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Harding’s battle for balance

    The re-emergence of James Harding, former editor of The Times, as the BBC's director of news, will be watched with interest in the Jewish community. He inherits a news culture that remains under siege and needs to re-establish the integrity that was badly damaged by the Jimmy Savile affair.

    Given the scale of the task, it is hard to believe that the Middle-East will be top of the agenda. But he could go a long way towards demonstrating a new transparency by releasing the long-suppressed 2004 Balen report on coverage of Israel-Palestine.

    As Times editor, Harding was fortunate enough to have, in proprietor Rupert Murdoch, a long-time supporter of Israel. At the BBC, he faces something very different. Even though coverage of the recent Pillar of Defence campaign in Gaza was more balanced - with quality air-time given to Israeli officials - sympathy with the Palestinian cause remains deeply embedded.

    Much of the material on the BBC website relating to the Israel-Palestine issue is tendentious. The strained neutrality of the Beeb's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen is not helpful either.

    At least the Jewish community will feel that, in Harding, they have a sympathetic ear. But it must also recognise that he will at times find himself conflicted between his own Jewish background and the BBC's pro-Palestinian tendencies.

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