BBC Impartiality Review (3)

Diane Langford and Robert Robinson gave oral evidence to the BBC Governors’ Independent Review Panel, Chaired by Sir Quintin Thomas.

Members of the panel were welcoming and attentive. The meeting lasted for just under an hour. We began by explaining  PSC’s aims, emphasising our independence, non-party political nature and the diversity both of our membership and partner organisations.  We stressed that we work within the framework of international and human rights law and suggested that the BBC should do the same in its coverage and terminology.

Our proposal that panel members should visit Palestine to acquaint themselves with the situation was received with non-committal smiles. One panel member told us that he found his experience of visiting Gaza reflected in our ‘interesting’ written submission. [See this blog for written submission]

The panel was told how perplexing our members find it that the BBC fails to report what is going on in Palestine when information is widely available from reliable sources. Generally BBC coverage is seen as a parallel universe – far from the one that actually exists on the ground. That the BBC shapes the news rather than reporting it is completely unacceptable.

Examples given included the false impression of two equal sides, failure to provide basic context, failure to mention occupation, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Among other issues covered were the BBC’s failure to explain the original dispossession, its constant reference to Israel’s ‘War of Independence’, repeated misinformation such as referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and uncritically supporting Israel’s repudiation of international law, amounting to collusion with an illegal occupation.

We also took issue with what is NOT said: no sense of the sheer scale of

dispossession, the racism suffered by indigenous Palestinians inside Israel, dearth of maps, and completely invisibilising non-violent resistance.

We reiterated our complaint about the lack of Palestinian voices, citing ‘Women’s Hour’ as culpable. Fresh examples of distortion were given, for example, the BBC’s pusillanimous coverage of Sharon’s illness in which they presented him as a ‘man of peace’, contrasting with Lindsey Hillsum’s nuanced report for Channel 4 in which she acknowledged the fact that there is no peace process – specifically mentioning that disengagement from Gaza was a move to consolidate colonies in the West Bank.

There was a discussion on the failure of the BBC as a public service broadcaster to call Israel to account, perceived as the corporation’s unquestioningly acceptance of the impunity bestowed on Israel by its powerful friends. We also discussed the ways in which the BBC bows to pressure from the Israeli Embassy, tailoring language and muzzling its own journalists.

Robert handed the panel a draft suggestion for the BBC Website regarding settlements and spoke about settler violence and the consensus amongst international human rights lawyers on the subject.

Finally we expressed the hope that the review will be seen as an opportunity to set things right. If the BBC starts to live up to its obligations as public service broadcaster this will have been a worthwhile exercise. DL


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