Israeli soldier kidnapped? Not on the BBC

July 03, 2006

* Also: BBC announces it will reject Independent enquiry’s recommendation to use the word “terror” when Israelis are bombed



1. Israeli soldier kidnapped? Not on the BBC
2. BBC rejects recommendation to use the word “terror”
3. BBC hides important information about a terrorist
4. BBC appoints another reporter for the Palestinian cause
5. BBC “enhances” the role of Jeremy Bowen
6. BBC still unsure about Osirak bombing
7. “We have a right to expect more honesty from the BBC”
8. “A culture of bias”
9. BBC to expand and rebrand
10. Guardian editor declines to meet Olmert
11. “Bias at the Beeb” (By Michael Gove & Mark Dooley, Prospect, June 2006)
12. “Bowen Middle East role ‘enhanced’” (BBC News, June 19, 2006)
13. “BBC to create single news brand” (Guardian, June 12, 2006)
14. “BBC channels £90m profit in pursuit of global domination” (Times, June 29, 2006)

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is a follow-up to previous dispatches on the BBC and to Saving Corporal Shalit (June 28, 2006).


Some parts of the media which are traditionally relatively unsympathetic to the Jewish state, most notably the editorial writers at the Washington Post, have in recent days shown more understanding.

But at the same time the most hostile sections of the media have stepped up their demonization of Israel. This is particularly so with the BBC, the world’s biggest international broadcast network, which continues unabated with its manipulative, untruthful coverage and obsessive bashing of Israel of a kind likely to whip up anti-Semitic feelings among BBC listeners and watchers worldwide.

The BBC broadcasts in dozens of languages, on TV, radio and online. Its radio service alone attracts over 163 million listeners. Although much of the domestic BBC TV programming contains spiteful misinformation – one BBC TV guest Conservative MP said Israel had been “carpet bombing” Gaza last week – its world service radio broadcasts are considerably worse.

It would take dozens of pages to outline the full extent of the BBC’s distortions in its coverage of recent days. So I shall stick to a single example, one which the BBC itself admits to.

The BBC has decided not to use the term “kidnap” in relation to the story of Corporal Gilad Shalit. The corporation instead says he has been “captured”. And Hamas cabinet members picked up by the Israeli army were “detained” rather than “arrested”.

The BBC’s foreign editor, Jon Williams, explains the decision in the BBC editors’ blog:

“Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry value judgments. Our job is to remain objective. By doing so, I hope we allow our audiences on radio and television to make their own assessment of the story. So we try to stick to the facts. Civilians are ‘kidnapped’; Cpl Shalit was ‘captured’. Since troops don’t usually make ‘arrests’, the politicians were ‘detained’. Doubtless some will disagree. But that’s, in essence, the heart of the story.”

To say that Corporal Shalit was merely “captured” is, of course, nonsense. He was abducted while near a kibbutz in the middle of a night in a carefully planned kidnap operation that was worked on for months and cost Hamas considerable money. And he is being held as a hostage by a terrorist group. If this is not a kidnapping, what is?


Separately, last week the BBC announced it would reject a recommendation made by an independent panel set up by the BBC’s board of governors to study charges of bias in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In general, and to the surprise of many, the panel backed the BBC’s reporting, even suggesting it was pro-Israeli. But in one respect it said the BBC should change its editorial policies: to allow the use of the word “terrorism” to describe suicide bomb and other attacks on Israeli civilians. The panel had recommended the use of the word “terrorism” since it “is the most accurate expression for actions which involve violence against randomly selected civilians.”

The panel noted that “If it appears to adopt one policy in covering terrorist attacks in London, or Madrid, the BBC must expect to face questions if it appears to take a different line in Israel.”

But in rejecting this recommendation last week, BBC management argued that to use the word “terrorist,” would “oblige journalists to make ‘the very value judgments’ [about Palestinian terror groups] they are asked to avoid making under the BBC’s editorial guidelines.”

For more on the BBC governors’ report, see “The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?” (May 15, 2006).


