BBC content again featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

The Community Security Trust (CST) recently published its annual report (available here) on the topic of Antisemitic Discourse in Britain for the year 2015.

The section of that report documenting reactions to the 2015 terror attacks at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris and the Synagogue in Copenhagen includes:

“…examples show[ing] a range of mainstream media and political responses to the Paris attacks […]. They include cases where hostility to Israel appeared to dictate reactions to the killings of French Jews.”

One of those examples (p 31) is described as follows:

“On 11 January, Tim Willcox of BBC News interviewed a French-Israeli woman attending a rally in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks. She expressed concern about persecution of Jews, saying “the situation is going back to the days of the 1930s in Europe”, whereupon Willcox stated:

“Many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well”.

Willcox’s response sparked an angry reaction from many commentators. For example, historian Simon Schama tweeted “Appalling of @BBCTimWillcox to imply any and all JEWS (not Israelis) responsible for treatment of Palestinians by hectoring lady in Paris”. Writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen commented:

“…Of course, Willcox would never say such a thing after the murder of Muslims, and rightly so. He was interviewing an elderly Jewish lady, who was trying to mourn Jews killed for no other reason than they were Jews in a Paris supermarket.

Change the religion – make it Judaism, to be precise. Change Islamism to Israel, and the most grotesque apologies for murder become acceptable; standard even. Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined.”

On 12 January, Willcox tweeted a bland apology: “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question…it was entirely unintentional”.”Willcox

Readers will no doubt recall that in response to complaints concerning that broadcast, the BBC originally claimed that Willcox’s subsequent apology on Twitter sufficed. Having received a large number of complaints, the BBC then decided to consolidate them. Concurrently, additional complaints made to OFCOM were rejected.

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision. In June 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its rejection of appeals against that decision. 

In short, both the BBC and OFCOM dismissed complaints concerning a statement which Britain’s leading authority on antisemitism categorises as antisemitic discourse, with OFCOM stating that it had:

“…“carefully assessed complaints about alleged antisemitic comments” and “decided not to take the issue forward for further investigation.”

It explained: “While the comments clearly had the potential to cause offence, Ofcom considered a range of factors, including the live nature of this coverage and the need for an appropriate degree of freedom of expression, especially in news coverage of such a significant event.””

As OFCOM prepares to take on its new role as final adjudicator of complaints concerning BBC content, this worrying example once again highlights the need for both it and the BBC to work according to the definition of antisemitism recently adopted by the British government.

Related Articles:

BBC programme flagged up in CST report on Antisemitic Discourse

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

BBC Trust’s ESC rejects complaint about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish faces’ remark

BBC Radio 4 programme edited following BBC Watch complaint

Back in July the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld a complaint submitted by BBC Watch which had previously been twice rejected by the corporation’s complaints department. The complaint concerned the inaccurate claim that the book ‘Borderlife’ by Dorit Rabinyan had been ‘banned’ by an Israeli minister. 

Borderlife ECU

As was noted here at the time:Front Row 22 2

“During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.”

We can now report that the programme concerned has been edited and the recording available online no longer includes the inaccurate claim (previously from 27:03) that the book ‘Borderlife’ was ‘banned’ by the Israeli Minister for Culture. At the beginning of the recording an insert advises listeners of the edit and the webpage now includes a footnote with the URL of the ECU decision.

front-row-footnote

The action taken by the ‘Front Row’ team is of course welcome and appropriate: new listeners to the recording will now not be misled by inaccurate information. However, it remains highly unlikely that audience members who heard the original broadcast nearly seven months ago would at this juncture return to that webpage and see that a correction has been made.

Related Articles:

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

BBC responds to a complaint about inaccuracy with more inaccuracy

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

As readers may recall, since late last year various BBC radio programmes have misled their audiences by promoting assorted versions of the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ (‘Borderlife’) has been banned in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

With previous efforts to alert BBC World Service programme makers to the inaccuracy having proved fruitless, after the February 22nd broadcast of ‘Front Row’ on Radio 4, BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the following inaccurate claims made in that programme:

“…recently the [Israeli] culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’.”

