BBC Respond to ‘Newsnight’ complaint

Complaint regarding “Newsnight” on BBC2

Dear Gerald McCusker,

Thank you for your response to my complaint about the ‘Newsnight’ broadcast on 19 January 2010. You correctly anticipated that I would not be satisfied with your reply.

Far from engaging with ‘military matters’ the segment by Colonel Tim Collins made no effort to analyse the military aspect of the attack on Gaza with any pretence at objectivity. If this had been the case why were we not shown the extent of Israel’s military might? The Israeli army is the fourth largest in the world and has a vast range of munitions from nuclear to buzzing drones that are partly for surveillance (not a cat’s whisker moves in Gaza without the Israeli military knowing about it) and partly for psychological warfare (they are constantly overhead, ‘like having a wasp in your ear’ as one Palestinian has described it).

By making out that homemade rockets pose a threat to the Israeli army’s arsenal as if there were two equally powerful sides, your programme set out to give credence to Israel’s propagandising justification for its blitz on Gaza using weapons of mass destruction such as phospherous bombs.

This ‘soldier’s view’ was biased against the Palestinian people and Colonel Collins’  ‘military eye’ was turned away from Israel’s massive armoury.

Regarding your point that overall context of the piece was clear, this was far from the case. By suggesting that that the level of resistance to Israel’s onslaught merited its description of ‘military matters’ and ‘soldier’s eye’ is to grossly distort the facts. The Palestinians do not possess an army. The Gazans do not possess any military equipment at all that is capable of confronting the Israeli Army. How is a ‘soldier’s eye’ appropriate in this one-sided situation? The entire commentary was from the point of view of the Israeli side and was completely biased and a distortion of facts on the ground.

This being the case, I wish to take my complaint to the next stage of the process.

Thank you for your help with this.

Yours sincerely,

Diane Langford

Dear Ms Langford

Thanks for your e-mail regarding ‘Newsnight’ broadcast 19 January 2010.

I understand you’re concerned by Colonel Tim Collins’ report in this particular programme and I note you feel that it offered a unbalanced and biased account of the situation in Gaza.

I’m sorry you were unhappy with our authored report by Colonel Tim Collins. It was not meant to provide a political analysis of the conflict. As was made clear in the introduction to the piece we were giving a “soldier’s view” of the conflict, introducing Colonel Tim Collins as a “celebrated war veteran,” indicating that this was a piece offering a personal view based on his military experience.

The overall context of the piece was clear, in the introduction we said that a year ago “the Israeli army was readying itself to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, after a three-week campaign which led to accusations of war crimes.” We then go on to say 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the conflict.

As a soldier, he examined the evidence at the mosque – and gave his opinion – in fact he used those words “my opinion” – about the cause of the secondary explosions that he had discerned. He didn’t talk about Goldstone and the wider context because he was just reporting with his military eye on what he was able to see on the ground.

The piece was not intended as a comprehensive report but a ‘what I was able to see and reflect upon’ authored piece about military matters that, while a personal view, nonetheless took pains to steer clear of the perceived political rights and wrongs of the conflict.

We have covered the Gaza incursion on ‘Newsnight’ in many ways, and this piece should be seen as one perspective in our overall coverage. The role of ‘Newsnight’ as a news and current affairs programme is to give our viewers distinctive coverage from the news bulletins and to offer new perspectives on long-running stories, and so engage our viewers. This is what we were attempting to do with this piece.

However I note the strength of your feelings in relation to this matter and accept that you may continue to disagree and I’d like to take a moment to assure you that I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log.

This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all news programme makers within the BBC, and also their senior management.

Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.


Gerald McCusker

BBC Complaints


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