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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Here is a map which appeared on TV screens throughout the UK during the June 12th edition of BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘.

Newsnight map

Now of course the BBC regularly tells its funding public how committed it is to rigorous standards of accuracy, but apparently those standards become somewhat more flaccid when the editor is feeling a tad dozy on the job.

Katz tweet

On the bright side; Ian Katz is the editor of a TV show – not a neurosurgeon or a pilot.   

 

 

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ still busy ‘contextualising’ antisemitism

Here is a series of Tweets sent from the BBC ‘Newsnight’ account to two hundred and three thousand followers on February 8th:

Newsnight twitter

Here is the interview which is being promoted in those Tweets:

Clearly ‘Newsnight staff still don’t get it.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ joins ‘Newsnight’ in breach of editorial guidelines

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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New BBC Newsnight editor’s Twitter fiasco raises concerns on impartiality

Less than two weeks into his new job, the editor of BBC Two’s already scandal-ridden flagship current affairs programme ‘Newsnight‘ has drawn accusations regarding the programme’s lack of impartiality and once again resulted in the BBC having to report on its own controversies.  

Former Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz – who is apparently not yet up to speed with the BBC’s guidelines on the use of Twitter – inadvertently sent a Tweet to more than 26,000 followers describing one of the programme’s interviewees as “boring snoring”.

Katz apologised on Twitter to interviewee Rachel Reeves MP, but Ms Reeves’ party was not impressed. 

“But Labour sent Katz an email demanding a full public apology for the “completely unacceptable” comment.

The message sent by the party said: “We would like to express our anger and disappointment at your tweet following Newsnight’s interview with Rachel Reeves.

“It is completely unacceptable for a senior BBC editor to have expressed this view, whether or not you intended for it to be made public.

“It is vitally important that the Labour party, our shadow cabinet and Newsnight viewers have confidence in the impartiality and fairness of your programme, and the criteria on which guests and interviews are judged.

“This incident undermines that confidence and it is important that this is redressed. Although a tweet of apology has been made, a full written public apology should be made by the end of the day.” “

Katz’s reply to that e-mail does not do himself or the organisation he represents any favours:

“I don’t accept your implication that my tweet reflects in any way on the impartiality of Newsnight..”

Apparently Mr Katz has not yet caught on to the fact that he no longer works for a private media organization but is now part of a publicly funded body bound by editorial guidelines. The issue of subjective interpretations of those guidelines by BBC editors tasked with implementing them is of course a matter of wider concern for BBC audiences than that raised by this incident alone.