As readers may recall, the complaint was twice rejected by the BBC Complaints department, with the second response including the programme production team’s claim that:

“This was a discussion that wasn’t specifically about the Rabinyan case – it was about another author’s work and the discussion strayed into political interference in Israeli culture. As such, Samira used the shorthand “banned” in reference to the book. The book was removed from the school syllabus, but in a discussion as wide ranging as this, the point about political involvement in arts and culture still stands whether the book has been banned from society at large, or removed from the school syllabusThe decision to interfere in the distribution of this book was made by, or under pressure from, politicians. That was the point the interviewee was making and to which the presenter responded.” [emphasis added]

As we noted at the time:

“The book ‘Borderlife’ was not “banned” in Israel and is freely available to all would-be purchasers in book shops. Neither was it “removed from the school syllabus” – because it was never on it. The decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by a professional pedagogic body – not “by, or under pressure from, politicians”.”

BBC Watch pursued the matter further and the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld our complaint, as is now noted on the BBC website’s ‘corrections and clarifications’ page.

Borderlife correction

The ECU’s reporting of its findings includes a section titled ‘Further action’.

Borderlife ECUGiven the production team’s above response to the second stage complaint, one must obviously question whether in fact it is in a position to “ensure that presenters are appropriately briefed”.Front Row 22 2

During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.

One cannot but question the efficacy – and commitment to transparency – of a publicly funded complaints system which apparently does not include a mechanism to ensure that audiences are automatically informed in the most efficient manner possible of the fact that they were given misleading information, rather than the outcome being dependent upon decisions made by individual departments. 

 

The BBC and the need for a definition of antisemitism

Readers may recall that in February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit rejected complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris the previous month following the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Included in the response from Fraser Steel was the following:

That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel

Many complainants argue that the question must be regarded as anti-Semitic because it falls foul of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, and which they attribute to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  That, however, seems to me an unduly harsh construction of what Mr Willcox said.  In the light of the opening reference to “Israeli policy”, it seems to me more natural to construe “Jewish hands” as referring to Israeli Jews (insofar as they might be responsible for the formulation or execution of Israeli policy), rather than to Jews collectively.  I would accept that it was inept to use a form of words which was even open to the first construction, but I would regard that as an aspect of the poor phrasing already acknowledged, rather than a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

As was noted here 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”.”DCMS consultation

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 – as in the case above – 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 Sir Eric Pickles MP wrote an article addressing the issue of a definition of antisemitism within the framework of the UK government’s efforts to tackle that particular form of racism. The example he provided was the one used by the UK’s College of Policing – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition.

The efforts being made to counter antisemitism in the UK must clearly include the country’s media. It is abundantly obvious that the definition of antisemitism used by the British Police Force and cited by a senior UK government official is equally suitable for use by Britain’s publicly funded broadcaster. All that remains is for that requirement to be included in the terms of the new BBC charter. 

BBC’s Tim Willcox featured in end of year media roundups

As previously mentioned, the most read BBC Watch post of 2015 was ‘BBC’s Tim Willcox in Paris: a new low‘ from January 11th.Willcox

Documentation of the BBC’s subsequent handling of that incident can be seen in chronological order below.

BBC response to Willcox complaints: he sent a Tweet

Update on the BBC’s response to complaints about Willcox statement

BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

BoD weighs in on BBC’s rejection of Willcox complaints

Update on the BBC’s handling of the Tim Willcox case

Not surprisingly, that story is featured among CAMERA’s ‘Top Ten MidEast Media Mangles for 2015’.

“In an outrageous BBC interview on January 11 on a Paris street during the mass unity rally after the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, the Jews at the Kosher market and other victims, a Jewish woman said recent events resemble the 1930s and Jews should respond by making clear they’re being targeted, Tim Willcox of the BBC interrupted her to say, “Many…many…many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well,” in effect proclaiming that murdering Jews in a Paris supermarket is understandable. Under a hail of criticism for the exchange, Willcox made a half-apology on Twitter, tweeting, “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question in a live interview in Paris yesterday – it was entirely unintentional.” The BBC took no further action, leaving one to wonder whether the BBC subscribes to irrational and bigoted views that justify murderous attacks on Jews around the world.”

