Newsnight complaint update

27th May 2010

Mr Bruce Vander,

Editorial Standards Committee,

The BBC Trust,

180 Great Portland Street,

London W1W 5QZ

Dear Mr Vander,

Richard Hutt has directed me to your Committee regarding my complaint (ref: RH1000081) against Newsnight, 19th Janury 2010. I am grateful for this opportunity to appeal against his findings.

In my opinion the segment featuring Colonel Tim Collins failed to ‘retain a respect for factual accuracy’ and did not ‘fairly represent opposing viewpoints when appropriate.’

Mr Hutt writes, in relation to Jeremy Paxman’s preview and opening cues:

‘It seems to me that these cues made clear to viewers that the report would give the “take” of Colonel Tim Collins on the conflict. I also consider that the introduction made clear that the perspective which Colonel Collins would offer would be that of a soldier, able to comment on the military exchanges that had taken place in the locations he visited. I would consider therefore that the report was appropriately signposted as an “authored” piece with a focus on the military aspect of the conflict.’

Contrary to the above, Colonel Collins completely failed to interrogate ‘military exchanges’ and instead chose to focus only on the feeble resistance to the overwhelming firepower of the Israeli offensive that a tiny number of Gazans were able to mount, ie. homemade rockets. He made no attempt to evaluate the ‘military exchanges’ initiated by Israel or to put these in the context of the breaking of the ceasefire with Hamas on the part of Israel. As I pointed out in my original complaint his analysis of whether weapons had been fired from a particular location did not hold up evidentially – he offered no evidence, only his biased opinion.

Colonel Desmond Travers, a co-author of the Goldstone Report, which, despite Israel’s attempts to undermine it, is the most authoritative and balanced source of material regarding Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, described the comments of Colonel Collins as ‘in breach of good evidentiary procedures.’

The segment did not live up to the introductory cues and was grossly biased and inhumane in its conclusion that the IDF were justified in firing on unarmed civilians and wiping out an entire family in one location visited. Many viewers were deeply shocked and saw this as of apiece with the BBC’s unfair decision not to broadcast the DEC appeal.

Yours sincerely,

Diane Langford

Frankie Boyle hits back

Frankie Boyle: BBC are cowards
Comic defends Palestine gag

Frankie Boyle has lashed out at the BBC, branding them ‘cowardly’ and ‘cravenly afraid of giving offence’ after censuring one of his jokes.
In an angry open letter, the comedian hit back at the BBC Trust for apologising for a gag he felt drew some small attention to the ‘apartheid’ in Palestine.
The corporation’s governing body yesterday issued an apology for the joke Boyle made on Radio 4’s Political Animal two years ago. A listener took their complaint that the gag was anti-Semitic – although appearing on a show hosted by the Jewish Andy Zaltzman – all the way to the top.
They ruled that the gag was a ‘serious’ breach of BBC rules and said: ‘It said: ‘As a result, the committee wished to apologise to the complainant on behalf of the BBC for any offence the remark may have caused him and other listeners to the programme.’
However, Boyle says the Palestinian situation is a suitable topic for satire and defended the joke.
Here is the full text of his response:
Obviously, it feels strange to be on the moral high ground but I feel a response is required to the BBC Trust’s cowardly rebuke of my jokes about Palestine.
As always, I heard nothing from the BBC but read in a newspaper that editorial procedures would be tightened further to stop jokes with anything at all to say getting past the censors.
In case you missed it, the jokes in question are: ‘I’ve been studying Israeli Army Martial Arts. I now know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back. People think that the Middle East is very complex but I have an analogy that sums it up quite well. If you imagine that Palestine is a big cake, well…that cake is being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew.’
I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal was an appropriate target for satire. The Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers. It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.
The BBC refused to broadcast a humanitarian appeal in 2009 to help residents of Gaza rebuild their homes. It’s tragic for such a great institution but it is now cravenly afraid of giving offence and vulnerable to any kind of well drilled lobbying.
I told the jokes on a Radio 4 show called Political Animal. That title seems to promise provocative comedy with a point of view. In practice the BBC wish to deliver the flavour of political comedy with none of the content. The most recent offering I saw was BBC Two’s The Bubble. It looked exactly like a show where funny people sat around and did jokes about the news. Except the thrust of the format was that nobody had read the papers. I can only imagine how the head of the BBC Trust must have looked watching that, grinning like Gordon Brown having his prostrate examined.
The situation in Palestine seems to be, in essence, apartheid. I grew up with the anti apartheid thing being a huge focus of debate. It really seemed to matter to everybody that other human beings were being treated in that way. We didn’t just talk about it, we did things, I remember boycotts and marches and demos all being held because we couldn’t bear that people were being treated like that.
A few years ago I watched a documentary about life in Palestine. There’s a section where a UN dignitary of some kind comes to do a photo opportunity outside a new hospital. The staff know that it communicates nothing of the real desperation of their position, so they trick her into a side ward on her way out. She ends up in a room with a child who the doctors explain is in a critical condition because they don’t have the supplies to keep treating him. She flounders, awkwardly caught in the bleak reality of the room, mouthing platitudes over a dying boy.
The filmmaker asks one of the doctors what they think the stunt will have achieved. He is suddenly angry, perhaps having just felt at first hand something he knew in the abstract. The indifference of the world. ‘She will do nothing,’ he says to the filmmaker. Then he looks into the camera and says, ‘Neither will you’.
I cried at that and promised myself that I would do something. Other than write a few stupid jokes I have not done anything. Neither have you.
Frankie Boyle