Following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit last week, the BBC ran an article on their “award-winning” website focusing on a Palestinian man, Walid al-Houdaly, who claimed that his wife and 18-month old son are being held in an Israeli prison. Separately, BBC correspondents have said Israel is taking an “exceptionally hard line” in refusing to talk about releasing these Palestinian prisoners.

The article, which reads like a propaganda statement for Islamic Jihad, is guilty of omitting some very important facts.

It states that al-Houdaly’s wife “headed a women’s organisation dedicated to providing health services for poor Palestinians.”

In fact, according to Palestinian media reports and pro-Palestinian campaigners for prisoner releases, Walid al-Houdaly’s wife is a member of Islamic Jihad, and was jailed for 10 years for attempting to detonate a car bomb in Jerusalem. These facts are simply omitted from the BBC’s report.


The BBC already obsessively covers Israel. In one bulletin last Friday evening, for example, the BBC devoted the first 21 minutes to bashing Israel (which had killed no one that day), going straight after that to a report on the soccer world cup, leaving no time in the program to mention that British troops had shot dead Afghans that day. Now the BBC has announced it will add yet another member to their news team to “expose Israel.” The BBC says it will “appoint a dedicated West Bank reporter to complement its existing correspondent in Gaza.” (In fact the BBC already employs several reporters in and around Gaza. Amazingly none bothered to tell us about the only civilian Palestinian casualties last week – two Palestinians, including a one year old girl, were killed and another seven, including a baby, wounded when Hamas accidentally exploded a grenade in Khan Yunis last Wednesday.)

As Melanie Phillips, a longtime subscriber to this list, notes on her website: “If you think the BBC is already hopelessly biased against Israel, you ain’t seen nothing yet… A news organisation which already views the Middle East impasse through a distorting lens of poisonous prejudice against Israel; which routinely decontextualises Israeli defensive military actions by failing to report the scale and ferocity of the Palestinian attacks that provoke it (witness the largely unreported barrage of rockets still being fired daily from Gaza at Sderot); which jumps to the worst possible conclusions about Israel’s behaviour while uncritically regurgitating the lies and propaganda of the Palestinians (see the Gaza beach scandal), is now to have another correspondent based in a closed society where lies are routinely told in a language western journalists don’t understand, and where reporters face threats ranging from a withdrawal of information to violence against themselves if they try to tell the truth.”


To “strengthen” the BBC’s reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the corporation has “enhanced” the role of its biased Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Bowen is to be given a larger role “in helping to formulate the BBC’s overall coverage strategy.” For more on this, please see the second article below.

In 2002 Bowen described the biblical account of Moses and the Exodus as a “fanciful tale... the stuff of fairy tales.” In the same documentary Bowen questioned “the religious justification for the State of Israel” as simply a matter of faith.

For more on this, see the dispatch Hatred in the air: The BBC, Israel and anti-Semitism (Aug. 20, 2003).


To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor site at Osirak, the BBC is still unsure if it was a good move that Israel prevented Saddam Hussein from gaining nuclear weapons.

The BBC have invited viewers to “have your say” on whether Israel’s “destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor” was “justified.”

As noted on this list/website, even the Saudi government has recently welcomed the destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor. For more, see Iranian regime swoops on universities to crush dissent, cracks down on blogs (April 11, 2006).


Michael Gove, a British Conservative MP and columnist for the London Times, and Mark Dooley, a columnist for the Sunday Independent, have written a damning verdict on the recent BBC governors’ report to determine whether the BBC is biased in its reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In their piece for the monthly magazine “Prospect” (attached below), Gove and Dooley note the importance of the BBC since “its guaranteed public funding gives it a dominant position in British broadcast journalism,” “but also because the historic achievements of the World Service have won the organisation the trust of millions.”

“Any truly objective assessment of the BBC could never conclude that its coverage of the middle east conflict is ‘fair, accurate and impartial,’ let alone that it is biased in favour of Israel,” they write.


The report argued that the BBC gives greater coverage to Israeli deaths than Palestinian deaths. Gove and Dooley explain this is “because the savage tactics of the Palestinian suicide squads are aimed directly at Israeli civilians. This means that even the BBC can’t choose to ignore them.”

