BBC denies organ blood libel to Evgeny Kissin

The director-general of the BBC has defended its coverage of the conflict in the Middle East after internationally renowned pianist Evgeny Kissin complained about its “bias against Israel”.

Mr Kissin, who was a child prodigy in his native Russia and is now widely recognised as one of the greatest living pianists, accused the BBC’s Persian Service of a “blood libel, concerning Israel’s alleged harvesting of Palestinian organs and blood for future transplant”.

Writing to director-general Mark Thompson in December, Mr Kissin said: “I receive verified reports on an almost daily basis of the BBC’s slander and bias towards Israel, painfully reminiscent of the old Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda.

“It beggars belief that the British taxpayer should be funding an organisation aligning itself with Iran’s despotic leader in its antisemitic propaganda.”

But Mr Thompson replied: “The BBC World Service would like to make it clear that this report was not created by the BBC, but was a translation of a news story which appeared on Israeli television. The same news story was carried by several other media outlets including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press.

“I am also assured by the World Service that the Israeli government has not denied the story since it broke. ”

Mr Thompson maintained that the BBC had “high standards of impartiality” but as a response to complaints from “all sides of the Israel/Palestine issue”, they “constantly review” their coverage on an “almost daily basis, in order to get it right”.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy said: “Despicable attempts to claim that Israelis have been involved in the specific harvesting of Palestinian organs only harvest anti-Israel sentiment.

“Legal steps were immediately taken to cease this highly regrettable incident that caused pain to the families of dead Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. To emphasise simply one component is an attempt to manipulate the hearts of the readership. If the Guardian has seen fit to apologise for its headline, we expect other media outlets to do similarly.”

Media analyst Tom Gross told the JC that Mr Thompson was wrong and that the BBC’s coverage of the case had been quite different from that of the AP and other media. “The BBC website used a sensationalist and shocking photo, which was not in fact even from Israel, to give the false impression to readers that the Israeli government had been involved in wrongdoing.”

    Last updated: 3:54pm, January 21 2010