From the Media Bias Files: Weeping For Arafat

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Welcome to the first in a new feature where we look back and highlight issues of media bias and content from years past.

While the European Union has been the recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, back in October 2004, another questionable Nobel laureate, Yasser Arafat lay critically ill in his Ramallah compound.

The BBC’s Barbara Plett described Arafat’s departure by helicopter en route to a Paris hospital where he eventually died. While apathetic Palestinians declined to give him a heroic sendoff, Plett asked:

But where were the people, I wondered, the mass demonstrations of solidarity, the frantic expressions of concern? Was this another story we Western journalists were getting wrong, bombarding the world with news of what we think is an historic event, while the locals get on with their lives?

Yet when the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry… without warning.

In a fawning personal tribute to the ailing terrorist leader, Plett opined that “Mr Arafat’s life has been one of sheer dedication and resilience.”

[Click below to listen to Barbara Plett's report.]

 

 

Despite the outrage, Plett was initially cleared by the BBC’s head of editorial complaints but a listener appealed. Eventually, in November 2005, the BBC Governors upheld part of the appeal concluding that the reference to crying did breach the guidelines on due impartiality.

The BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden apologized for what she described as an “editorial misjudgment”. She said it appeared Plett “unintentionally gave the impression of over-identifying with Yasser Arafat and his cause”.

Whatever gave you that impression?

Image: CC BY-SA HonestReporting.com, flickr/Sam Howzit


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