We are impartial on Israel, says BBC

The BBC has defended its approach to reporting on the Middle East and the Israel-Palestinian conflict amid claims and allegations from supporters of both sides.

On Monday, a controversial panel discussion organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Middle East Monitor Online media group dealt almost solely with the Corporation's reports from the region.

Around a dozen pro-Israel, anti-Hamas protesters demonstrated outside the event, held at Amnesty International's central London office. They included members of the English Defence League's Jewish Division, and new group Campaign4Truth.

Labour Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies had urged Amnesty to cancel the event because of MEMO's support for Hamas. Many pro-Israel activists cut their links to Amnesty in response to its decision to go ahead with hosting of the session.

Former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn said the BBC had "built an iron wall around itself" to deflect complaints from viewers. He called the BBC ruling, that a Panorama programme which investigated the Gaza flotilla incident was largely accurate, "tendentious garbage".

Mr Llewellyn claimed BBC reporters were like "lions led by donkeys" because executives had "lost their nerve" when dealing with Israel and the Palestinians.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of London-based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, claimed the BBC had scaled down his appearances on its channels because of pressure from the Israeli Embassy.

He said: "These people in the BBC are terrorised by email campaigns [from the pro-Israel lobby]. Every time I'm on there are hundreds of emails. They are biased in their coverage. They don't want our Palestinian voices to be heard. Where is the impartiality?"

A BBC spokeswoman said: "BBC News endeavours to report on all matters in the Middle East impartially, objectively and accurately. We have extensive editorial guidelines which all reporters and producers are required to observe. In a highly-charged political atmosphere any impartial and accountable broadcaster will rightly find itself under scrutiny by all shades of opinion."

● It was also revealed that the BBC had spent more than £227,300 in the past four years on the legal battle surrounding the Balen Report into its Middle East coverage. The late Steven Sugar campaigned to have the 2004 report made public, but a House of Lords ruling has so far barred its release.

Last updated: 2:09pm, May 26 2011