The February 17th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in its synopsis as being about “Poland’s controversial WW2 death camps law”.
Kesby: “Last month the Polish parliament approved a bill to make it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the crimes of the Nazis during the Second World War. At least six million Poles were killed – about half of them Jewish. Many more fled the country. There’s no question that the country suffered horribly but lately a row has erupted about those Poles who may have colluded with the Nazis and why that word – colluded – is so contentious. Today at a panel discussion at the International Security Conference in Munich, an Israeli journalist challenged the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki about the new law. Here’s part of Ronen Bergman’s challenge.”
Listeners then heard a recording of Ronen Bergman speaking during the Q&A session.
Bergman: “Both my parents were born in Poland – my late mother and my father. My mother received a special prize for good Polish from the Polish minister of education when she was five. Then the war started and they lost much of their family because their neighbours – their Polish neighbours – snitched to the Gestapo that they are holding Jews. My mother was able to save much of her family because she heard during the night that the neighbours are going to tell that they have Jews in their vicinity to the SS the next morning. And after the war my mother swore that she will never speak Polish for the rest of her life – not even a single word. If I understand correctly, after this law is legislated I will be considered a criminal in your country for saying this. What is the purpose, what is the message that you are trying to convey in the world? You are creating the opposite reaction and just attracting more attention to these atrocities. Thank you.”
However, BBC World Service listeners did not hear the Polish prime minister’s response (which can be seen here) and so they did not know that he began by saying:
“It’s extremely important to first understand that, of course, it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators – as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian…. not only German perpetrators.” [emphasis added]
Kesby made no effort to inform listeners of that obviously crucial part of the story before going on to introduce Ronen Bergman.
Kesby: “Well a short time [sic] we managed to get through to Ronen Bergman and he told us more about his challenge.”
Listeners then heard Bergman’s comments on the Polish prime minister’s remarks – without having heard the statements themselves and without it being clarified that “he” refers to Morawiecki.
Bergman: “[….] He did not admit that there were Polish collaborators. He did not use that word; he said perpetrators and the use of that word – while saying in the same line, in the same sentence, that there were Polish as well as Jews – so like making one line connecting all of them – he said these were perpetrators – meaning criminals – who mushroomed – that was the word that he said – who mushroomed in the sense…so the subtext is basically this: there were criminals in Poland, some of them were Jews, some of them were Poles, and they were the ones who gave Jews to the Gestapo. This is nothing but Holocaust denial and an outrageous lie.”
Kesby then asked:
Kesby: “These terrible events are seventy years old. Why is this such a current issue now?”
Bergman: “Because Poland – or elements in Poland as well as in some other Eastern European countries – are trying to rewrite the history of the Holocaust and there should not be any debate. […] But the Nazi Germans they were the ones who initiated the extermination and they were the ones who managed it. But there were many, many people of some of the local countries that were under German occupation who assisted them and much of the Holocaust could not have been executed without them. Now some of these countries are now trying to say that they were nothing but victims and the Polish government have gone to a much further extent to say that if someone says anything else he’s a criminal.”
Kesby: “And why do you think that it the case? Why do you think there is this sensitivity to admitting what has happened in the past?”
Bergman: “Well I think that nobody wants to admit that he was part of the most vicious crime in the history of humanity. And I think that these countries basically are trying to say that the Germans – and only the Germans – are to blame. They want retribution – meaning compensation – and taking from their shoulders any kind of guilt. […] You know this sort of narrative is something that we always suspected still exists but I think that we have never heard from such a senior official of these countries speaking this language.”
Obviously having belatedly realised that listeners had not heard the remarks from the Polish prime minister’s that were the subject matter of this interview, Kesby closed the item by saying:
Kesby: “That was Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman there and apologies – there wasn’t the full exchange there as I anticipated, of his exchange with the Polish prime minister but it is available online if you’d like to do a search and see both sides of the argument.”
The newly appointed Director of the BBC World Service group recently claimed that BBC World Service radio’s English services “remain the gold standard for international news” and that:
“With global concern growing about disinformation, ‘fake news’ and media literacy, the World Service Group has never been in a stronger position to show the way forward. We spot the stories, see the patterns and make sense of the world for our audiences.”
Obviously sending audiences to “do a search” on the internet in order to find for themselves the crucial part of a story is hardly “the gold standard” of news provision.