Hutton Report

It was a tough day for the BBC as the Hutton Commission released to the public its long awaited report.

The commission’s report severely castigates the BBC’s handling of the affair, calling the Beeb’s editorial and management system “defective.” An excellent summary of the report can be found at The Guardian.

HonestReporting commends the Hutton Commission for successfully piercing the BBC veil and making the UK media giant answerable for its coverage. To a great degree, the report also vindicates the tireless efforts of BBC monitor Trevor Asserson, and HonestReporting hopes this will add steam to efforts to remove the BBC’s royal charter and repeal the annual license fee supporting BBC programming.

Support the cancellation or non-renewal of the charter by writing to UK Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell:

UPDATE: The BBC Chairman has resigned in the wake of the report.

January 28, 2004 17:03 By Category : Backspin

Latest European Poll

In yesterday’s communique to subscribers (didn’t get it? sign up above!) we made reference to the latest poll of European opinion on Jews and Israel. According to the Independent, the Italian newspaper poll also included some basic questions on the Middle East:

The people polled were asked four questions about the Middle East conflict. Nearly one-third proved clueless. Only 6.2 per cent gave correct answers.

So plain ignorance contributes to the problem – no surprise there. We’d be interested to know what exactly those Middle East questions were, though. Anybody out there know? If so, please respond in comments below.

January 28, 2004 8:35 By Category : Backspin

German to be released

A British paper – Somerset News – has the full story of the German national, Stefan Smyrek, who will be released as a part of the prisoner exchange, and will apparently return to the UK, where he previously dwelled:

Authorities would be powerless to stop him from returning to the UK, despite the fact that judges in Tel Aviv warned he could attempt a terror strike at any time.

“He has an enormous hatred of Jews simmering inside him,” they said at Tel Aviv district court in 1999.

“He does not regret what he wanted to do. He would do it again. He has an obsessive urge to carry out a suicide attack on Jews.”…

His mother Karin told how he had been “brainwashed” by Muslim extremists. He had become obsessed with Islam, even adopting the Muslim name Abdul Kerim.

“Before he changed his religion he was always smartly dressed, always wearing expensive clothes,” she said. “Afterwards, he spoke in riddles, quoted the Koran and studied the Arabic language.

A disturbing story, and another aspect of the exchange not covered by the major media outlets.

January 27, 2004 16:40 By Category : Backspin

Background on prisoner releases

As Israel’s prisoner exchange with Hizbullah nears completion, news outlets have provided the raw data of the deal – 435 Arab prisoners (400 of them Palestinian) and one German convicted of spying for Hezbullah, in exchange for Israeli Elhanan Tanenbaum and three IDF soldiers abducted near the Lebanon border in 2000 and assumed dead. (This is the latest in a history of highly lopsided prisoner exchanges between Israel and Arab groups.) A proposed second stage of the deal would involve the release of terrorist Samir Qantar for “significant, proven and clear information” about the fate of Israeli airman Ron Arad.

Absent from news reports, however, is the essential background of two terrorist leaders due to be released to Lebanon: Mustafa Dirani and Abdel Karim Obeid. Here are their stories, and their connection to Arad:


January 27, 2004 15:20 By Category : Backspin

BBC paying off Google?

Recently we’ve run separate critiques of BBC and Google. Now this Guardian report comes to our attention:

Just 48 hours before Lord Hutton delivers his verdict on the controversy surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the BBC has begun an advertising experiment that involves buying up all internet search terms relating to the inquiry.

Despite being one of the main players in the drama, anyone searching for “Hutton inquiry” or “Hutton report” on the UK’s most popular search engine Google is automatically directed to a paid-for link to BBC Online’s own news coverage of the inquiry.

No other news broadcaster or any newspaper has paid Google for this facility, leaving the corporation’s move even more conspicuous.

As one of the chief “interested parties” in the Hutton inquiry into the apparent suicide of Dr Kelly, the move will strike many as worthy of comment, not least because the BBC’s online news pages will not be the most obvious place to go for the most comprehensive coverage, which is bound to include painful criticism of the corporation.

It could be that BBC simply included ‘Hutton inquiry’ in its Google Ad Words, as a part of a larger ad campaign to attract new viewers, but it would seem appropriate under the circumstances to omit that particular topic.

