Independent review of BBC Middle East reporting
I noticed an interesting little story on BBC news earlier today.
The BBC fails to always give a "full and fair account" of the Israeli Palestinian conflict but is not deliberately biased, a report has said.
The BBC governors asked an independent panel to scrutinise its output. …
Although this story gives very little information about what the report said, it did provide a link to the report.
The report pretty much confirms what I had thought about BBC coverage of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. That is, they are not purposefully biased in their coverage, but disparities in the everyday realities in Israel and Palestine and the failure of the BBC to correct for this mean that there is a bias in favour of Israel.
The report had four major recommendations. The first was that the BBC should provide a fuller account including context and history. The second was that they should have a 'Guiding Hand' (a strong editorial figure in charge of making sure the coverage is unbiased, consistent, coherent, etc.) Thirdly, they should use language more consistently (in particular, they should not avoid the use of the term 'terrorism'). Fourthly, the BBC should make sure to make purposive and not merely reactive efforts to explain the conflict.
Some bits that caught my attention from the report.
The first is a pre–emptive one, I know that someone would say this at some point, so I'm getting my reply to it out of the way from the outset.
It is clearly not enough to say that, as there are complaints from both sides, the BBC is presumably getting its coverage about right. This kind of complacency would not be acceptable and the Panel has not found it among BBC journalists or management.
To illustrate the point about how coverage can be biased without being purposefully biased:
There is an asymmetry of power between the two sides and this is reflected in a number of ways which impact on the journalistic enterprise. It is easier to gain access to Israeli spokespeople, and the Israeli authorities may be in a position to grant or deny permits to access Palestinian areas and spokespeople
In recent years, many more Palestinians have been killed but usually in circumstances which are less dramatic and give rise to less striking images. Moreover, leaving aside death and injury, much of the Palestinian suffering arises from the situation of displacement and occupation, which does not generally lend itself to the newsworthy event. Given this symmetry, providing a fair account of relative suffering is itself a challenge. Moreover, while the suffering is real and it is important that an account is given of it, graphic pictures on screen can produce a strong emotive reaction which can be seen as evidence of bias unless an even–handed approach is clear.
the BBC [is] committed, as our terms of reference make clear, to fairness, impartiality and balance. (While fairness and impartiality are legal requirements, balance is a concept adopted by the BBC in seeking to give effect to them.) These objectives, especially balance, work most naturally where the parties to a dispute are on an equal footing. Indeed, without care, a formulaic application of these doctrines, and in particular that of balance, to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict could produce coverage which misleads from the outset.