BBC’s Director of Standards: it ‘aint what they say, it’s the way that they say it

h/t CST

As readers no doubt recall, on December 22nd listeners to a BBC Radio London phone-in show heard an inadequately challenged thirteen-minute antisemitic rant which later garnered both media attention and complaints from the general public, with the latter receiving dismissive responses from the BBC.BBC Radio London

In an article titled “Bigotry on the Air: Why broadcasters need to challenge hate-mongers” which appeared at the Ethical Journalism Network, some insight into the background to the BBC’s handling of those complaints emerges. Relating to that BBC Radio London show, the EJN’s Tom Law writes:

“This case raises serious ethical questions: How do people working on the edge of live news protect themselves – and their audience – from people with a hateful agenda? How can journalists ensure that they allow free speech, but maintain their ethical duty to do no harm? And what more should be done to help journalists to counter bigoted speech?

According to chair of the Ethical Journalism Network Dorothy Byrne, many of the answers are found by applying the regulations imposed by Ofcom, Britain’s independent state regulator of broadcasting, but much depends she warns on how “hate speech” is defined.

A good broadcaster, she says, would cut the person off and apologise to the listeners, depending on the content, while some programmes would challenge the speaker. She quotes a recent example when a young Muslim woman attacking gay people on the radio. “Instead of cutting her off, the presenter argued with her vociferously and you could say that was the best way to deal with that,” says Byrne.”

The article goes on to quote the BBC’s David Jordan.

“David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy and Standards at the BBC told us that for live radio shows where members of the public phone in, presenters and producers are obliged to follow the ‘Harm and Offence’ provision of the OFCOM code, which states they must:

“…provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material.”

The code goes on to say that offensive material must only be used where it can be justified by journalistic context.

In addition, the BBC has its own editorial guidelines on live output. People spouting offensive views are normally dealt with directly, says Jordan. The decision to challenge offensive speech is left to presenters and journalists. The BBC also pre-screens telephone calls into phone-in shows. […]

The issue, says Jordan is not about people saying things that some people may find offensive whether it is in relation to immigration or race or the Holocaust. “It is about how those views are expressed. If they are expressed in clearly racist ways using racist phrases or words then you might cut the debate off,” he says.” [emphasis added]

David Jordan does not expand on how “racist phrases or words” are defined (or by whom) but apparently, just so long as such terminology is not employed, the BBC is not overly concerned about acting as a conduit for the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse – which for some reason it appears not to view as falling under the OFCOM category of “harmful and/or offensive material”.

Every time such issues arise, the responses from BBC officials make the dire lack of education and awareness about the issue of antisemitism within the corporation more and more glaringly obvious.

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The BBC’s response to complaints about antisemitic rant on Radio London

The BBC Complaints department’s response to complaints relating to a segment of a phone-in show hosted by Simon Lederman which was broadcast on BBC Radio London on December 22nd is as follows.BBC Radio London

“The aim of Simon Lederman’s overnight phone-in is to discuss issues and to explore wide-ranging views.

The listener in question called the programme saying he wanted to talk about his belief that the UK is a plutocracy not a democracy. That was the reason he was put to air in the first place, but it soon became clear that he had another agenda about Zionism and Simon chose to explore and challenge those opinions. The caller was repeatedly challenged throughout the call, to such an extent that, at one point, the caller complained that he was not being allowed to make his point. Simon eventually ended the call saying “we’re back to where we started” and it was clear the discussion was not progressing. 
With regard to the length of the call, phone in programmes in the middle of the night are generally more conversational and callers are often given more time than at other times of the day because it is a quieter period with more time to develop discussions.

When debating controversial and sensitive subjects such as this, there is potential for offence, but Simon Lederman is an experienced journalist with a good understanding of BBC Editorial policy which he made every effort to follow on this occasion by robustly challenging the caller. However, BBC Radio London apologises for any offence caused by the caller’s views.”

This is the second time that the BBC has claimed that the caller was “challenged on his views throughout the conversation” but as was noted here at the time; that is not actually the case.

“The repeated claim that “Zionist Jews” control and “own” the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, corporate America and the media was not adequately challenged: at no point did the presenter inform listeners that those claims are simply untrue.

The inaccurate claim that “most of the Jews of the world” come from “an empire called Khazaria” was not challenged at all. That perhaps is a little less surprising when one considers that the BBC has previously given airtime to the main proponent of that myth.

The inaccurate assertion that “real” Judaism “has nothing to do with Zionism” was not challenged and neither were the inaccurate claims that “Balfour created essentially the State of Israel” and that “the British had a protectorate” in Palestine. Indeed the reaction from the presenter to those last two inaccuracies was to say “right”.”

Causing offence is just one aspect of this story; the other is the mainstreaming of falsehoods, antisemitic discourse and conspiracy theories on public radio. To that, the BBC has yet to provide an adequate and responsible response and, until it admits that the caller’s agenda was not “about Zionism” (which, notably, this BBC response classifies as a “controversial” topic) but about getting a platform for the spread of antisemitic tropes, it is doubtful that it will be capable of doing so.

