When we looked back over our 2015 archives, it was clear which media outlet deserved this year’s Dishonest Reporter Award. The honor goes to perennial contender, BBC News.
At any given time, the insidious nature of the BBC’s anti-Israel bias is its constant drip, drip effect. But this year, the pipes burst with some genuinely shocking moments of coverage that generated a huge amount of anger and offense.
Here are nine of the ‘highlights’ that secured the BBC’s position as the worst news service of 2015.
Click here to see the Dishonest Reporter runner-up winners.
1. Tim Willcox’s “Jewish Hands”
The BBC’s annus horriblis began in January with the appalling coverage of the Paris terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. Reporter Tim Willcox interviewed a Jewish woman at the January 11 solidarity rally in Paris. Interrupting her, Willcox effectively held French Jewry (and all Jews) responsible for the actions of Israel as well as offering a justification for the terror attacks when he said:
Many critics of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.
Willcox later apologized on Twitter for what he termed a “poorly phrased question.” The BBC deemed it sufficiently contrite to avoid taking any further action against Willcox or for the BBC brass itself to acknowledge the offensive nature of the interview.
In what turned into a drawn-out and ultimately fruitless example of the absurdity of the BBC’s complaints procedures, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit rejected the many complaints it received, producing a whitewash of the incident not once but twice. Then, having dragged out the process for several months, a further appeal by HonestReporting was rejected by the Senior Editorial Adviser to the BBC Trust.
Bottom line? The BBC’s complaints procedure is clearly unfit for purpose.
2. Charlie Hebdo Attack Not “Terrorism”
Willcox wasn’t the only example of the BBC’s abysmal framing of the Paris terror attacks. As unprovoked attacks on purely civilian targets — the offices of a magazine, and kosher market — with the intention of killing people and intimidating a city, any reasonable person would call the attacks terrorism.
But not the BBC. Take the head of BBC Arabic, Tarik Kafala, for example. He told The Independent that terror is too “loaded” a term to describe what happened.
“We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist, or an act as being terrorist,” said Kafala, a British-Libyan who leads a team of about 200 staff at BBC Arabic’s base on the fourth floor of New Broadcasting House. “Terrorism is such a loaded word. The UN has been struggling for more than a decade to define the word and they can’t. It is very difficult to.”
In fact, we know what terror is – the BBC simply won’t state it.
3. “No Evidence” of Human Shields
The BBC’s inability to police itself became something of an ongoing theme. Take the many complaints aimed the BBC’s Orla Guerin, who had reported in Gaza during the 2014 war that there had been “no evidence” of Hamas using human shields. Although the complaints dealt with 2014 coverage, the BBC Trust didn’t formally respond until May 2015. This time, the Trust agreed that Guerin’s statement was inaccurate:
To refer to the ‘evidence’ put forward by one side would not necessarily endorse their version of events and to that extent I would agree that this might have been better worded.
But that’s as far as the BBC Trust would go; it went on to claim that viewers should have figured out for themselves from Guerin’s references to rockets fired from close proximity to residential neighborhoods, that Hamas was up to no good.
4. “Would You Describe Your Parents As Terrorists?”
While the BBC couldn’t bring itself to describe Islamist murderers in France or Palestinian stabbers in Israel as terrorists, that standard didn’t apply when it came to Jews.
During an interview for BBC Newsnight, Evan Davis asked Israeli politician Tzipi Livni a series of leading questions, including this with reference to Livni’s parents who were members of the Irgun group fighting the British military in 1940’s Mandate Palestine:
They were imprisoned by the British, they were part of the Irgun, which was a movement. Would you describe your parents as terrorists?
Evan Davis’s question, albeit a crude attempt to get Livni herself to use the word “terrorist,” raises serious doubts about his impartiality and begs the question as to why is it only Jews and Israelis that can be described as terrorists in the eyes of the BBC and its reporters?
As for the rest of the interview, Davis continuously attempted to corner Livni with questions based on the assumption of Israel as an apartheid state, even asking her whether she agreed with sanctions on apartheid South Africa in an effort to draw a moral equivalence between that regime and Israel as well as to portray Livni as a potential hypocrite.
Just another example of the BBC’s inherently hostile attitude when it comes to any Israeli politician from anywhere across the political spectrum.
5. Holocaust Tweet Shocker
Barely weeks after the Tim Willcox incident, the BBC produced something possibly even more crass, insensitive and downright offensive. Marking International Holocaust Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, “The Big Question,” a BBC debate show on moral, ethical and religious issues, tweeted this:
Our one big question this morning: Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest? #BBCTBQ
— The Big Questions (@bbcbigquestions) January 25, 2015
What or who exactly did the BBC want to lay to rest? Holocaust survivors? The memory of six million Jewish victims of Nazi genocide?
Once again, the BBC had ridden roughshod over an issue of immense importance to Jewish people.
6. Sticking the Boot In
If you didn’t believe that the BBC displays an unhealthy obsession with Israel, check out the choice of photo that the BBC used to accompany its coverage of a soccer match between Israel and Wales for the 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign.