Gove and Dooley assert that “the reason the Thomas Report fails is because it draws its conclusions by ‘counting minutes of airtime.’” They quote the Irish commentator Eoghan Harris who once wrote that a “culture of political bias cannot be countered by counting minutes of airtime. It is not susceptible to internal change because it is the ambient air that broadcasters breathe.”

Their article concludes that “The only way this bias that affects the BBC can be tackled is through genuine openness rather than inquiries run by people who share the same perspective. That means an honest public acknowledgement of what so many in the BBC will freely, privately, confess. A soft left worldview influences too much of what the corporation produces.”

Michael Gove is a longtime subscriber to this email list.


The BBC is planning to rebrand all its domestic news outlets, including its “News 24 channel,” under the BBC News name. The move is an attempt to create a uniform brand across all the corporation’s output on TV, radio and online.

The commercial arm of the BBC is to expand its international activities. The corporation believes it can boost its profits by selling British television, magazines and new media to the world.

The new channels will be in English, but the BBC is also exploring further foreign language channels, in addition to the World Service’s planned Arab news service.

The BBC says it will seek to expand its influence to countries such as the United States, India, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and if it can overcome draconian regulations, China.

For more on BBC rebranding and its international expansion, please see the final two articles below.


BBC Worldwide announced last week that it has enjoyed a second consecutive year of record profitability, with pre-tax profit up 62% to £89.4m (approx. $165m). The corporation’s commercial arm’s improved profitability was helped by an 11% increase in revenues, to £784.4m (approx. $1,500m), for the 12 months to March 31.


BBC news staff have said that the newspapers which they most like to read for news and inspiration, are The Independent (the newspaper of Robert Fisk) and The Guardian. The Israeli media reported that during Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent trip to London, the editor of The Guardian refused to meet with Olmert. So much for open-mindedness.

And here is an example of how Independent readers think, in this case a letter from Dr. Jenny Tonge, the former British MP for the Liberal Democrat party and now a member of the House of Lords, blaming Israel for terrorism in Iraq:

Roots of suicide bombing in Iraq
The Independent
June 8, 2006

Sir: It should come as no surprise to anyone that suicide bombers in Iraq are Palestinians (“Iraq: the face of the enemy”, 7 June). Israel’s security wall is forcing them to export themselves to another arena to fight in this ridiculous “war” against terrorism being waged by the donkeys who lead us in the West.

The injustices to Palestinians, following the creation of the state of Israel and the subsequent brutal occupation by that country lies at the very roots of the causes of terrorism and the ideology of Osama bin Laden. In desperate attempts not to be accused of anti-Semitism, our leaders refuse to accept this and carry on supporting the USA and its military base in the Middle East called Israel.

If someone in power does not do something to restore Palestine, even if only to acknowledge that Israel must withdraw to the pre 1967 borders, and allow the Palestinians to form a viable country, we shall have no peace.


(The Guardian has described Dr Tonge as “a veteran community doctor” and “a pragmatic liberal.” For more on Tonge, see For and against: the British MP who would be a suicide bomber (Jan. 26, 2004).)

I attach four articles below.

-- Tom Gross



Bias at the Beeb
The BBC’s coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is riddled with bias
By Michael Gove & Mark Dooley
Prospect Magazine
June 2006

The BBC enjoys a privileged position in our cultural life. It is paid for by a compulsory flat-rate tax on all television users. It enjoys a near monopoly over public service broadcasting. And yet it escapes rigorous scrutiny. Its governors and senior management are appointed without any of the open external oversight one might expect for individuals who spend billions of public money and dictate the shape of our cultural landscape.

It matters enormously what the BBC says, not only because its guaranteed public funding gives it a dominant position in British broadcast journalism, but also because the historic achievements of the World Service have won the organisation the trust of millions. And of all the issues which the BBC covers, few matter more than its approach to the politics of the middle east. The conflict which has blighted the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians is much more than a territorial struggle between two peoples: it is the front line of a broader ideological conflict between Islamism and the west. For any institution or individual covering this conflict, it is vital that a commitment to objectivity or balance does not descend into a posture of moral equivalence in which democrats who practice self-defence are placed on the same plane, or even judged more harshly, than combatants who set out to kill indiscriminately in the service of a totalitarian ideology.