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Mainstreaming antisemitic discourse on BBC Radio London

Antisemitic rant on BBC Radio London gets media attention     

 

 

Antisemitic rant on BBC Radio London gets media attention

The inadequately challenged thirteen minute-long antisemitic rant of a caller to a BBC Radio London phone-in show on December 22nd has attracted media attention both in the UK and Israel.BBC Radio London

The story has been covered by the Israeli news site nrg (Hebrew) and at the Times of Israel in a report titled “BBC radio hosts 13-minute Jewish conspiracy rant” which points out that:

“At no point did the presenter, who challenged Andy intermittently on his arguments, note that he was spouting anti-Semitism.”

In the UK, the Jewish News reported the story on December 28th and the following day the Jewish Chronicle published an article titled “Caller’s shocking antisemitic rant on BBC radio phone-in“.

As both those reports point out, the BBC spokesman’s defence of the corporation’s handling of the incident includes the claim that “[f]ollowing the interview reaction from other listeners was also broadcast” with – as the Jewish Chronicle notes – “one saying the caller was an “angry conspiracy theorist”.

That would of course suggest that the BBC is trying to claim that its own obligations – as laid out in the editorial guidelines, in the Agreement accompanying the Royal Charter and in the OFCOM guidance notes on harm and offence – can be outsourced to members of the general public.

The fact that some additional callers who happened to be listening to BBC Radio London at the time reacted to this item after it was broadcast clearly in no way mitigates the fact that the BBC presenter failed to adequately challenge the inaccuracies, conspiracy theories and antisemitic tropes heard by listeners to the programme. 

BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the BBC charter review included the following proposal:

“The BBC also needs to commit to mandatory education for its staff – including producers, journalists, handlers of complaints and message board moderators – on the issue of recognizing and identifying antisemitism.  The issue of propagation of antisemitic discourse on BBC message boards and social media must be tackled vigorously through improved moderation and the promotion of antisemitic tropes in BBC content should obviously be entirely unacceptable.”

This case clearly once again underscores the need for action on this issue. 

Mainstreaming antisemitic discourse on BBC Radio London

Brought to us by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the audio clip available here comes from a phone-in programme broadcast on BBC Radio London on December 22nd and hosted by Simon Lederman.BBC Radio London

That inadequately challenged collection of classic antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories and factual inaccuracies has obviously raised concerns and via the Jewish News we learn that the BBC has responded as follows:

“A BBC spokesperson said: “The aim of the programme is to discuss and debate issues raised by our listeners. This was a live phone in and the caller was challenged on his views throughout the conversation. Following the interview reaction from other listeners was also broadcast.””

But was the caller really “challenged on his views throughout the conversation” and were obvious inaccuracies corrected by the presenter?

The repeated claim that “Zionist Jews” control and “own” the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, corporate America and the media was not adequately challenged: at no point did the presenter inform listeners that those claims are simply untrue.

The inaccurate claim that “most of the Jews of the world” come from “an empire called Khazaria” was not challenged at all. That perhaps is a little less surprising when one considers that the BBC has previously given airtime to the main proponent of that myth.

The inaccurate assertion that “real” Judaism “has nothing to do with Zionism” was not challenged and neither were the inaccurate claims that “Balfour created essentially the State of Israel” and that “the British had a protectorate” in Palestine. Indeed the reaction from the presenter to those last two inaccuracies was to say “right”.

Moreover, Lederman himself fed listeners historical factual inaccuracies.

“I mean in terms of Zionism and in terms of the creation of Israel, I was under the impression – and I’m sure many of our listeners were too – that came out of the end of the Second World War where the League of Nations – slash United Nations as they later became – decided that was probably one of the best solutions in order to ensure the safety of a race of people who were almost exterminated in the Second World War. You don’t believe that’s the case?”

The BBC presenter also found it appropriate to mainstream the notion that discussion of whether or not one sole member state of the United Nations should exist is legitimate.

“And there is a debate – listen, I’m not saying there is no debate – clearly there is a debate about whether Israel in its current form should be where it is, whether the rights of the Palestinians have been outweighed by the rights of the Israelis, whether some of the decisions that were made – possibly some would perceive as in haste at the end of the Second World War – were the right decisions….”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on Harm and Offence include the following words:

“We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services.  Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it.  In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc.  may be relevant to portrayal.  However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.” [emphasis added]

And:

“The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to apply “generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material“.” 

The dissemination and mainstreaming of classic antisemitic tropes concerning Jews, power and money is clearly both offensive and harmful.

BBC guidance concerning live output states:

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we should make an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity. Offensive comments include remarks that may be interpreted as, for example, racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against a religious group, or reflecting an unflattering national stereotype.”

The OFCOM guidance notes on Harm and Offence state:

“Racist terms and material should be avoided unless their inclusion can be justified by the editorial of the programme. Broadcasters should take particular care in their portrayal of culturally diverse matters and should avoid stereotyping unless editorially justified. When considering such matters, broadcasters should take into account the possible effects programmes may have on particular sections of the community.”

In his July 2015 address on the topic of extremism the British Prime Minister spoke about “certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish” and in that category he included “ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power…”.

The fact that a BBC presenter not only failed to adequately challenge precisely such conspiracies but – as he himself stated – gave this particular caller “more [time on air] than I have done anyone” should clearly be cause for serious concern.

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