The politics behind the game may have been appropriate for a report on the BBC’s news website. However, this is what greeted visitors to the BBC’s sport website before and during the match:
7. The BBC’s Alternate Reality
With the announcement of the American-led nuclear deal with Iran, BBC World Service radio interviewed Israel’s then Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Danny Danon.
Danon stated that Israel was “keeping all options on the table.” When the presenter, Razia Iqbal, asked Danon to explain, her reaction was both shocking and disturbing (click on the image below to listen):
But you’re not under threat by Iran. Nobody in Iran has threatened you for a very long time. You’re harking back to a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened Israel directly.
Just what reality was the BBC presenter living in? Only a few days before the interview, Iran observed “Al-Quds Day” where plenty of threats against Israel were made, while a prominent Iranian leader threatened Israel with destruction only days before that:
“The presence of the Israeli regime is temporary,” Iranian Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told the Hezbollah-linked Al Ahd news website. “Eventually one day this alien forged existence that has been forced into the body of an ancient nation and an historical region will be wiped off the map.”
At the end of the year, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld a complaint.
Although the question was intended only to draw out the interviewee’s views on the nature of the threats faced by Israel, its phrasing gave the impression of stating an uncontested fact. The statements from Iranian sources cited by the complainant sufficed to call the matter into question.
8. BBC Panorama Goes Off the Rails
BBC Panorama, the network’s flagship current affairs program, broadcast “The Train That Divides Jerusalem” in July. And what a train wreck it turned out to be.
Self-declared Jewish filmmaker Adam Wishart focused on Jerusalem’s light rail as a means to portray Jerusalem’s Palestinians as the victims of some malevolent scheme to “Judaize” the city at their expense. And all led by the development of Jerusalem’s transport network.
HonestReporting produced a thorough debunking of the half hour program, which was deemed to be so biased, even by the BBC’s standards, that it generated headlines in the UK’s Jewish newspapers as well as the Jerusalem Post, which wrote:
The BBC had no response when questioned by the Post as to what controls had been deployed to ensure the program was balanced, and whether it would consider commissioning a further documentary showing the other side of the argument about Jerusalem. All the spokeswoman would say was that the program “explored the tensions in Jerusalem through the eyes of a British Jewish filmmaker, reflecting what he witnessed in the city and heard from a range of voices expressing alternate views.”
Yiftach Curiel, spokesman at London’s Israeli Embassy, told the Post that the program presented one of the most biased accounts of Israel in recent memory. “It builds a largely fictional narrative, by utilizing marginal voices in Israeli society and presenting them as ‘mainstream’ while at the same time sidelining Palestinian terrorism and incitement.”
9. Jerusalem Terror Attack: BBC Headline Fail
Two Israeli men were fatally stabbed in Jerusalem’s Old City at the beginning of a wave of Palestinian terror in October. The Palestinian attacker was shot dead by security forces after he opened fire on them. The wife of one of the victims and their two-year-old baby were lightly wounded.
How did the BBC initially report on the attack?
Notice how the main focus of the headline was the death of the Palestinian perpetrator who was “shot dead,” effectively turning the terrorist into the victim.
And what is a “Jerusalem attack?” Cities don’t attack people. In this case, the BBC could not bring itself to apportion responsibility to a Palestinian. Nor did it state that the actual victims of the attack were Israeli Jews.
The appalling headline generated so much anger that even Israel’s normally passive Government Press Office sent a strongly-worded letter to the head of the BBC’s bureau in Jerusalem, Richard Palmer, denouncing the headline as “unethical.”
The headline was eventually changed several times but it is disturbing that such an initial response could have been published at all.
* * *
The BBC’s entire future is up for debate thanks to a UK government review of its charter, which is up for renewal at the end of 2016. It would be an exaggeration to claim that the BBC’s biased coverage of Israel will play a prominent role in any rethinking or restructuring of the BBC’s gargantuan news operations.
Nonetheless, the BBC’s treatment of Israel is part of a wider institutional problem afflicting the news department, which is widely perceived to be biased when it comes to any number of issues that don’t conform to a liberal or left-wing perspective that dominates the BBC’s thinking.
At least the BBC can bask in the glory of the Dishonest Reporter Award thanks to a stellar year of anti-Israel bias even by the BBC’s own high standards.
HonestReporting Managing Editor Simon Plosker adds:
This is a richly deserved award for the BBC, which has really plumbed the depths when it comes to its reporting of Israel this year. The BBC cannot recognize anti-Semitism and it cannot even acknowledge terrorism. It’s been over ten years since the publication and subsequent cover up by the BBC of the Balen Report into its Israel coverage.
The array of appalling incidents that we’ve witnessed this year is further evidence that the institutional bias of the BBC is still deeply entrenched. This past year has also demonstrated that the lack of accountability within the BBC and the inability of the BBC to effectively police itself needs addressing urgently. The BBC’s complaints procedure is simply not fit for purpose.
As one of the world’s most influential broadcasters, the BBC has the responsibility to get the story right. On Israel, it has failed abysmally.
Click here to see the Dishonest Reporter runner-up winners.
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