January 27, 2004 14:25 By Category : Backspin

Montreal Gazette on CBC, ‘T-word’

Great staff-ed in the Montreal Gazette today on the CBC’s absurd refusal to use the word ‘terrorist’ on their TV broadcasts:

CBC news writers, and presumably the executives to whom they report, do not like the T-word. They believe that by calling a terrorist a terrorist, they would be choosing sides in the divisive conflict in the Middle East…

To substitute “extremist,” with its overtones of ideological fervour, for the much more specific “terrorist” is itself an expression of favouritism. It is also an abuse of speech. A terrorist can be an extremist. A terrorist can also be a vegetarian. But someone who blows up a bus is not in the news for eating tofu. The CBC should call a terrorist a terrorist, and let viewers reach their own conclusions.

For our breakdown of recent editorial opinions on using the term ‘terrorist’, click here.

January 26, 2004 16:38 By Category : Backspin

Lopsided Prisoner Exchanges

As the deal with Hezbullah nears completion, Associated Press released a list of some previous Israeli-Arab prisoner exchanges. The article begins with this line:

Israel has carried out many prisoner swaps with Arab countries since declaring independence in 1948, almost always giving more prisoners and bodies than it got in return.

Almost always’? Not one exchange deal listed there was anywhere near even.

For a fuller list of Israeli-Arab prisoner exchanges, click here:


January 26, 2004 13:33 By Category : Backspin

‘Snow White’ Creator Stole Music

From Jerusalem Post letters page:

I am CEO of Scandinavia’s largest Classical Music Record Company, BIS Records. I visited Dror Feiler’s “Snow White” installation and was deeply disgusted with it.

An integral part was the use of an aria from Bach’s Cantata No. 199, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (My Heart Swims in Blood), which had been “arranged” (read: “distorted”) by Feiler and went on and on in a loop at the site.

Since I thought I recognized my recording (BIS 801) through the mess, I called Feiler up to ask whence he got the music he was using. The answer was that he had no idea since he had tanked down the music from the Internet. I asked him to try to check up on it and get back to me. He refused.


January 26, 2004 13:22 By Category : Backspin

Absurdities at the NY Times

* British journalist Boris Johnson was asked to write an op-ed for the New York Times last year. He relates the Times’ absurd process of rendering the column politically-correct enough for print:

I had said something to the effect that you don’t make international law by giving new squash courts to the President of Guinea. This now read ‘the President of Chile.’ Come again? I said. Qué?

‘Uh, Boris,’ said [Times editor] Tobin, ‘it’s just easier in principle if we don’t say anything deprecatory about a black African country, and since Guinea and Chile are both members of the UN Security Council, and since it doesn’t affect your point, we would like to say Chile.’ In the end, I gave way on this, since it was getting cold and I was worried about the battery of my mobile. But my views of the NY Times were starting to evolve.

How craven and mealy-mouthed can you get? Why is a mild insult more bearable because it is directed at a crisis-ridden Latin American country, rather than a crisis-ridden African country? Is it, heaven forfend, because one country is Hispanic and the other is black?

Read on for the Times’ ‘issues’ with making light of Gulf War Syndrome, and using the term ‘Gee’ (they were afraid of offending Christian sensibilies, since – if you didn’t know – ‘Gee’ originated from ‘Jesus’).

Note, though, how seriously The Times considers their own role in the dissemination of an op-ed piece. HonestReporting has continually stressed that a newspaper should be held accountable, to some degree, for the content of their op-ed’s (here’s the latest case), and this episode indicates that the editors themselves are very much aware of that.

* Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent released a mea culpa today after committing the very journalistic sin he himself decried just two weeks ago: partially quoting a source, thereby altering the source’s actual intention.

I suppose I could try to explain how I managed to mistranscribe a quotation in an e-mail message sitting right in front of me, or go through the reasoning that had me cut Halbfinger’s comment short. But explanation is not justification.

The mistake was entirely my own, and a pretty embarrassing one it is.

Another example of The Times altering an op-ed to conform with their views: human rights lawyer Anne Bayefsky’s piece on the UN’s unfair treatment of Israel – read about it here.


January 25, 2004 15:09 By Category : Backspin

Jihad Unspun on Google News

Our communique to subscribers yesterday — questioning the presence of Jihad Unspun on Google News — is available online here.

To receive HonestReporting communiques by email, just type in your email address above.

January 23, 2004 12:33 By Category : Backspin