Is the BBC biased when it comes to Israel? Two of its journalists speak out

November 24, 2016 23:06

Let’s face it, the British Jewish community loves bashing the BBC.

I can’t remember attending a communal event (or Shabbat dinner for that matter) where the taxpayer-funded corporation wasn’t bashed for its “biased” coverage of Israel.

It’s not hard to see why so many love to hate the BBC – especially when forced to watch it stand by reporters like Tim Willcox, who has claimed that “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands” live on air.

This week, I heard two senior BBC journalists directly answer the question. Is the BBC inherently biased when it comes to reporting the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

The first was John Ware, the award-winning investigative journalist who worked on the BBC public affairs programme Panorama from 1986 to 2012.

On Monday, Ware told a 150-strong audience at the Wizo Commitment Awards that he often introduces himself as “your punch-bag for the evening” when stood in a room full of Jews and Israelis.

He acknowledged: “I think there have been problems with the BBC’s coverage…

“We do not, Western media outlets as a whole do not [look at] the individuals and culture of the Palestinian side of the conflict anything like the same extent the Israeli side is scrutinised."

Cue, applause from the audience – nodding throughout the admission.

Two days later, I was on the phone to Lyse Doucet , the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent whose documentary Children of the Gaza War will no doubt be the focal talking point at many Friday night tables tonight.

I have already received emails, calls, WhatsApps and texts from various people taking issue with, what I thought, was a balanced piece of journalism.


It was a balanced piece of journalism up until the point where the BBC decided it would translate ‘yahud’ (‘Jew’ in Arabic) as ‘Israeli’ in subtitles on the programme.

The subtitles during an interview with a Gazan child read: “Israel is massacring us”. Unless you speak Arabic, you would be none the wiser that this Palestinian child was talking about “the Jews”.

Why would the BBC want to conceal the everyday antisemitic discourse that fuels hatred in the region?

Why would the BBC not accurately translate an interviewee’s words – as we expect, and rely on, them to do?

Doucet had picked up on this during filming and the editing process – but had literally mistranslated the word – substituting ‘Jew’ with ‘Israeli’ – on the advice of Gazan translators.

“We are not trying to cover it up,” insisted Doucet. “We talked to people in Gaza, we talked to translators.

"When [the children] say ‘Jews’ they mean ‘Israelis’.”

The Canadian journalist – who has covered the region for the past 20 years - denied anti-Israel bias in the BBC.

She told me the accusation was: “A source of real frustration for me.

“I don’t have sympathies towards one side or the other.

“I work for a public broadcaster and it sits very well with who I am as a person: seeing all sides of the story.”

Social media was on fire as the documentary aired, coinciding with the one year anniversary of the Gaza war . There have been more than 52,000 tweets to mark the anniversary under the hashtag #gaza1yearon. Israel supporters pointed the finger at Hamas and virtually clashed with those who (quite ludicrously) claimed that the IDF takes pleasure in the death of Palestinian children.

At the same time, both sides attacked the BBC for its “biased” coverage of the conflict.

So if the BBC is getting complaints – in almost equal measure - from both sides, surely that makes it more balanced than biased?

Instead of bashing Doucet – when there are far more outrageous and, I would argue, irresponsible journalists like Jon Snow to contend with – the community should recognise that she told Israel’s story too.

She made a conscious effort to balance the story of Israeli children with Palestinian children – while so many national newspapers chose to only tell the latter’s.

So is the BBC really biased when it comes to reporting on Israel?

The jury is out.

November 24, 2016 23:06

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