. What do you think drives people to be radicalised? Is it a reaction to modernity, to colonialism, to the West – or something else entirely?”

Hussey: “All of the above and something else entirely. It’s to do with a very old-fashioned word actually: alienation. How people cope and deal with alienation. Radicalisation, which is a complicated process, is one of the easy ways to deal with that.”

Later on (13:14) Mardell informs listeners that:

“…one can argue for ages about whether there’s any connection between France’s colonial past and what happened here this week…”

And still later (15:18) listeners hear an interviewee described as one of the leaders of an organization countering Islamist radicalisation in Paris suggest that:

“Maybe it’s something to do with the injustices happening across the world – in Palestine, Iraq, in Syria and Libya…”

But the most notable part of this programme comes at 24:05 onwards when Mardell brings in two interviewees but only finds it necessary to signpost the political leanings of one of them, whilst refraining from providing any insight into Kundnani’s place on the political map.

“With me now Professor Arun Kundnani who teaches terrorism studies at John Jay College in New York and has written several books on Islamophobia and extremism and Rene Girard; he’s chief correspondent at the French right of centre newspaper le Figaro. Can I start with you, professor: does this display of solidarity today lead anywhere?”

Kundnani: “Ahm…I think it would probably lead to a kind of entrenchment of the kind of ‘them and us’ mentality that..ahm….has been part of the problem I think. Ahm…you know, what would be good is to see a genuine movement for freedom of expression but if we were doing something like that, we certainly wouldn’t be having Netanyahu attend for example….erm….you know the Israeli government has….”

Mardell: “Why not?”

Kundnani: “Well the Israeli government has been responsible for killing multiple journalists over the last couple of years in Gaza. Ahm…you know in this country we’ve seen through the war on terror quite a restriction on freedom of expression. We’ve actually put people in prison over the last couple of years for the books they own. Ahm…so…ahm…you know what has happened here is that freedom of expression has become a kind of slogan and a kind of icon of Western values. Ahm…but it’s not a genuine commitment to freedom of expression: it’s more about saying this is something that we have in the West and you don’t have. It’s the them and us mentality that is part of the problem here.”

As we see, Mardell makes no attempt to interrupt Kundnani’s bizarre monologue in order to relieve BBC audiences of the inaccurate impression that Israel has deliberately killed journalists.  Fortunately, a journalist with honesty and integrity happens to be on hand.

Mardell: “Rene Girard; how do you feel about the march that we’re seeing? Does it lead to any change of policy? Should it lead to any change of policy?”

Girard: “I have to say something on Netanyahu because I don’t want to be seen as sharing this opinion. I don’t think that Netanyahu policy for Palestine, for Israel, for the peace is a good one. I prefer Rabin’s policy. But as a fact I was covering the war in Gaza this summer and the Israelis don’t target journalists. They don’t kill journalists….”

Mardell [interrupts] “Well, I mean….”

Girard: “…they allow them to go together so I think…”

Mardell: [interrupts impatiently] “Thank you for making that point but what about the general point….”

The BBC has editorial guidelines on live output:

“Factual Errors

If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. Where the inaccuracy is unfair, a timely correction may dissuade the aggrieved party from complaining. Any serious factual errors or potential defamation problems should be referred immediately to Programme Legal Advice.

Impartiality

Due impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s standards. It is a core value and no area of programming is exempt from it. It is vital that any package or interview broadcast during a live event is impartial and fair. Care should be taken to ensure that there is no suggestion of bias. This can be achieved by careful casting and ensuring the presenter/interviewer is properly briefed to conduct a robust interview.”

How fortunate that Rene Girard was on hand to do the BBC correspondent’s job for him.

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