The BBC seemed to appreciate the need to take particular care in reporting on the middle east when it recently appointed its own panel to examine recent coverage of the conflict. In the aftermath of the Gilligan affair, there was a growing sense of disquiet that our principal broadcaster was too willing to put the west in the dock, and unduly inclined to favour a casual, leftish, anti-American, anti-Israeli agenda.

But the report which was eventually published, drawn up by Quentin Thomas, the civil servant who masterminded the Northern Ireland peace process, draws four remarkable conclusions. First, it states that “apart from individual lapses, sometime of tone, language or attitude, there was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias; on the contrary there was evidence… of a commitment to be fair, accurate and impartial.” Second, it maintains that, “one side is wholly under the occupation of the other and, however reluctantly, necessarily endures the indignities of dependence.” Third, the report asserts, “that Israeli fatalities generally receive greater coverage than Palestinian fatalities,” thereby proving a “disparity in favour” of Israel at the BBC. And lastly, Thomas believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be distilled into “two rival narratives.”

Any truly objective assessment of the BBC could never conclude that its coverage of the middle east conflict is “fair, accurate and impartial,” let alone that it is biased in favour of Israel. Take, for example, the BBC’s coverage of the late Yasser Arafat. In one profile broadcast in 2002, he was lauded as an “icon” and a “hero,” but no mention was made of his terror squads, corruption, or his brutal suppression of dissident Palestinians. Similarly, when Israel assassinated the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, in 2004, one BBC reporter described him as “polite, charming and witty, a deeply religious man.” This despite the fact that under Yassin’s guidance, Hamas murdered hundreds. And what of Orla Guerin’s editorialising? On one occasion, she accused Israel of cynically manipulating “a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes.” The “youngster” was a child suicide bomber.

If the Thomas Report were genuinely independent and objective, it would directly challenge the BBC’s moral equivalence. But instead, it tries to justify it by saying that Israel and Palestine “are not on equal terms,” and that this “asymmetry is most strikingly manifested in the fact of occupation.” “Balance,” it continues, is best achieved “where the parties to a dispute are on equal footing.”

In other words, the BBC can be forgiven for showing bias in favour of the Palestinians, even when they murder innocent civilians, because they can’t match Israel’s “defence and intelligence capability.” They are, according to Thomas, “frequently in the position of challenger,” whereas “the Israelis are necessarily in the position of authority.” Indulging Palestinian terrorists who target innocent Israelis, on the basis that they are “challengers,” is morally reprehensible. It is like saying that al Qaeda is justified in flying civilian planes into buildings because it doesn’t have the defence capability of the US, or that the IRA was justified in blowing up Earl Mountbatten because it couldn’t match the sophistication of British military intelligence. That sort of moral equivalence one expects from George Galloway or Noam Chomsky. It is not, however, what you would expect from an “independent panel.”

Worse still is Thomas’s claim that while “both sides suffer death and injury… in recent years the figures show it has fallen disproportionately on the Palestinians.” He adds that the BBC gives greater coverage to Israeli deaths than Palestinian deaths. Contrary to what Thomas implies, that is not because the BBC is partial towards Israel. Rather, it is because the savage tactics of the Palestinian suicide squads are aimed directly at Israeli civilians. This means that even the BBC can’t choose to ignore them. But unlike Hamas, the Israeli Defence Forces do not target innocent civilians. The majority of Arabs killed are either those murdered by fellow Arabs in internecine disputes, armed militia who have initially fired on the IDF or attacked Israel, or terror ringleaders targeted individually by the IDF. At no point in the conflict has Israel indiscriminately murdered Palestinian civilians. But since 1987, the Palestinians have slaughtered 1,500 Israelis in terror operations.

