A BBC Arabic presenter has posted a video explaining that staff must abide by the Corporation’s ban on antisemitism and homophobia regardless of their personal views.
BBC Trending presenter Ahmad Fakhouri, who has breached editorial guidelines himself in the past, spoke out after viewers complained that his programme had ignored their homophobic social media posts.
Viewers had made clear their support for comments by ex-Egyptian footballer Mohamed Aboutrika that homosexuality was a “dangerous ideology” that was “against humanity”. But BBC Trending had not featured their opinions.
Fakhouri’s video about the editorial code came after the channel’s repeated infringements.
The BBC has apologised for breaches of editorial guidelines in the past by Fakhouri himself and other presenters on the show.
In his YouTube clip, the presenter explained that BBC guidelines banned anti-gay, anti-Jewish or pro-terrorist views on Trending, which monitors public opinion.
The “30-minute news bulletin of what is trending on social media” was launched in 2017 with the promise by Sam Farah, Head of BBC Arabic, that it would have “the BBC’s usual high standards for accurate and independent journalism”.
The Arabic-language BBC channel is bound by the same rules as the corporation’s domestic programmes and is funded by the BBC licence fee and £291 million from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
In his Arabic language video, translated by the media monitoring organisation CAMERA Arabic, Fakhouri explains decisions made according to BBC’s editorial guidelines have “nothing to do with my personal opinions”.
He states that the BBC “will not show on our screens a tweet which glorifies terrorism. Simple.” However, in October 2020, BBC Trending included a comment calling terrorist Ahlam al-Tamimi a woman “of great value” and “honour”.
Afterwards, Arnold Roth, 69, whose teenage daughter Malki was killed in a restaurant bombing carried out by Al-Tamimi in 2001, told the JC: “From the poison they are putting out, I sense a toxic culture at BBC Arabic.” Following complaints, the BBC removed the video and apologised on the BBC Arabic website and on air.
Fakhouri said while “you may find antisemitism in some societies around the world, the BBC does not reaffirm any expression of that kind”.
In August 2019 he read a comment on air claiming that Zionism, “represented by Freemasonry”, engages in “a diabolical campaign to spread perversion [homosexuality]” across society, aiming to “destroy the values of humanity and religion, as well as human nature”.
In April 2020, another presenter read a comment “saluting” a television series favourably depicting the near destruction of Israel, which was described as “the usurper entity”, and the mass expulsion of its Jewish population by means of war.
The BBC concluded that the comment was not appropriate and said it had provided feedback and social media training to all Trending staff.
Fakhouri said in his video that while homosexuality “may be prohibited among religions” it is legal in the UK, where he says “any form of discrimination against this community is a crime”.
He says that the BBC “does not condemn homosexuality and does not believe in shunning this community out of society” adding that “the matter has nothing to do with my personal opinions, it is the BBC’s editorial policy, people”.
In January 2020, Fakhouri read out a comment suggesting that gay couples should be jailed for life, and in June 2021 he read out another saying homosexuality “perverts our humanity, morals and values”. The BBC concluded both tweets did not meet its editorial standards and apologised.
A CAMERA Arabic spokesperson said: “A single member of BBC Arabic staff — not even admitting to having repeatedly done wrong before, but acting as if his conduct has been flawless and according to BBC policy to begin with — is far from reflecting a true acknowledgement of the systemic problem on BBC Arabic’s part.”
A BBC spokesperson told the JC: “The format of BBC Trending is to reflect a cross section of comments across the Arab world. BBC Arabic’s experienced editors and journalists are subject to the BBC’s strict editorial guidelines.
“Antisemitism and homophobia are abhorrent, and we strive to serve all communities across the Middle East, and around the world, fairly. But where mistakes have been made, they were acknowledged and promptly rectified, and any staff involved spoken with to remind them of our guidelines.”