BBC upholds bias charge against Bowen

The BBC has partially upheld complaints of inaccuracy and bias against its Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen in an online article about the Six-Day War. Another complaint over a radio broadcast about an Israeli settlement made by Mr Bowen in January 2008 was also partially upheld.

In respect of the article published on the BBC website in June 2007, the BBC found that the author “should have done more to explain that there were alternative views on the subject which had some weight”.

In the piece, marking the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, Mr Bowen wrote: “The myth of the 1967 Middle East war was that the Israeli David slew the Arab Goliath. It is more accurate to say that there were two Goliaths in the Middle East in 1967. The Arabs, taken together, had big armed forces, but they were not ready for combat.”

He went on: “The Jewish Goliath had never been in better shape, and knew it, or rather its leaders did.”

The article brought separate, but similar, complaints of inaccuracies and bias against Israel from Jonathan Turner, a London lawyer and Zionist Federation member, and Gilead Ini, a research analyst at the Boston-based Camera, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Dissatisfied with the BBC’s initial response, they took their case to the Editorial Complaints Unit, which supported Mr Bowen. They then appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust, which has ruled that the article “breached the guideline on impartiality”. The article had also breached guidelines on accuracy in three out of 11 instances cited by Mr Turner.

The appeal body reached its decision after taking the view of two historians with different opinions on the conflict, Sir Martin Gilbert and Professor Avi Shlaim. Complaints of inaccuracy rejected included one that the settlements had been a “catastrophe” for the Palestinians.

The committee also rejected most of the complaints by Mr Turner against Mr Bowen’s broadcast on the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, outside Jerusalem, on Radio Four’s From Our Own Correspondent. But it found a comment that the settlement was considered illegal by the US to be inaccurate.

Mr Turner is “very pleased that a chink has opened. Generally, they insist that coverage is all perfectly impartial.”

Last updated: 12:44pm, April 16 2009