That is why Thomas’s “independent” panel is wrong to present the conflict in terms of “two rival narratives.” The phrase “rival narratives” implies that there is no objective standard with which to judge the respective experiences of Israelis and Palestinians. So, once again, we are in the realm of moral equivalence when moral clarity is demanded. But if Thomas and the BBC sought such clarity, they would readily admit that, since its creation, Israel wanted peace with its Arab neighbours. The totalitarian regimes that surround it, however, quest longingly for Israel’s extinction. Except for Jordan and Egypt, the rest of the Arab world still refuses to acknowledge Israel’s UN-mandated legitimacy. It is that basic struggle for survival, in the face of virulent and violent antisemitism, that forced Israel to adopt the defensive measures it has throughout its history.

The Irish commentator Eoghan Harris once wrote that a “culture of political bias cannot be countered by counting minutes of airtime. It is not susceptible to internal change because it is the ambient air that broadcasters breathe.” The reason the Thomas Report fails is because it draws its conclusions by “counting minutes of airtime.” And so it finds bizarrely, that because Israel received more “talk time” between August 2005 and January 2006, there is a general “disparity in favour of Israelis” at the BBC. The reason we hear more from Israelis, including critics of the government, than from Palestinians, is because Israel’s democracy makes it easier for all voices, including dissident voices, to be heard, while the PA, even before the Hamas election victory, was a territory in which free media inquiry has been, to put it politely, hampered by the Palestinian leadership.

The only way this bias that affects the BBC can be tackled is through genuine openness rather than inquiries run by people who share the same perspective. That means an honest public acknowledgement of what so many in the BBC will freely, privately, confess. A soft left worldview influences too much of what the corporation produces. We have a right to expect more honesty from the broadcasting service we are being asked to pay for. It is about time we got it.



Bowen Middle East role ‘enhanced’
BBC News
June 19, 2006

The role of BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen is to be “enhanced” as the corporation strengthens its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The move forms part of a plan by BBC managers to address criticisms made in a recent report.

The BBC will also appoint a dedicated West Bank reporter to complement its existing correspondent in Gaza.

But the corporation has rejected the report’s recommendation to install an extra layer of editorial management.

In its response to the report, commissioned by the Board of Governors in October 2005, the BBC said: “We recognise the need to build further on the quality and depth of our journalism.”


Bowen, who was appointed Middle East editor in June 2005, will have a greater role “in helping to formulate the BBC’s overall coverage strategy”.

He will also be asked to explain background and context to big stories more fully on high-profile programmes such as Today and the Ten O’Clock News.

And he will report to the corporation’s news editorial board meetings on previous and forthcoming stories.

The BBC has accepted the report’s recommendation that more should be done to “explain the complexities of the conflict” and tackle the audience’s “high level of incomprehension”.

The BBC News website is to trial a new series, Undercurrent Affairs, to explore the background and context of the long-running conflict.

This will take the form of audio and video “explainers” that may be available to podcast.

In addition, a shorter version of the BBC’s style guide, issued to journalists in 2005, will be published to clarify the use of language and terminology.

‘Value judgements’

But managers have stopped short of adopting the “Guiding Hand” the panel proposed to provide “more secure editorial planning, grip and oversight”.

“BBC News already has in place a firm structure for planning and overseeing our coverage of the conflict,” the corporation said.

An extra layer of management, it said, “could undermine the independence and accountability of BBC editors”.

Managers also questioned the use of the word “terrorism” as defined in the independent report, chaired by British Board of Film Classification president Sir Quentin Thomas.

In the report, “terrorism” was described as “the most accurate expression for actions which involve violence against randomly selected civilians with the intention of causing terror”.

Such a definition, executives argued, “would exclude attacks on soldiers” and oblige journalists to make “the very value judgements” they are asked to avoid making under the BBC’s editorial guidelines.



BBC to create single news brand
By Leigh Holmwood
The Guardian
June 12, 2006,,1794299,00.html

The BBC is looking to rebrand all its domestic news outlets, including its News 24 channel, under the BBC News name.

News 24 and the BBC News website will take the first step towards the change by adopting the same updated maroon and grey colour scheme given to the main BBC1 news bulletins at the beginning of May.

One BBC news source said plans to “tweak” the website had already been signed off with the new look set to go live soon.

It is also thought News 24 will be given a new on-air look within the next few months.

