BBC faces parliamentary probe over its coverage of Jews and Israel

Victory for JC as politicians announce inquiry into the broadcaster’s reporting organised by a panel including an ex-BBC governor


LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 25: A sign directs to Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC on July 25, 2015 in London, England. The main Art Deco-style building of the British Broadcasting Corporation was officially opened on 15 May 1932 and has since seen extensive refurbishment with an extension to the main building completed in 2005. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

A cross-party group of MPs and peers is launching an investigation into the BBC’s coverage of Jews and Israel.

The probe, organised by a panel including an ex-BBC governor and a former minister in charge of the World Service, comes after a JC petition calling for an inquiry attracted over 10,000 signatures.

The panel of inquiry is to be chaired by Lord Carlile of Berriew KC, an ex-Liberal Democrat MP and the government’s former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

The inquiry will gather evidence, publish a report and make recommendations. It will formally present its findings to the BBC next year.

The news comes as the JC reveals that the BBC is reforming its beleaguered Arabic service, employing Output Monitors to enforce standards and instructing editors to drop controversial pundit Abdel Bari Atwan, who has a track record of praising terrorism. The reforms have not been made public (see p6-7).

Former Labour minister Ian Austin, Baron Austin of Dudley, who was parliamentary private secretary to prime minister Gordon Brown, is secretary of the inquiry into the BBC.

The panel includes Tory peer Baroness Eaton, Labour peer Lord Turnberg and Baroness Fox.

Former BBC governor Baroness Deech and Lord Triesman, former Labour minister in charge of the World Service and former chairman of the English Football Association, also join the panel.

Last night, secretary Lord Austin said that the investigation was launched independently by a cross-party group of MPs and peers.

He said: “Our inquiry will be wholly impartial and will aim to offer expert guidance and recommendations for the corporation to address when it comes to antisemitism and Israel, the handling of complaints and the ‘culture of defensiveness’ identified by Ofcom.”

The announcement follows Ofcom’s ruling that the BBC failed to observe its own editorial guidelines when reporting an antisemitic attack on Oxford Street last Chanukah.

In the 12 months that followed, the JC exposed numerous examples of apparent editorial failings at the BBC, especially in its Arabic language output.

Translations of BBC Arabic output were provided by media watchdog CAMERA Arabic.

Our petition demanding an inquiry was launched online in October with a target of 10,000 signatures, which was reached last month.

It comes as Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the BBC had “a great way to go“ on “questions around BBC impartiality”.

She added: “If we look at the antisemitism issue … and the result that was concluded by Ofcom, there are concerns around BBC impartiality. ”

The chair of the new probe, Lord Carlile, led a landmark independent inquiry into the use of restraint, solitary confinement and strip-searching in penal institutions for children in 2006.

He was the Government’s anti-terror czar from 2001 to 2011 and was an independent reviewer on the 2015 Assessment on Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland.

Lord Carlile writes for the JC and has frequently spoken out against antisemitism. His role on the BBC inquiry is independent, voluntary and unpaid.

In a response to a letter from the inquiry’s secretary informing him of the probe, provided to the JC by a BBC spokesperson, Director-General Tim Davie wrote: “I have followed the commentary on this topic.

“I look forward to seeing more details of what is proposed and I think that it’s best to see this before I comment on how the BBC may be able to contribute. The BBC’s journalism is rooted in our editorial values and standards, including our commitment to impartiality across our output.

“We are very proud of our journalism on antisemitism, including some of the examples that you have given; however, we are always open to feedback.

“As you know, the BBC is regulated on content standards by Ofcom.

“In addition, our Charter also requires us to act independently and it is the job of the BBC Board to uphold and protect that independence.

“When you have more detail on the work you propose to undertake, I would be happy to review.”

The inquiry will consider evidence over a period of several months, starting next year. It will conclude with a report including recommendations that will be offered to the BBC.

JC Editor Jake Wallis Simons said: “Following the damning Ofcom report, it is gratifying that such senior parliamentarians have heeded our campaign for an inquiry, bolstered by our many disclosures of apparent institutional bias at the BBC.

“The BBC is a great national institution that is close to all of our hearts. I hope that this inquiry will help it restore its high standards across every part of its output.”

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