Report: BBC coverage flawed, not biased

Independent study criticizes failure to describe attacks on Israeli civilians as 'terrorism.'

bbc logo 88 (photo credit: )
bbc logo 88
(photo credit: )
BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is marred by problems of tone, language and attitude but is not deliberately biased, an independent inquiry has found. A 38-page report by an independent panel commissioned by the BBC's governors to "assess whether the BBC's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict meets the required standards of impartiality" found that, apart from "individual lapses," there "was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias" in its reporting. In the report's covering letter, dated April 11, panel chairman Sir Quentin Thomas, president of the British Board of Film Classification, lauded the BBC's "commitment to be fair, accurate and impartial." "There is high quality reporting from location, some outstanding current affairs programs and the Web site provides much valuable historical and other context," he said. However, the BBC's reporting did "not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture." BBC news reporting displayed "gaps in coverage, analysis, context and perspective" as well as a failure to "maintain consistently the BBC's own established editorial standards, including on language" the report, which was made public on May 1, found. In reviewing news coverage from August 1, 2005 to January 31, 2006, the panel noted the BBC gave more "on air" time to Israelis than Palestinians. There was also "insufficient analysis and interpretation of some important events and issues, including shifts in Palestinian society, opinion and politics. There was little reporting of the difficulties faced by the Palestinians in their daily lives. Equally in the months preceding the Palestinian elections there was little hard questioning of their leaders," the report stated. The report criticized the BBC over its inconsistent usage of the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" when reporting from Israel. It noted that the BBC's internal guidelines do not impose "an absolute ban on the expression. Indeed the fact that it was readily used in respect of the tube and bus bombs in London... has added to disquiet in respect of its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where 'militant' is the preferred term." "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," the report concluded. The panel recommended the BBC use the word "terrorism" to describe violent attacks upon civilians that had the intent of causing terror for political or ideological reasons, "whether perpetrated by state or non-state agencies." "It seems clear that placing a bomb on a bus used by civilians intending death or injury in supposed furtherance of a cause is a terrorist act and no other expression conveys so tersely and accurately the elements involved," the panel said. The panel also recommended journalists use greater care in selecting images to illustrate their stories and suggested a senior editor be appointed to oversee BBC reporting on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In preparing its report, the five-member panel held three days of open hearings in January, received more than 800 e-mails and letters and reviewed submissions from 20 organizations, including the Israeli government. A statement issued by BBC news management thanked the panel for having commended the "the quality and authority of our reporting from the Jerusalem bureau." Management conceded, however, that "we can do more to provide greater context and understanding for audiences on the conflict," and noted it was "confident we have the right editorial structures and processes in place to provide high-quality, impartial journalism and to ensure we continue to make progress in developing the authority and comprehensiveness of our output." Michael Grade, the chairman of the BBC's Board of Governors, "asked BBC management to consider the panel's recommendations and respond to us at our June board meeting." In 2003, the board commissioned an impartiality review on coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the Royal Institute for International Affairs. That review concluded, that in broad terms, "BBC coverage was impartial and accurate."