When a media outlet is confronted with overwhelming evidence that its Mideast coverage is consistently biased against Israel, the outlet generally chooses one of two responses ? to correct the mistakes (e.g. Reuters on Hamas terminology), or to simply ignore the evidence (unfortunately, the more common approach).
The BBC has now produced a third, almost farcical response. After nearly four years of relentless worldwide protest against its egregiously anti-Israel coverage (see HonestReporting critiques here, here and here, and the 2001 Dishonest Reporting Award), including an official Israeli government boycott of the network, BBC Radio has lately served up some fictional drama. The format: BBC talk-shows that ostensibly tackle the central problems of news coverage of the Mideast conflict, but include only on-air ‘experts’ who vindicate the BBC, or even accuse BBC of being too pro-Israel. Consider:
The June 15 BBC Radio 3 ‘Night Waves’ program focused on misleading media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The program includes three guests: two BBC editors, and Professor Greg Philo of Glasgow University, who recently produced a study claiming anti-Palestinian media bias in news coverage of the conflict. (Philo is a notorious anti-Israeli ideologue, whose biggest fans seem to be John Pilger and Noam Chomsky.)
The BBC editors defend their work against Philo’s claims, but the show provides no legitimate counter-voice. A prime candidate for such a counter-voice, London attorney Trevor Asserson, has produced no less than three influential and exhaustive studies on BBC anti-Israel bias, but Asserson informs HonestReporting that he has never been asked by the BBC to come down to a studio and appear on-air.
On March 18, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ show produced a session on a topic central to HonestReporting’s campaign for fair media description of Palestinian terrorism: ‘What’s the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?’
Again, the BBC Radio guests are not interested in challenging the BBC’s own untenable position in this case, that Hamas et al should not be called ‘terrorists.’ Whom did BBC Radio bring on the show to ‘debate’ this important issue? None other than Palestinian hijacker and hostage-taker Leila Khaled, and IRA publicity head Danny Morrison.
Claims Khaled: ‘There is a very big difference between the struggle of Palestinian people for liberation, and acts of terror.’
After listening in, British journalist Melanie Phillips was outraged:
This is the BBC’s idea of balance? Two apologists for terror, in earnest discussion. And this is the organisation the public nevertheless still appears to trust and venerates as an icon.
A DEFUSING TACTIC?
These two recent and highly tilted BBC Radio shows may reveal a disturbing tactic on the Beeb’s part to defuse the controversy over their anti-Israel bias not by addressing it head-on, but rather by allowing far-out radicals to suggest the Beeb is actually too pro-Israel.
It’s instructive to note that one of the main pro-Palestinian media watch groups Palestine Media Watch has had almost no complaints about BBC coverage for the past three years. In fact, in April 2002 PMW listed BBC among those news outlets that are explicitly favorable to the Palestinian camp: ‘anyone who is lucky enough to watch the BBC, Al-Jazeera, or even the Canadian CBC,’ PMW claimed, gets the true ‘version of reality.’
Yet in the face of well-documented anti-Israel media bias, BBC Radio chooses to expose itself to the likes of Greg Philo, leaving the listener thinking that, if anything, BBC has been remiss and needs to be more sympathetic to Palestinians in its coverage.
Given the BBC’s sudden openness to questioning these matters, it is imperative that voices such as Mr. Asserson’s be granted on-air time as well. After all, BBC’s own new ‘Mideast policeman’ acknowledges that his role is to question if the BBC is ‘systemically biased.’ The BBC’s latest charade makes the answer to that question painfully clear.
Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.