“News 24 will have a rejig to bring it into line [with the rest of BBC news] while the website will also have a little tweak to bring the whole brand together,” the source said.

“The news website used to be called BBC News Online but it is just known as BBC News now. The whole brand will just be known as BBC News.”

In the longer term, the News 24 name is expected to be dropped and the channel retitled BBC News as part of a move to create a uniform brand across all the corporation’s output on TV, radio and online.

The BBC director general, Mark Thompson, is understood to have let slip in a recent meeting with senior managers that News 24 would be renamed BBC News as part of the move to create a uniform brand.

However, it may be more than a year before the change is fully implemented, as BBC News executives work through the practical implications arising from Mr Thompson’s Creative Future plan for the corporation’s output to be available “any time, any place, anywhere” – the so-called “Martini media” strategy.

The BBC’s domestic rolling news channel has been branded News 24 since it launched in November 1997.

News 24 initially attracted criticism for being inferior in quality to the BBC’s established TV news bulletins.

But it has improved markedly in the past few years and won the Royal Television Society news channel of the year award this year, breaking arch rival Sky News’ domination of the category.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “We are looking at branding in general terms, but there is nothing imminent.”



BBC channels £90m profit in pursuit of global domination
By Dan Sabbagh
The Times (of London)
June 29, 2006,,2-2248439,00.html

The BBC’s commercial arm is planning an expansion of its international activities, which could lead to it starting as many as six channels in countries such as the United States and India.

It believes that it can boost last year’s trading profits of £89.4 million by selling British television, magazines and new media to the world, providing a top-up to its £2.9 billion licence-fee income.

John Smith, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, the commercial business, said that there was scope for “five BBC branded channels, in addition to news in any major market” offering a mix of content from the BBC and other British broadcasters.

The idea represents a change of strategy in the BBC’s commercial arm, which has spent the past couple of years restructuring, cutting losses in children’s merchandising, and selling off its books and education businesses to boost profits.

It is likely to generate controversy overseas because, although BBC Worldwide is a free-standing operation, it relies on the BBC brand and use of BBC properties, which have been funded by the licence fee.

The new channels will be funded by advertising and will initially be in English. But the BBC is interested in offering foreign language channels – an echo of the World Service’s planned Arab news service – because, insiders say, “that will help to bring the service closer to the local market”.

The BBC does provide news services internationally, through BBC World, and a patchwork of other channels mostly through joint-ventures. However, the progress of these ventures has been mixed.

It runs a children’s channel in Canada, which is ranked number four among the under-11s in that market, and a food channel across Europe, although this is due for a relaunch with the intention of broadening its appeal.

Its most successful non-news service to date is BBC America, which is available in 45 million homes and transmits entertainment from all British broadcasters, including ITV and Channel 4, ranging from Little Britain to the Benny Hill Show. Footballers’ Wives, which was on ITV, is a cult hit.

The new thinking, however, is to try to develop a portfolio of channels in key markets.

Mr Smith said that he wanted to introduce channels covering general entertainment, pre-school children, lifestyle – meaning “cookery, gardening and car programmes” – and knowledge, offering documentaries and science programmes.

The fifth service would be in high-definition, offering a mix of programming in the crystal-clear format. The BBC is desperate to secure the transmission of a children’s channel in the United States, but Mr Smith said that he “hopes to get something done this year”.

He conceded that it was difficult to secure distribution arrangements in the US, because there was so much choice available in the country. That is likely to leave the BBC looking elsewhere.

Already it is active in India, a country in which the World Service has been operating for 75 years. Last year the corporation, in partnership with Mid Day Multimedia, won seven FM radio licences in cities including Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore.

Mr Smith said that India was “looking interesting” but added that there were “three or four parts of the world where we are putting our focus”.

He named Argentina and Brazil, countries where the BBC has had little presence, but it is also likely to look at Japan and, if it can overcome draconian regulation, China. However, the extra activity is unlikely to help to hold down the level of the licence fee. Last year the BBC’s international channels arm earned £6.9 million on sales of £165.4 million. If that sum was used to reduce the cost of the licence fee it would reduce the annual cost of £126.50 by 28p.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.