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Monday, May 31 2004

BBC's Mideast policeman

balen

While the Israeli foreign ministry is again furious with the BBC,Haaretz has an article on Malcolm Balen, the BBC's ombudsmen for Mideast matters. Good background on the groundswell of complaints that brought the Beeb to appoint Balen, and a definition of Balen's role:

"I am not here as an extra layer of editorial supervision on a minute by minute, day-to-day basis. What I do is a long-term editorial review, and by definition, the review is retrospective, rather than a look at day-to-day output. The truth is, in any editorial job, you are so tied up with your program and deadline, that you simply do not have the time to stand back and look at the coverage as a whole," says Balen.

"Nobody has the time in a journalistic job to trace the course of a single story in an organization as large as the BBC, which is what I was appointed to do. I can concentrate on a single story and look at all sorts of angles and aspects. I can join the dots together, [determine] what the coverage feels like, what the tone is like - crucially, what the content is like, what the balance is like."

Balen admits he is not predisposed to agreeing with those who accuse the BBC of intentionally biased coverage of Israel:

"It is difficult for those serving as journalists in the BBC to understand how they can be accused of bias ... people who work in broadcasting know that unlike newspapers, there are so many people involved in the construction of a report or a program that have to jump a number of different hurdles if you are a conspiracy theorist and you want to say that people were actually conspiring to make a report biased. But I have to ask whether the BBC is systemically biased."

There's also discussion of the 'T-word':

At the BBC they refrain from using this word ['terrorism'] in connection with the attacks inside Israel, and they call the terrorists "militants." However, this policy is not consistent: Not only is it applied solely on the BBC channels that are not broadcast inside Britain, but the prohibition is implemented only in the Israeli-Palestinian context and concerning Iraq.

"Personally," says Balen, "I think there is a particular difficulty over the use of the word `terrorist.' It is one thing to avoid using the word `terrorist' in the Middle East, it is quite another thing if people spot an inconsistency ... So this is something the BBC will have to think through, either of a consistent use or a consistent non-use of the word. It cannot appear to be facing in two directions at once."

Also comments on Trevor Asserson's work, the over-reporting of Israel, and accusations of anti-semitism at the BBC.

 

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Comments

The BBC remains unwilling to risk offending anyone on either side. Israeli attacks on civilians are rarely condemned even in terms as harsh as those of coalition forces on Iraqi civilians.

It's instructive to note that one of the main pro-Palestinian media watch groups ― Palestine Media Watch ― has had almost no complaints about BBC coverage for the past three years. In fact, in April 2002 PMW listed BBC among those news outlets that are explicitly favorable to the Palestinian camp: 'anyone who is lucky enough to watch the BBC and Al-Jazeera, PMW claimed, gets the true 'version of reality.'

So much for factual reporting. More like slanted against Israel.

It's instructive to note that one of the main pro-Palestinian media watch groups ― Palestine Media Watch ― listed BBC among those news outlets that are explicitly favorable to the Palestinian camp: 'anyone who is lucky enough to watch the BBC and Al-Jazeera, PMW claimed, gets the true 'version of reality.'

So much for factual reporting. More like slanted against Israel.

There is no conspiracy plan, merely a business plan. Arab regimes have had no intention to treat their population as human beings, but they are notorious for their “sticks and carrots” policy regarding coverage in world media. BBC just copies French way of lucrative distorting of the Middle Eastern reality. Are you sure this spin might be unnoticed forever? Any potential competitor will challenge BBC credibility easily like that… One day…

I just read today's honestreporting.com piece (entitled BBC Radio Farce), together with the BBC radio 3 and 4 excerpts linked within same.

I beseech the BBC to take a good hard look in the mirror and at the facts. If you report better on the latter, the former image (in the eyes of the world) will not spiral out of control into an unprofessional, contemptible joke. It's not too late to restore its prestigious reputation; but it had better act soon.

With all due respect -

Your assignment of a BBC man to investigate bias is not so dissimilar to the assignment of a KGB man to investigate police graft in Moskow.

To me, the BBC is a very honorable and thorough organization. My hope is that you will get a deep and complete eradication of any semblance of bias.

Gentlemen,

I would like to write to Mr. Balen.

Would you be kind enough to send me his e-mail address?

Respectfully,
M. Franks.

I have been listening to the BBC for 50 years. In my opinion the BBC is biased (presumably from fear of being labelled anti-semitic) in favor of Jews and Jewish interests, whether those Jews are also Israelis or not.

As an example look at its coverage of the Russian (now mostly ex-Russian) oligarchs.

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