| BBC coverage:
Allegations of bias against Israel are rejected
Published: 10 July 2006
Briefing Number 178
Summary:It has long been felt by many in the Jewish community in the United Kingdom , as well as by most Israelis and the Israeli government, that the BBC's coverage of Israel is unfair to the country, and biased. An independent panel was commissioned by the BBC to investigate this allegation.
In April 2006 it published its findings and submitted proposals to the BBC's Governors. The panel rejected the majority of the claims submitted by Jewish community organisations, and by the Israeli government. Indeed, the panel concluded that it was in fact the Palestinian perspective that was treated unfairly. A month later, the BBC itself rejected the few findings of the panel which had been favourable to Israel 's viewpoint.
This is a milestone in the debate about media coverage of Israel . Palestinian lobby groups will be satisfied. Some in the Jewish community may seek some comfort from some of the findings. But the plain fact is that the essential claims of the Jewish community and Israel have been rejected.
Israeli claims and Palestinian counterclaims
For many years, the BBC has faced sustained criticism that its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unfair towards Israel and biased. This claim has been made by many within the Anglo-Jewish community; by Israeli government spokesmen, by Israeli citizens and by supporters of Israel around the world.
It has been alleged that BBC reports lacks context and balance; that Israeli spokespeople are treated too aggressively whe being interviewed; that the BBC focuses on the consequences of Israeli policies without explaining the background to those policies; that BBC journalists display personal sympathy for Palestinian leaders, etc.
Palestinian lobby groups have, ironically, claimed that the BBC is biased against the Palestinians.
In 2005 the BBC responded to these allegations by appointing an Independent Panel of experts to investigate the claims. The Panel interviewed many interested parties; commissioned media research; visited the region; and received hundreds of written submissions, including from the Jewish community and from the Israeli Government.
The most well-known critique of BBC coverage is the BBCWatch project – www.bbcwatch.com - an independent monitoring project. Its creator was invited to present his arguments to the BBC.
In April 2006 the Panel published its findings, which it submitted to the BBC Governors. On 19 June 2006 the BBC governors issued a statement indicating which Panel recommendations they had accepted and which they had rejected. The Briefing below summarises the main findings of the Panel, and the BBC's response.
No systematic or deliberate bias against Israel at the BBC
The Panel observed that the BBC sets itself a “gold standard” in its general broadcasting services. It concluded that there was no systematic or deliberate bias against Israel in the BBC. In its June 2006 statement the BBC accepted this finding.
Seeking balance between Israeli and Palestinian versions of events is potentially misconceived
The Panel commented that the Palestinians were “wholly under occupation” and the Israelis were “occupiers”. In view of this, the Panel observed that it might not always be appropriate for the BBC to “balance” the views of Israel and the Palestinians. This observation coloured several other Panel findings.
The BBC does not always provide adequate context in its reporting – more is needed on the Palestinian perspective
The Panel concluded that there were shortcomings in current BBC coverage. It was not always “full and fair” and there were “gaps in analysis, context and perspective”. The specific example given by the Panel of an “incomplete picture” was that there was “too little reporting of the difficulties faced by Palestinians in their daily lives”. Nor, in the view of the Panel, did the BBC convey the “disparity” in the Israeli and Palestinian experience – ie that Israel controls the lives of the Palestinians.
The Panel did not specify any examples of an incomplete Israeli perspective.
Appointment of an extra BBC correspondent, to be based in the West Bank
To address the shortcomings in fairness, the Panel recommended the appointment of an extra BBC correspondent, to be based in Jerusalem and to cover the West Bank , in order to report on the Palestinian experience. The BBC statement confirms that BBC is going ahead with this appointment.
The Panel did not recommend the appointment of an additional journalist in Israel to cover the Israeli perspective.
Use of the word ‘terrorism': Panel recommendations rejected by the BBC
The Panel recommended that the word ‘terrorist' should be used by the BBC to describe violence against randomly selected civilians. The Panel added that organisations should not be called ‘terrorist' and it also recommended that the word “terrorist”could be used to describe the actions of “state agencies”.
The recommendation to use the word “terrorist” was seized on by Jewish communal organisations as a ‘success'. The need to use the word “terrorist” instead of “militant” to describe Palestinian suicide bombers had been a particular, long-standing grievance of the Israeli side.
In June 2006, the BBC rejected the Panel's proposals on use of the word ‘terrorist'.
The BBC declared that they it was satisfied with existing internal guidelines, drawn up in 2005, on use of the word terrorist.
These are the guidelines which state that “the word ‘terrorist' can be a barrier rather than an aim to understanding”.
Appointment of a senior figure to provide an editorial ‘guiding hand'
Lastly, the Panel recommended the appointment of an editorial guiding hand, a senior figure with sufficient authority to monitor the “full and fair” coverage.
The Jewish community took this as a positive sign. It was felt that the ‘guiding hand' would be personally responsible for driving through a balanced approach.
In June 2006 the BBC rejected this recommendation, stating that its existing management structure and personnel were capable of performing this task.
This Briefing has not attempted to analyse the methods or the assumptions used by the Panel in its work, nor the implications of the BBC's response.
Its purpose is simply to highlight the main issues raised by the Panel and the BBC.
The Panel's findings, and the BBC's response, are a milestone in the debate about media coverage of Israel .
Palestinian lobby groups will be satisfied that the BBC is to devote more resources to conveying their perspective.
The allegations made by mainstream Anglo-Jewish groups, and by the Israeli government, of bias in the BBC's coverage of Israel , have been refuted.