In March 2011, the BBC’s coverage or, rather, lack of coverage of the brutal murders of the Fogel family generated outrage as well as shock and grief that an Israeli family, including a three-month old baby girl, could have been butchered in such an appalling way.
The BBC’s indifference to the murders also grabbed the attention of British politician Louise Bagshawe, now Louise Mensch who slammed the BBC in an opinion piece. Mensch eventually elicited a less than satisfactory response from the BBC’s Head of News blaming “a remarkably busy weekend” of news for the low priority given to the Itamar murders.
To her credit, Mensch has continued to use her position to hold the BBC to account by questioning the BBC’s outgoing Director-General Mark Thompson at a parliamentary hearing of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. Thompson was forced to admit “very straightforwardly, we got it wrong.” The Jewish Chronicle reports on Louise Mensch’s questioning of Thompson:
“I was overwhelmed by response from the Jewish community both here and abroad. There was a feeling the BBC just didn’t care and that, if a settler had entered the home of a Palestinian family, slit the throat of their children, that the BBC would have covered that.”
Mrs Mensch had subsequently received an apology from BBC News’s Helen Boaden but wanted Mr Thompson’s reassurance about the BBC’s “even-handedness” on the Middle East conflict.
Mr Thompson said the story had come during a “very busy news period” including the fighting in Libya and the tsunami in Japan.
“News editors were under a lot of pressure,” he said. “Having said that, it was certainly an atrocity which should have been covered across our news bulletins that day.”
But he added: “I don’t believe that should be taken as systemic bias. We try very, very hard… to reflect suffering on both sides of that conflict. When there has been a humanitarian incident in Gaza, we try to show the effects of rockets in Sderot.” . . .
“But I do want to say, to all our audience including our Jewish and Israeli audiences here and around the world, we do want to make sure we are fair and impartial. We made a mistake in this instance.”
While this rare acknowledgment on the part of the BBC is welcome, Thompson’s denial of BBC bias is laughable. In those rare occasions where the BBC has mentioned the effects of Gaza rockets on Israeli civilians, they have more often than not been buried near the bottom of a story focused on Israeli air strikes on Gaza, promoting the “cycle of violence“.
Recent headlines such as Gaza: New Israeli air strikes leave several dead are illustrative of the systemic problem of the BBC’s reporting.
Is this Mark Thompson’s idea of fairness and impartiality?
In addition, what has not been picked up in news reports are some of Thompson’s other statements to the Select Committee. For example: