BBC rules no fairness breach over Habima protest report

By Jennifer Lipman, December 4, 2012
Habima perform at the Globe (Photo: Simon Kane)

Habima perform at the Globe (Photo: Simon Kane)

The BBC Trust has ruled that a Today programme report about the protests against Israel's Habima Theatre Company when it performed at the Globe in May did not violate its standards on impartiality or fairness.

After the broadcast about an arrest during Habima's Hebrew-language staging of the Merchant of Venice, the Trust received two complaints from pro-Palestinian protesters who were at the theatre, alleging that the bulletin implied they had "objected to the race of Habima's audiences, rather than Habima's performances in settlements".

The report said: "The Habima Company has been criticised for performing for Jewish audiences in the Occupied Territories."

The complainants, who the Palestine Solidarity Campaign described as members, argued that the report therefore "misrepresented protestors as being antisemitic", and that the audiences in the settlements "might have included tourists, for example, who were not Jewish".

But the BBC's editorial standards committee found that the bulletin did not violate its impartiality guidelines, and had indeed provided sufficient detail "to alert listeners to the point that the criticism was not simply about the fact the theatre company was performing to Jewish audiences".

"The audience would not have concluded from this one sentence in the wider context of a brief report that those who had criticised the company, including those who had been linked with organising the Globe protest or who had protested at the Globe, were motivated by antisemitism," ruled the committee. It said that "a right to reply was not necessary to achieve fairness in respect of these complaints and that a broadcast correction and apology was not required".

The committee ruled simply that the broadcast had breached its accuracy guidelines because it had not been written "in clear, precise language", but noted that it had still referred to the fact of Habima having performed in the settlements.

"In the view of the Committee the Today programme audience was generally knowledgeable about the Middle East… the report would not have materially misled its audience."

Last updated: 5:38pm, December 4 2012