CAMERA video fights back against BBC silence

C'tee for accurate reporting provides extensive refutation of 2010 program which accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" Palestinians.

By JORDANA HORN
April 6, 2011 17:45
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NEW YORK – In a new video expose posted online late last week, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) provides an extensive refutation of the reporting in a controversial 2010 BBC program on Jerusalem, as well as the BBC’s reporting ethics.

The BBC program at issue, entitled “A Walk in the Park,” was filmed at the end of 2009 and aired in January of 2010 on BBC channel Panorama. The program drew criticism from viewers, who brought it to CAMERA’s attention, for what seemed to be a dramatic lack of even-handedness. The program put forward that Israelis are engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, that there is no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, and that violence in Jerusalem is exclusively at the hands of Israelis, among other allegations.

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CAMERA filed a complaint with the BBC over the lack of impartiality in the program, which went through numerous appeals over the course of 2010 until reaching the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee. The committee ruled that there had been no violation of the BBC’s Editorial Standards in “A Walk in the Park.”

A previous, similar appeal on a segment by Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen several years ago, researchers at CAMERA recounted, was addressed with good faith, as experts from both sides of the political spectrum were brought in as consultants and ruled that the Bowen report was not impartial and was inaccurate in certain respects.

With the ruling on the Bowen case, which led to public BBC rebuke, CAMERA senior research analyst Gilead Ini told The Jerusalem Post, the BBC “did get some push-back from the anti-Israel elite in the UK, including Robert Fisk, a prominent anti-Israel journalist who didn’t like that the BBC admitted to problems in [the Bowen] report.”





The BBC appeal on "A Walk In The Park" was decided in December 2010, with its ruling being made public in January 2011. According to BBC documents, the appeals committee found that there were no violations whatsoever of the BBC's guidelines on accuracy or impartiality.

These findings applied to all of CAMERA's complaints as to the subjects of home demolitions, charges of ethnic cleansing, discrepancies in awards of building permits, takeovers of homes in East Jerusalem, concerns over Israeli archaeology and Israeli/Arab violence in Jerusalem.

For example, in the Panorama segment, a man's allegation that Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing is met without comment or questioning from the program's host, which CAMERA deemed poor journalism. To this claim, the BBC appeal committee responded in its papers, "The context in which “ethnic cleansing” is referred to is key: This was clearly not an official statement made by a Palestinian politician, but clearly an emotional cry by one man in the midst of a house being demolished ... at no stage did (the reporter) give any sense that Mr Siyam was correct to hold this view."

CAMERA also ventured the complaint that the program did not depict any instances of Arab-on-Israeli violence, rather focusing on settler violence against Palestinians. "The manner in which the programme presented an Arab victim of an Israeli shooting was consistent with the pattern of unquestioningly accepting Palestinian claims while minimising or ignoring Israeli concerns," the CAMERA appeal is cited and summarized in the BBC response.

"While the evidence is in dispute, in that the Israeli shooter claims he was acting in self defence, the entire segment dwelt on emotive interviews with the Arab victim and his son. Their accounts were accepted as fact and no one from the Israeli side was interviewed. The incident was presented as an example of “the suffering” that “both sides” endure but no equivalent example of Israeli suffering was provided. The complainants cited three possible examples, including the 2008 massacre of eight teenagers at a religious seminary." "While the programme focused on only one incident, it was clearly stated that there is growing tension in the area," the BBC appeals committee succinctly replied.

In summarizing its findings, the BBC committee wrote, "Looking at the program overall, the Committee noted that the film had been a report of events at a particular moment in time in the context of a complex and controversial dispute. It noted it would almost always be possible for those with strong feelings and a particular perspective on the dispute to take issue with the detail of any report on this subject. However, the Committee further noted that it was bound to consider the program as the generality of Panorama viewers might have done; it was from this viewpoint that it considered the film, overall, had been duly accurate and impartial." In all likelihood, Ini conjectured, the BBC “wanted to avoid controversy, or thought they would avoid controversy, by refusing to take this [“A Walk In The Park”] complaint seriously.” BBC Editorial Guidelines, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/, are meant to apply to all works produced by the BBC.

“We felt that this [program] was such an obvious example of a violation of the editorial standards and impartiality they claim to uphold, as well as values of accuracy,” CAMERA senior research analyst Ricki Hollander told the Post. “We felt that the public should know about the fact that they completely abandoned their own editorial guidelines.”

In response to the BBC’s findings on “A Walk In The Park,” CAMERA researchers created a 15 minute video expose entitled, “BBC Ethics Unveiled: Lies About Jerusalem, Lies About Guidelines,” currently available on YouTube. The CAMERA video goes through both factual inaccuracies in the program and the BBC’s responses to CAMERA’s inquiries.

“The public needs to understand what is happening here,” Ini said. “The BBC claims to have solid and noble editorial guidelines. If they’re making this claim, but not enforcing them, then they’re just a fig leaf.”

The “BBC Ethics Unveiled” video takes viewers step by step on how the Panorama program views “everything through the lens of Palestinian grievances,” “hectoring Israelis while accepting Arab allegations uncritically and even underscoring them” in the voice of the presenter, Jane Corbin.

Excerpts from the program are shown in the CAMERA video, which also elaborates as to omissions in the video’s recounting of the struggle over Jerusalem. The CAMERA video points out that there is no mention made of either deadly attacks on Jews in Jerusalem, or of any acts of Palestinian incitement. The video highlights particular elements of Corbin’s reporting, noting that, for example, Corbin only examined demolition of homes in the days she was there, as opposed to looking at the larger picture.

“The BBC Trust still has to defend itself, generally, to its constituents,” Hollander said. “We’re hoping that if there is enough reaction to the abandonment of the BBC editorial guidelines in this situation, the BBC trust will take this seriously. If people let them know that this is not acceptable, they will react in the context of future programs.”

“Looking forward, we hope the BBC will understand that violations of their guidelines won’t go unanswered,” Ini said.

"We stand by the Panorama investigation," the BBC said in response to the committee's findings. "The BBC has a long and established reputation for editorial independence and it rejects any accusation that the report was not impartial."

"We also note that neither the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee nor the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit which investigate complaints independently have upheld a complaint from CAMERA," the statement read.

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