This opinion piece by HR Managing Editor Simon Plosker is republished courtesy of The Commentator.
In 2004, the BBC conducted a thorough internal review of its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The contents of the Balen Report, authored by Malcolm Balen were never released to the public.
That the BBC spent some £250,000 successfully fending off legal attempts to get the report published led many to conclude that the report’s findings probably confirmed the view that the BBC’s coverage was at best, seriously flawed and more likely, biased against Israel.
While the Balen Report has been locked in a dark vault in BBC HQ, this last week saw the very public release of an internal BBC review into its coverage of the so-called “Arab Spring”, commissioned by the BBC Trust.
This report’s author, Edward Mortimer, a former United Nations communications director, was broadly positive about the BBC’s reporting. He did, however, identify a number of serious failings.
If Mortimer’s findings are a good indication of how the BBC reports on the Middle East in general, what would happen if we were to speculatively try to place these findings into the context of BBC reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Might we come up with a version of “Balen-lite”? Allow me to try.
There was acknowledgment from BBC Head of News Helen Boaden that some of the coverage, particularly from Libya where BBC journalists were “embedded” with rebel forces, was sometimes infected with excitement leading to a failure to explore both sides of the story. This was particularly evident with the delay in reporting human rights abuses by the Libyan rebels.
The BBC seemingly divided Arab rebels versus dictatorial regimes into a simple fight against good and evil. This would leave little room for acknowledging, for example, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the presence of Global Jihad extremists amongst the Libyan rebels.
To most observers, the demise of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime was not something to be mourned. But does this mean that BBC journalists found themselves eliciting sympathy for one side over the other, possibly in breach of BBC impartiality guidelines?