Unsatisfactory comments moderation on BBC’s ‘Echo Chambers’ blog

The ‘House Rules’ for BBC blogs include the following:BBC Online

“Comments on our blogs are checked by a team of trained moderators to make the blogs a safe and enjoyable place to be, and ensure that they meet the House Rules. […]

The blog author or host does not usually moderate the content of the boards, although it is their job to keep the discussions relevant to the topic and within the BBC’s guidelines. They may close off-topic or other rule-breaking discussions, and sometimes make a decision on comments that have been referred to them by the moderators. They may also alert the moderators to rule-breaking comments that they see in the course of their work.”

And:

“At the BBC, we allow as much freedom as possible to have relevant discussions on our blogs. However, we are also responsible for making sure that these discussions stay polite, safe and relevant and do not violate any laws or the BBC editorial policies. This is why we have a set of House Rules that we ask everyone to follow. Moderators only remove messages that break these House Rules.

Moderation is necessary so all users can participate in online communities without fear of intimidation by other users or being subjected to offensive content.”

Hot on the heels of its previously published article in which the manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera was given an unchallenged platform from which to defend his presentation of ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’, the BBC’s ‘Echo Chambers’ blog ran a piece by Anthony Zurcher titled “Free speech, ‘psychological rape’ and the Death of Klinghoffer” on October 23rd.

The item was opened to comments and some of them – which have passed moderation and hence can be assumed to have been judged as not breaching ‘House Rules’ (which include defamation) or “BBC editorial policies” (which include accuracy), “relevant to the topic” and not “offensive” – can be seen below.

The ‘ethnic cleansing’ canard passed BBC moderation:

Zurcher comment 1

The false description of a military operation against terrorism as ‘terrorism’ was also allowed: 

Zurcher comment 2

The antisemitic ‘Jews controlling the media’ trope passed BBC moderation:

Zurcher comment 3

The antisemitic act of holding Jews responsible for (falsely described) Israeli actions was deemed within ‘house rules’:

Zurcher comment 4

As was the false claim that any criticism of Israel is branded antisemitism:

Zurcher comment 5The well-worn canard of illegal use of white phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead is promoted using a link to a media outlet associated with the Iranian regime:

Zurcher comment 6

The inaccurate claim that all the casualties in this summer’s conflict were ‘innocent’ is promoted:

Zurcher comment 7Of course this is far from the first time that the moderation of comments on BBC blogs and articles has been unsatisfactory and failed to adhere to the BBC’s own rules.

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Met manager given BBC platform to defend Klinghoffer opera

On October 20th the BBC News website’s Entertainment & Arts page published an article by Jason Caffrey titled “Klinghoffer opera ‘must be performed’, says Met“. The article opens by informing readers that:Klinghoffer opera art

“The New York Metropolitan Opera is presenting controversial work The Death of Klinghoffer this week. Its general manager tells the BBC why he is determined to press ahead despite protests at its staging.”

And indeed, that is precisely what happens in this article: it is not an interview but an unchallenged monologue by the Met’s Peter Gelb with some stage setting in the form of background information provided by Caffrey.

Whilst Gelb is given a platform for the promotion of his claims that “it’s not anti-Semitic” and “[i]t does not glorify terrorism in any way”, Caffrey makes no attempt to challenge him with the rather obvious fact that many people disagree with his evaluation or to investigate Gelb’s basis for his claims. Moreover, readers are unable to judge the veracity of Gelb’s claims for themselves because at no point in the article does Caffrey make any attempt to explain what aspects of the production have prompted the allegations which Gelb denies. 

Caffrey rightly informs readers that:

“The Met had originally planned to relay the revival – a co-production with the English National Opera (ENO) first seen in London in 2012 – live to cinemas around the world.

But after Jewish groups argued the screenings would stoke anti-Semitism outside the US, the relays were cancelled.”

However, he passes up on the opportunity to ask Gelb why he considers the live performance of the opera to be any less inflammatory than the proposed screened version which he did agree to cancel.

Caffrey also correctly states that:

“It is a piece that has attracted controversy ever since it was first staged in 1991, with some accusing it of glorifying terrorism and being anti-Semitic.”

Readers are not given any real insight into the Met’s reasons for choosing to revive that controversial mix of politics, art and entertainment at this particular juncture beyond Gelb’s assertion that “[i]t is a brilliant work of art that must be performed”.

The objections of the Klinghoffer family to the production are paraphrased by Caffrey in several short paragraphs.

“The piece has also prompted sharp criticism from Mr Klinghoffer’s family for the “exploitation” of his “cold-blooded murder”.” […]

“The Klinghoffers’ daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, issued a statement after seeing its first production.

In it they expressed their outrage “at the exploitation of our parents and the cold-blooded murder of our father as the centrepiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic”.” […]

“Gelb says he agreed to print a statement from Klinghoffer’s daughters in the opera programme, in which they lay out their objections to the piece.”

Readers are not told whether any attempt was made by the BBC to obtain a first-hand response from the family. Neither are they informed of the op-ed written by Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer the day before the publication of Caffrey’s piece in which their objections – details of which are ignored in this article – are clearly expressed. No attempt is made to bring the voices of those organizing the protests to BBC audiences.

The article closes with five paragraphs presenting Gelb’s view of the issue.

“Gelb, though, is adamant that the show will go on. “We will not bow to this pressure,” he says. “We can’t.”

The protests, he believes, are “a kind of knee-jerk reaction… fuelled by the very, very difficult times in which we’re living right now.”

The world, he says, is “more polarised than ever before” with “horrible events taking place on a daily basis”.

All the more reason, he insists, for “great art to be presented”.

“Just because a piece of art deals with a thorny subject should not mean that it should be suppressed.” “

The message which BBC audiences are intended to take away from this one-sided article is very clear. Whilst they remain none the wiser with regard to the actual substance of the objections to the opera, they have been informed in over 700 words that all those unexplained issues (including the ones raised by Mr Klinghoffer’s family) are dwarfed by “art”.