The episode is also included in the list of ‘highlights’ which prompted the award of the title ‘Dishonest Reporter’ of the year to BBC News from Honest Reporting.  

 

Essay on ‘rationalising terror’ notes BBC reporter’s Paris remark

Readers will no doubt recall the statement made by BBC reporter Tim Willcox whilst interviewing a participant in a rally in Paris following the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Hyper Cacher supermarket in January 2015.Willcox

“Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.”

The BBC’s response to complaints on that issue began with the claim that an apology on Twitter sufficed, proceeded with a decision to handle the high volume of complaints en masse and culminated in their rejection. The head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit informed complainants that:

“It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

British writer and journalist Nick Cohen – who produced some typically insightful comment on the incident at the time – has now returned to that topic in an article published at Standpoint magazine.

“An associate of the Islamist gang that pumped bullets into the staff of Charlie Hebdo also took hostages at the Hypercacher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in the 20th arrondissement. There he murdered Philippe Braham, a sales executive, Yohan Cohen, a student, Yoav Hattab, another student, and François-Michel Saada, a pensioner. The dead had provided no “rationale” and created no “particular sense of wrong”. They were ordinary citizens, shopping for food, as we all do.

But when [John] Kerry and those like him looked at their bodies closely perhaps they noticed that appearances deceived. They were not like the rest of us, after all. Hypercacher was a kosher supermarket and the dead were Jews. Few people were prepared to say what they were thinking openly, but a BBC reporter, Tim Willcox, showed no restraint. A Jewish woman in the crowd near the crime scene told him, “The situation is going back to the days of 1930s in Europe. Jews are the target now.” Willcox could not let the suggestion that Jews were innocent victims go unchallenged. “Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands,” he said, interrupting her.

If you were a Jew, it was Israel’s fault that you were murdered, and possibly your fault too for not trying to pass as a gentile, or avoiding synagogues, and Jewish shops and restaurants, or changing your name and ditching your kippah. 

If you are a freethinker satirising Islam, you are a “this” and there is a “rationale” to your murder. If you are Jewish, you are a “that” and there is a “rationale” to your murders too.”

Read the full article – titled “Shame On The Liberals Who Rationalise Terror” – here.

 

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

Whilst interviewing the then Israeli minister Danny Danon for the July 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presenter Razia Iqbal inaccurately stated that Israel is not under threat from Iran.Newshour 14 7

Razia Iqbal [interrupts]: “What does that mean? What does that mean, Mr Danon, keeping all options on the table?”

Danny Danon: “It means that we do have the capability to defend ourselves. We understand that we will have to count only on ourselves…”

Razia Iqbal [interrupts]: “But you’re not under…you’re not under threat by Iran. Nobody in Iran has threatened you for a very long time. You’re harking back to a time when President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad threatened Israel directly.”

That statement was the subject of a complaint made by a member of the public which has been upheld by the Editorial Complaints Unit.

Finding complaint Razia Iqbal

How the BBC World Service intends to relieve listeners to that programme five months ago of the misleading impression created by Razia Iqbal’s inaccurate statement is of course unclear.  

BBC upholds PSC inspired complaints against ‘Today’ programme

Via the Guardian we learn that:

“The BBC has ruled that a Today programme misled viewers in a report on the recent period of renewed violence in Israel and Palestine.”Today

The report concerned was broadcast on the October 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

“The BBC received a number of complaints about an on-air conversation between presenter John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly on 19 October about an ongoing flare-up in violence between Palestinians and Israelis that began on 1 October.

The conversation began with Humphrys referring to the most recent attacks, and summing up the total number of casualties.

John Humphrys: “Yet another attack on Israelis last night – this time an Arab man armed with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? It’s about 50 now, isn’t it?”

Kevin Connolly: “We think about 50 dead over the last month or so, John – this sharp uptick of violence – not just that attack on the bus station in Beersheba, in Israeli itself but also on Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem.””

According to the Guardian’s report:

“The BBC head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, has written to those who complained saying that while it was clear the reference to 50 dead was meant to take in casualties on both sides, it would be “natural” to infer from the broadcast that only Israelis had been killed.

