BBC Radio 4 listeners hear a context-free story from Jeremy Bowen

As we saw earlier the January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included speculations from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen concerning the US president’s then upcoming meeting with the leaders of two Israeli political parties.

After that short (two minutes and 46 seconds) discussion, presenter Sarah Smith turned (from 1:50:02 here) to the topic of PTSD, in connection with the announcement by the BBC’s Africa editor that he would be giving up his position due to that condition. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “You’ve talked in the past about your own experiences with it and yesterday our much-admired colleague Fergal Keane announced he’s stepping down as the BBC’s Africa editor as a result of PTSD he suffered from his experience of reporting. Did you know this was something that Fergal was going through?”

Bowen: “He’s been wrestling with these kinds of things for quite some time and I assume it’s up to him to talk about all of this. But, you know, I think for all of us journalists – and it’s something that’s particularly ingrained in us in the BBC – is that, you know, it’s not about us. We don’t particularly like [laughs] talking in public about these things.”

Examples of Bowen not particularly liking “talking in public about these things” include:

Jeremy Bowen: “The Israelis would have killed me too”

Jeremy Bowen’s pink shirt

Context-free Twitter messaging from BBC’s Jeremy Bowen

Jeremy Bowen’s annual reminder of why BBC coverage of Israel is as it is

BBC’s Bowen tells his annual Lebanon story on Radio 4

BBC’s Bowen on CAMERA complaint result: still ‘indignant’ after all these years

The BBC ME editor’s response to criticism of his recent reporting

Bowen later went on:

Bowen: “During the course of being particularly, you know, involved in particularly dangerous moments in wars I had my own brush with PTSD. I didn’t develop the full condition but I suffered from the symptoms, which is one stage on the road, after a Lebanese colleague of mine was killed by the Israelis. They fired a tank shell into the back of his car. I’d just got out. I was only about 100 yards away. He managed to force his way out through the window before he died. He was on fire. I couldn’t get up there. When I tried to get up there the Israelis tried to kill me. They opened fire on me with a heavy machine gun.”

At no point during that four minute and 22 second-long item were listeners provided with any explanation of the context to that event and Bowen referred to “the Israelis” as a group as having “tried to kill me” without clarifying the actual situation. 

As we have documented here in the past, early on the morning of Tuesday May 23rd 2000 – the day before the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon – a tank crew stationed on the border fence near Kibbutz Menara received an intelligence alert concerning the likelihood of terrorists firing anti-tank missiles at IDF tanks and armoured vehicles. Later in the day, the crew spotted a Lebanese vehicle transporting men in civilian clothing and suspected that these were Hizballah terrorists carrying equipment for firing an anti-tank missile. The tank crew was given permission to fire at the suspected terrorists. 

Later it emerged that the men were actually a BBC film crew headed by Jeremy Bowen and that driver Abed Takkoush had been killed. The IDF investigated the incident and issued an apology. Understandably, that tragic incident appears to be still very much at the forefront of Bowen’s mind, although he does not appear to accept that it was possible to mistake three men travelling in a war zone in a car with Lebanese plates, and carrying camera equipment, for Hizballah terrorists dressed – as was very often the case – in civilian clothing. 

Jeremy Bowen’s accounts of the trauma he experienced nearly 20 years ago must of course be considered within the framework of the position he chose to accept five years later – Middle East editor.

That position makes it incumbent upon him to tell that story responsibly, by including the relevant background information and context.

When Jeremy Bowen fails to do that and instead, as in this case, gives a completely context-free account of “Israelis” trying “to kill me”, the result is the spread of that partial and distorted version of events in the public sphere such as in this subsequent report in the Daily Express.

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Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

 

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

The January 25th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 1:47:16 here) relating to an invitation extended two days earlier to two Israeli leaders to meet the US president in Washington.

The White House press secretary’s statement read:

“President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House on January 28, 2020. LTG. (Res.) MK Benjamin Gantz, Blue and White Chairman, has also accepted the President’s invitation to come to Washington. The United States and Israel are strong partners, and the Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to discuss our shared regional and national security interests.”

On the same day the US Vice-president said:

“President Trump asked me to extend an invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the White House next week for talks” on regional issues, including peace…” 

‘Today’ presenter Sarah Smith introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “Donald Trump, using his usual humility, calls it ‘the deal of the century’: a proposed Middle East peace deal that he might be ready to unveil next week.”

As we have noted on these pages in the past (see for example here and here) when the BBC has promoted that highlighted claim, it is – as documented by AFP journalist Joe Dyke – unsupported and the hook for Smith’s snide reference to “humility” is actually a media generated myth. She continued:

Smith: “Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, will be there if he does. Good morning Jeremy. Some of the details of this came out of course via Twitter – being that this is President Trump – where he said ‘reports about details and timing of our closely-held peace plan are purely speculative’. But given that he put that on Twitter himself, that is presumably as good as an announcement that he’s ready to reveal it.”

In fact no “details…came out” at all via that one Tweet from Trump but Bowen was ready to play along with Smith’s speculations, adding more than a few of his own about possible elements of the US plan which he appears to have gleaned second-hand from the same Israeli media outlets which reported that Gantz would refuse the invitation to go to Washington. On the evening of January 25th, the accuracy of such journalistic speculations was evident when Gantz announced his intention to travel to Washington the following day.

BBC audiences learned nothing concrete or factual at all from Bowen’s repetition of speculations in unidentified “reports”. They did however see how the BBC is already framing this topic, portraying the as yet unpublished US plan as one “which will absolutely include all of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel’s agenda”.

So much for the BBC’s obligation to offer audiences “a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”.