As regular readers will be aware, the editorial approach taken by the BBC when reporting stories relating to the BDS campaign against Israel is to avoid informing audiences exactly what that campaign is really all about and in particular, that it seeks to bring about an end to Jewish self-determination by means of delegitimisation. In the past the BBC has claimed that, notwithstanding its frequent amplification of the campaign, it is not its job to provide audiences with that information and has taken to bizarrely describing that campaign to eradicate the Jewish state as a “human rights group”.
It therefore did not come as much of a surprise to see that an item broadcast on January 1st on BBC Radio 5 live adopted the same editorial approach. However, the item – aired on a show called ‘Phil Williams’ – also included additional issues.
In a slot (from 01:37:17 here) relating to the “top arts, entertainment and culture stories of the week”, presenter Adrian Goldberg discussed the cancellation of a concert in Tel Aviv by the New Zealand singer Lorde following pressure from anti-Israel activists – and one reaction to her decision in particular – with guests Emma Bullimore and entertainment journalist Alex James.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Goldberg: “…we’re going to talk about Lorde tonight as well because she’s become the subject of a full-page advert in the Washington Post. A celebrity rabbi in the United States has taken her to task for cancelling a gig in Israel and called her a bigot. And there’s been quite a lot of pressure on artists who’ve chosen to play gigs in Israel over the last few years to pull out of them. Some have given way to pressure like Lorde has. Others have refused to give way.”
Alex James then told listeners that the twenty-one year-old singer – whom he described as “such a young artist” – “has admitted at this point to not making the right call”. He went on:
James: “…the decision was made just a week after it [the concert] was announced that the right decision was to cancel the show. She said ‘I’m not too proud to admit that I didn’t make the right call on this one’.”
In other words, listeners were told three times in a matter of minutes that the “right” decision was not to appear in Israel.
The conversation then turned to the topic of musicians who have not given in to pressure from the BDS campaign such as Radiohead and Nick Cave before Emma Bullimore again raised the subject of the “right” decision.
Bullimore: “and I think it’s really interesting that she has decided to say, you know, I made the incorrect call. You know she could very easily let her managers deal with it, let her promoters deal with it but she obviously wants to say ‘no – this was the wrong thing and I’m backing away’.”
Goldberg: “And when we said the wrong decision, as in the wrong decision she accepts or she believes was to have accepted the gig in the first place.”
Goldberg then went on to promote an apartheid analogy of the kind regularly used by the BDS campaign.
Goldberg: “Yeah. But so this…this ad now in the Washington Post. There’s a guy called Shmuley Boteach. I confess I’ve never heard of him before but he’s called her a bigot for pulling out and he said that she’s joined what he describes as a global antisemitic boycott of Israel. Now…eh…older listeners will remember that there was a cultural boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era and the South African government and its supporters didn’t really come out and defend the country in the way that supporters of Israel have done and will do and that’s the other side of this – isn’t there? – is that people who chose to boycott Israel in this way are accused of being antisemitic.”
With listeners having received no information whatsoever concerning the aims and ideologies of the BDS campaign (and not least the fact that it seeks to eradicate self-determination for Jews alone) they would of course be unable to judge for themselves whether or not there is reason to describe it as antisemitic.
After Alex James had noted that the advert under discussion pointed out that the singer had agreed to appear in Russia (but without clarifying that it mentioned human rights abuses in Russia and in Syria), listeners heard from Emma Bullimore.
Bullimore: “Well also we’re saying…also we’re saying that this celebrity rabbi has done this before – not a musician but Barak Obama’s security advisor. So he likes to take out full-page ads. That seems to be his way of, you know, having a pop back and he’s quite notorious. He’s often…his views are often talked about on this issue in America. So, you know, he hasn’t just come out of nowhere. This is someone who likes…who likes to make a big deal out of things, shall we say.”
While one can of course agree or disagree with Boteach’s methods, it is notable that his was the sole response to Lorde’s decision to cancel her show that was presented to Radio 5 live listeners. Goldberg than went on:
Goldberg: “Yeah. Lorde’s…I mean she’s 21. I accept that’s pretty young but she’s quite a conscious artist though, isn’t she? You know it’s hard that [sic] she would have been unaware of the controversy around playing in Israel before this. Whether or not people agree with it will be down to their personal view of the State of Israel and its occupation of Palestine. But you know it’s not something that she could have been completely oblivious to I don’t think.”
As pointed out here only recently, the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” – published on the recommendation of the BBC Governors’ independent panel report on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2006 – instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.
“There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel.
In November 2012 the PLO secured a vote at the UN General Assembly, upgrading its previous status as an “entity” so that the UN now recognises the territories as “non-member observer state”. […]
But the UN vote has not created a state of Palestine (rather, it failed in its bid to join the UN as a full member state in 2011 because of a lack of support in the Security Council).
So, in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.” [emphasis added]
As we see, in addition to that breach of both the style guide and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, listeners to this item also heard a gratuitous and baseless comparison of Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa and were repeatedly told that the singer concerned had made the “right” call by giving in to pressure from supporters of a campaign that neither Goldberg nor his guests made any effort whatsoever to explain properly.
So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”.
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