“In the context of a discussion of attacks carried out by Palestinians, and in the absence of clarification on the point, the natural inference for listeners was that it referred to the number of Israeli dead – which, in view of the actual incidence of mortality, would have been misleading,” wrote Steel. “To that extent, the report did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards regarding accuracy and I am proposing to uphold this part of your complaint.””

At the time of that broadcast ten Israelis had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the wave of attacks began. The Palestinian casualties were for the most part either terrorists shot whilst carrying out attacks or violent rioters threatening the lives of others. Ironically, it is the BBC’s attempt “to take in casualties on both sides” (seen not only in this report but also in many others) and the ensuing promotion of a false notion of moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims which was the root cause of this inaccuracy.

Should the BBC by chance deviate from its usual practice by issuing an on-air correction, in the interests of the same editorial guidelines concerning accuracy it should of course clarify that the Palestinian casualties include a high proportion of terrorists.  

Insight into the source of inspiration for the complaints comes not only the fact that the Guardian’s report includes comment from a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign but also from the fact that the PSC’s Amena Saleem flagged up the ‘Today’ report at her usual ‘electronic Intifada’ slot the day after its broadcast.

As has been noted here before with regard to the PSC:

“Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer [2014] about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.”

Given the above statement from Colborne and the article by Saleem, the BBC complaints department might care to revisit its own words concerning “interested groups/supporters” – written in response to a complaint concerning a different report by Kevin Connolly in the same month. Additional BBC responses to less successful complaints concerning the BBC’s reporting on the current wave of terrorism can be seen here and here.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ECU upholds complaint from the UK’s pro-Hamas lobby

Kevin Connolly tells BBC Radio 4’s ‘Feedback’ complaints rooted in narratives

BBC explains why it can’t always report history accurately

BoD weighs in on BBC’s rejection of Willcox complaints

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that the Board of Deputies of British Jews (the main representative body of Jews in Britain) has commented on the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s rejection of complaints made by members of the public about statements from Tim Willcox during a report from Paris on January 11th.Willcox

“The Board of Deputies has condemned the BBC for not taking action against Tim Willcox after his interview with a Jewish woman about the terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris sparked anger. […]

Board vice president Jonathan Arkush said: “It’s remarkable that the BBC could have reviewed the evidence and dismissed the complaints against Tim Willcox so airily and it raises very serious questions over the objectivity of the inquiry.

“The BBC is clearly unfit to be the judge and jury in cases when it is also the accused.” “

Related Articles:

BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

OFCOM’s response to complaints about remarks from BBC’s Tim Willcox

DCMS report on the future of the BBC

 

Update on the BBC’s response to complaints about Willcox statement

Thanks to all the many readers who have taken the time to keep us informed regarding the progress of their complaints to the BBC concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during coverage of the march in Paris on January 11th.editorial guidelines  

To recap, complaints were initially answered with a response stating that Willcox had issued an apology on Twitter. Those who pursued their complaint further have now received a response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell.

Mr Bell writes:

“As you may be aware, however, we have received a very large number of complaints on this issue, and if we were to deal with them in the normal way, investigating each complaint separately, it would be many weeks before some complainants received a finding. In order to reach a speedy determination on the essential issues, as they are reflected in the totality of the complaints we have received, we propose to deal with them in a slightly different way.” 

The response goes on to explain that the ECU has summarized the editorial issues arising from all the complaints into the points below and that those points will be considered against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

  • That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the middle east;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that Jews were responsible for the murder of other Jews;
  • That the question was offensive because it trivialised the holocaust;
  • That the question displayed bias against Israel;
  • That Tim Willcox’s comment “But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives” suggested there was a justification for the killings;
  • That the interviewee was not treated with appropriate respect;
  • That the terms of the apology from Tim Willcox were inadequate and failed to address what was inaccurate and offensive about his remarks;
  • That posting an apology on a private Twitter account was inadequate and that it should have been published by the BBC.

Mr Bell further notes that he hopes to inform members of the public of the outcome of his unit’s investigation by February 23rd.

Obviously it does make sense for the ECU to avoid wasting public resources by streamlining the process of investigation and considering a high volume of similar complaints together. Particularly following the unsatisfactory initial replies received by members of the public, it is now good to see that Mr Bell’s department appears to be making a serious attempt to address the issue.