Revisiting a BBC News website story from 2014

Back in May 2014 the BBC News website reported a story from Belgium involving a politician and a banned rally that the corporation had difficulty describing accurately to its audience.

As was noted here at the time:

“The BBC report ‘balances’ its reporting of statements made by Belgian officials and an anti-racist organization on the subject of the convention by quoting a Facebook post from its organiser.

“Writing on his Facebook page, Laurent Louis said it was laughable that his movement “Debout Les Belges!” (Stand up, Belgians!) was seen as anti-Semitic, simply because its members had adopted Dieudonne’s trademark “quenelle” gesture.”

However, the BBC refrains from informing audiences that Louis’ repeated use of the quenelle is just the tip of the iceberg of his history of antisemtism and extremism, which includes making that gesture in the Belgian parliament, Holocaust denial and analogies and accusing Zionists of having “set up and financed” the Holocaust. Last year Louis was photographed at a pro-Assad rally trampling an Israeli flag and holding a portrait of Bashar al Assad and a Hizballah flag, telling Syrian TV that “Europe is being used in the conflict [against Syria] as a tool in the hands of Israel, the rogue state”.”

The following year Laurent Louis was convicted of Holocaust denial by a Belgian court and barred from running for office for six years. Following an appeal, Louis (who subsequently paid a visit to Hizballah) had his sentence changed.

“A former lawmaker in Belgium convicted of Holocaust denial in 2015 was handed an unusual sentence this week: The Brussels Court of Appeal ordered him to visit one Nazi concentration camp a year for the next five years and write about his experiences, according to the former lawmaker and local news reports. […]

Mr. Laurent [Louis] was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and fined over $20,000 at his 2015 trial, which centered on online statements he made that questioned the number of Jews killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.”

However, all anyone searching for information about the European MP convicted of Holocaust denial on the BBC News website will find is amplification of Louis’ denials of antisemitic activity along with a tepid and unhelpful ‘explanation’ of the quenelle gesture.

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Former BBC interviewee on antisemitism resurfaces on Holocaust denial list

Via the CST we learn of the compilation by an Israeli government department of a list of social media accounts promoting Holocaust denial.   

“On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, anti-Semitism on the Internet is thriving, completely undeterred. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs published today (Sunday) worrisome information regarding Holocaust denial on social networks on the internet, including a list of the most virulently anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, which was determined in turn by the number of their posts, the number of their followers, the frequency with which they posted and “virility” of the various accounts. […]

According to data provided by Ministry of the Diaspora, over 7,500 tweets purporting denial and ridicule of the Holocaust have been posted on Twitter in English over this past month, and more than seven million visitors have been exposed to them. The average number of followers garnered by anti-Semitic posters is 4,500, a number indicating that the networks of incitement are rapidly expanding.”

Number seven on that list of antisemitic Holocaust deniers is Alain Soral and number eight is Dieudonné.

Readers may recall that in early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story that was portrayed by the then ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman as follows:

“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 Dieudonné” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.

On BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonné 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.

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.

Nearly two years after his ‘Newsnight’ interview, Soral was convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism and Dieudonné also since been convicted on similar charges. Nevertheless, in a 2015 report on one case , BBC News found it appropriate to inform audiences that the latter “insists he is not anti-Semitic” and as recently as April 2017 visitors to the BBC News website were informed that:

“…on one issue Alain Soral undoubtedly has a point: speech is being policed with increasing zeal in France.” 

It of course comes as no surprise whatsoever to find Soral – together with his associate  – on a list of antisemitic Holocaust denying social media accounts. What is still chilling, however, is that the BBC even considered inviting him to appear as a commentator on antisemitism.

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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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BBC again dithering (impartially, of course) over antisemitism

On May 4th the Europe page of the BBC News website featured an article with the interestingly punctuated title of “Belgium ban for ‘anti-Semitic’ meeting in Anderlecht“.Laurent Louis art

That choice of punctuation is of course BBC code for ‘some people say it’s antisemitic but we’re not sure’.

The report relates to the cancelling by the Belgian authorities of a proposed convention, promoted as the “First European Congress of Dissent”, in Anderlecht, Belgium. The event, which was organized by Belgian MP Laurent Louis, was supposed to have included appearances by several figures from the French far-right, including – as the BBC article notes – Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and Alain Sorel, whom the BBC forgot to mention despite having promoted him on Newsnight and Radio 4 as recently as four months ago.

The BBC article includes repetitions of its now five month-old tepid portrayal of the ‘quenelle’ gesture, even devoting a side-box to the topic with a link to an article which was already problematic when first published last December. Notably, whilst quoting the Football Association (not exactly the most qualified authority one could choose to quote on the subject of antisemitism), the BBC continues to ignore the views of professionals who specialise in the topic.

“Described as an inverted Nazi salute, the quenelle is claimed by Dieudonne to be an anti-establishment symbol.

Earlier this year, French footballer Nicolas Anelka was fined and banned by the Football Association for using the sign during a televised match. An independent FA panel decided the gesture was “strongly associated with anti-Semitism”.”

side box quenelle

The BBC report ‘balances’ its reporting of statements made by Belgian officials and an anti-racist organization on the subject of the convention by quoting a Facebook post from its organiser.

“Writing on his Facebook page, Laurent Louis said it was laughable that his movement “Debout Les Belges!” (Stand up, Belgians!) was seen as anti-Semitic, simply because its members had adopted Dieudonne’s trademark “quenelle” gesture.”

However, the BBC refrains from informing audiences that Louis’ repeated use of the quenelle is just the tip of the iceberg of his history of antisemtism and extremism, which includes making that gesture in the Belgian parliament, Holocaust denial and analogies and accusing Zionists of having “set up and financed” the Holocaust. Last year Louis was photographed at a pro-Assad rally trampling an Israeli flag and holding a portrait of Bashar al Assad and a Hizballah flag, telling Syrian TV that “Europe is being used in the conflict [against Syria] as a tool in the hands of Israel, the rogue state”.

Laurent Louis with Hizb flag

So, once again, the BBC whitewashes and downplays the antisemitism of European extremists and continues to promote to BBC audiences the notion that an antisemitic gesture might actually be something else.

Not only is it abundantly clear that this policy fails to meet the BBC’s obligation to “[e]nable individuals to participate in the global debate on significant international issues”, but it is also remarkable that with regard to antisemitism specifically, the BBC appears to be extraordinarily and inexplicably reluctant to accept the principle that the targets of such racism should play any part in defining it.

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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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Helen Grady does real journalism on BBC WS ‘Assignment’