In March 2011, the BBC’s coverage or, rather, lack of coverage of the brutal murders of the Fogel family generated outrage as well as shock and grief that an Israeli family, including a three-month old baby girl, could have been butchered in such an appalling way.
The BBC’s indifference to the murders also grabbed the attention of British politician Louise Bagshawe, now Louise Mensch whoslammed the BBC in an opinion piece. Mensch eventually elicited a less than satisfactory response from the BBC’s Head of News blaming “a remarkably busy weekend” of news for the low priority given to the Itamar murders.
To her credit, Mensch has continued to use her position to hold the BBC to account by questioning the BBC’s outgoing Director-General Mark Thompson at a parliamentary hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Thompson was forced to admit “very straightforwardly, we got it wrong.” The Jewish Chronicle reports on Louise Mensch’s questioning of Thompson:
“I was overwhelmed by response from the Jewish community both here and abroad. There was a feeling the BBC just didn’t care and that, if a settler had entered the home of a Palestinian family, slit the throat of their children, that the BBC would have covered that.”
Mrs Mensch had subsequently received an apology from BBC News’s Helen Boaden but wanted Mr Thompson’s reassurance about the BBC’s “even-handedness” on the Middle East conflict.
Mr Thompson said the story had come during a “very busy news period” including the fighting in Libya and the tsunami in Japan.
“News editors were under a lot of pressure,” he said. “Having said that, it was certainly an atrocity which should have been covered across our news bulletins that day.”
But he added: “I don’t believe that should be taken as systemic bias. We try very, very hard… to reflect suffering on both sides of that conflict. When there has been a humanitarian incident in Gaza, we try to show the effects of rockets in Sderot.” . . .
“But I do want to say, to all our audience including our Jewish and Israeli audiences here and around the world, we do want to make sure we are fair and impartial. We made a mistake in this instance.”
While this rare acknowledgment on the part of the BBC is welcome, Thompson’s denial of BBC bias is laughable. In those rare occasions where the BBC has mentioned the effects of Gaza rockets on Israeli civilians, they have more often than not been buried near the bottom of a story focused on Israeli air strikes on Gaza, promoting the “cycle of violence“.
Is this Mark Thompson’s idea of fairness and impartiality?
In addition, what has not been picked up in news reports are some of Thompson’s other statements to the Select Committee. For example:
we have appointed, in my time, Jeremy Bowen as Middle East editor to try to make sure that in coverage of Israel/Palestine and more broadly the Middle East, not only do we cover point stories, hard news stories on the day, but also we have an editor who is thinking and can help the public understand the context. Often, I think, broadcasters get into trouble when, in a sense, either the reporters themselves or perhaps the public do not understand the historical and geographical context within which things happen. Israel/Palestine, I think, is particularly an example of a story where what the story looks like depends partly on what geographical lens you apply to it and the broader you get the more you understand why things happen the way they do.
Could this be the same Jeremy Bowen who, in 2009, was found guilty by the BBC Trust itself of inaccuracy in his reporting on Israel? Yes, the very same Jeremy Bowen whose bias against Israel has been highlighted by HonestReporting on many occasions.
Jeremy Bowen is part of the problem and not part of the solution as Thompson seems to believe. HonestReporting continues to call for Bowen’s removal from his position as Middle East editor. If the public does not understand the historical and geographical context of the Israeli-Palestinian issue then the BBC has a certain amount of responsibility for this situation. Thompson himself states that the BBC is a global broadcaster with a huge influence. Jeremy Bowen may very well understand the context but allows his own personal prejudices to influence how the BBC covers the story.
It’s time for him to go.
The Power to Influence
That Mark Thompson has been questioned on BBC coverage of Israel in a British parliamentary hearing is a testament to effectiveness of taking action online. HonestReporting was amongst the first to call out the BBC for its Itamar murders coverage, helping to elevate the issue and creating a buzz online assisted by the thousands of our readers who expressed their outrage. As the story spread to other outlets and mainstream media, it caught the attention of a sympathetic British politician.
Now, over a year later, we can see that the results of our holding the BBC to account aren’t necessarily measured in the hours, weeks or even months after an event. The BBC is a global producer of anti-Israel media bias and we will not stop holding it to account.