Section 6 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines deals with the subject of the ‘Right of Reply‘ and states:
When our output makes allegations of wrongdoing, iniquity or incompetence or lays out a strong and damaging critique of an individual or institution the presumption is that those criticised should be given a “right of reply”, that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations.
We must ensure we have a record of any request for a response including dates, times, the name of the person approached and the key elements of the exchange. We should normally describe the allegations in sufficient detail to enable an informed response, and set a fair and appropriate deadline by which to respond.
Any parts of the response relevant to the allegations broadcast should be reflected fairly and accurately and should normally be broadcast in the same programme, or published at the same time, as the allegation.”
Further details come in the Guidance section on ‘Right of Reply’:
“To be fair, we should include material that is relevant to the allegations. It is not necessary to include material that may be considered irrelevant to the allegations. If we choose to paraphrase material rather than use direct quotes, the meaning must be fairly represented.”
Jon Donnison’s recent report on the subject of the Bethlehem Marathon appeared to include a response from an Israeli source to the allegations made in the article:
“An Israeli military statement said: “The entrance of the Gaza Strip residents to Israeli territory, and their passage to the West Bank, is possible only in exceptional humanitarian cases, mainly urgent medical cases.”
It added that this was because Gaza was ruled by Hamas which Israel considers a “terror organisation”.”
However, BBC Watch has learned that the version published in Donnison’s article was not the complete ‘Right of Reply’ statement provided to the BBC. The full text of the response provided by COGAT appears below in Hebrew, and then in English – translated by BBC Watch.
“בקשתם של 26 תושבים מרצועת עזה להשתתף במרתון בית לחם נבחנה על ידי הרשויות המוסמכות והוחלט לסרב לפנייה מאחר ואינה עומדת בקריטריונים שנקבעו לצורך מעבר בין עזה לאיו”ש.
בעזה שולט ארגון טרור, המנהל לחימה נגד מדינת ישראל ואזרחיה. משכך, בהתאם להחלטת ממשלת ישראל, כפי שאושרה על ידי בית המשפט העליון, כניסה של תושבי רצועת לשטחה של מדינת ישראל ומעברם לאיו”ש מתאפשר רק מטעמים הומניטאריים חריגים, בדגש על מקרים רפואיים דחופים. הבקשה הנוכחית לא העלתה טעמים מסוג זה”
“The request by 26 residents of the Gaza Strip to take part in the Bethlehem Marathon was examined by the authorised authorities and it was decided to refuse the application as it does not meet the criteria established for the passage between Gaza and Judea and Samaria.
Gaza is ruled by a terrorist organisation which wages warfare against the State of Israel and its citizens. Thus, in accordance with the decision of the Government of Israel – as has been approved by the Supreme Court – the entry of residents of the [Gaza] Strip to the territory of the State of Israel and their passage to Judea and Samaria is possible only for exceptional humanitarian reasons, with emphasis on urgent medical cases. The current request did not raise such reasons.”
We can therefore understand that the parts of this official response which were deemed by the BBC “not necessary to include” on the grounds of their being “irrelevant” are the fact that the specific requests made by the Gaza runners were examined and considered, together with the fact that the criteria for entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel were established by the Government of Israel and the Supreme Court, rather than by the IDF as readers of this article might well be led to understand. Additionally, the fact that Hamas wages war against Israel and its civilian citizens was apparently also deemed “irrelevant”.
The BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality – together with its audiences’ understanding of the Middle East – would be much enhanced were it to publish ‘Right of Reply’ responses in full rather than resorting to manipulative censorship.