BBC takes lessons on ‘impartiality’ from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign

As readers may have heard, the BBC has described a former employee’s signature on a letter opposing a cultural boycott of Israel as “inadvisable”.

“The BBC has criticised former director of television Danny Cohen for signing a letter opposing a cultural boycott of Israel.

The corporation said that it regretted the “impression” created by Mr Cohen’s name appearing on the letter but that it “had no bearing on his ability to do his day job”.

The letter, published in the Guardian in October, was signed by more than 150 writers, artists, musicians and media personalities including J K Rowling and Melvyn Bragg. It was a response to an earlier announcement by media personalities calling for a cultural boycott of Israel and described boycotting Israel as ‘a barrier to peace’.

Following a complaint to the BBC about Mr Cohen’s involvement, the BBC responded in a December email describing Mr Cohen’s actions as ‘inadvisable’. The email went on to say that senior employees “should avoid making their views known on issues of current political controversy”. However, no further action was taken as Mr Cohen, who announced that he was leaving the BBC the week before the letter was published, no longer worked for the corporation.”

Via the Guardian’s account of the story, we learn that:

“Sara Apps, interim director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the views in the letter opposing the boycott were “those of the Israeli state” and called on the BBC to provide reassurance that staff “are impartial and seen to be impartial, in their work at the BBC” .

She said: “By failing to take any action against Cohen, the BBC sent a message to licence fee payers that it only pays lip service to the concept of impartiality when it comes to the subject of Palestine and Israel, and that BBC executives are free to publicly express their views on this subject with no regard for the code of impartiality written into the royal charter.”PSC campaign against Danny Cohen

One cannot of course disagree with the demand for the BBC to ensure that its staff  “are impartial and seen to be impartial, in their work at the BBC”. One also cannot disagree with the claim that when BBC staff “publicly express their views on this subject” there is a risk that the BBC’s impartiality may be compromised.

The trouble is that Ms Apps and her friends at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign who organized the complaints against Danny Cohen (the group’s second campaign against a Jewish BBC employee in just over a year) do not in fact care a fig about BBC impartiality.  

If they did, they would have similarly protested when a BBC staff member with considerably more influence on the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of news from the Middle East than the corporation’s director of television collaborated with an anti-Israel political campaign run by one of the signatories to that February 2015 pro-boycott letter, Leila Sansour.Knell Crouch End 2

They would surely also have had something to say on the topic of ‘impartiality’ in relation to the fact that the BBC has broadcast content made by a former employee who pinned his own political colours to the mast by collaborating with the Palestine Solidarity campaign.

There is of course nothing novel about this latest episode in the PSC’s employment of selective outrage over BBC impartiality for anti-Israel PR purposes. Sadly, there is also nothing remarkable about this latest example of the BBC allowing itself and its editorial guidelines to be used as tool in the political campaigning of an opaquely funded group which provides support for a terrorist organization proscribed by the British government.

And whilst we’re on that subject, if readers are wondering why the Palestine Solidarity Campaign currently has an ‘interim director’ (and what happened to the previous flotilla participating one), the answers can be found here.  

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Selective PSC outrage over BBC impartiality and integrity

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BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

h/t H

‘Open Bethlehem’ is a political campaign which describes its aim as being “to address the state of emergency in Bethlehem”. Partnered by the Amos Trust, promotion of its campaign message is largely focused around a film of the same name made by Leila Sansour.

The campaign’s Facebook account states:

“Open Bethlehem aims to bring world attention to the crisis facing the city by reaching out to decision-makers, church leaders and the media and acting as a route into Bethlehem for initiatives of all kinds. Above all, we aim to build a positive legacy for Palestine and the wider region by reasserting Bethlehem’s unique historical character as a living example of an open and multi-faith Middle East.”

A recent review in the Guardian informs readers that:

“Leila Sansour’s documentary Open Bethlehem follows her campaign to stop occupying Israeli forces encircling her hometown with a concrete wall.”

And:

“Palestinian director Leila Sansour has made a fierce, poignant film about her family and her hometown of Bethlehem, now in Palestinian territory but progressively stifled by the Israeli government’s anti-terrorist barrier…”

According to the film’s production company blurb:

“Iambic Dream Films is thrilled to present a film that Jon Snow calls: “One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen. The tragedy of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one town – Bethlehem.” […] The film spans ten momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation.”

Bethlehem of course has not been “under occupation” for two decades and neither is it ‘encircled’ by a “concrete wall” but readers no doubt recall that same theme being promoted by the BBC’s Yolande Knell exactly a year ago in her Christmas reporting from Bethlehem and yet again in her reporting on the Pope’s visit in May 2014.

Hence, it does not come as too much of a surprise to see this:

Knell Crouch End 1

Knell Crouch End 2

Now, what would the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality have to say about the self conscription of a BBC correspondent to a political campaign directly connected to the field she covers?

“A conflict of interest may arise when the external activities of anyone involved in making our content affects the BBC’s reputation for integrity, independence and high standards, or may be reasonably perceived to do so.  Our audiences must be able to trust the BBC and be confident that our editorial decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures, or any personal interests.”

“15.4.1

News and current affairs output may at any time deal with any issue, cause, organisation or individual and there must be no doubt over the integrity and objectivity of editorial teams.  For this reason, there are specific constraints on those working in BBC News and Current Affairs, Global News and news output in the Nations.  Staff, correspondents and freelances primarily known as BBC news presenters or reporters are affected by these constraints.”

And:

“It is essential that BBC staff, BBC correspondents on non staff contracts and freelances known to the public primarily as presenters or reporters on BBC news or current affairs programmes do not undertake any off-air activities which could undermine the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. Nothing they do or say should bring the BBC into disrepute. No off-air activity, including writing for newspapers, magazines or websites, writing books, giving interviews, making speeches or chairing conferences should lead to any doubt about the objectivity or integrity of their work for the BBC. If BBC journalists, presenters or reporters publicly express personal views off-air on controversial issues, then their editorial or on-air role may be severely compromised.”

Whether or not Yolande Knell got the required permission from her Head of Department before agreeing to allow her name and BBC brand-linked title to be used for promotion of the ‘Open Bethlehem’ film we do not know. What is clear, however, is that her position as an ‘impartial’ BBC correspondent based in its Jerusalem bureau is compromised and indeed untenable after such political activity.

Related Articles:

How Israel “incarcerates” Christian Bethlehem – a Guardian Production  CiF Watch