Don't boycott the BBC

There's no doubt it has an ingrained anti-Israel bias. The question is what to do about it.

lebanon woman 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
lebanon woman 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Switch on the BBC News and, other than the fact that it is in English, you might think that you had tuned in by mistake to al-Manar, Hizbullah's own TV station. The BBC almost always ignores any case Israel might have for taking action against terrorism and concentrates on what it calls, relentlessly, Israel's "disproportionate response" in Lebanon. Israeli spokesmen and women are interviewed, but are quizzed as if they are propagandists for war crimes. So it's understandable that there have been calls for Israeli officials and politicians to boycott the BBC. Understandable, but wrong. The basis of the MFA's complaint is entirely correct. When Col. (res.) Miri Eisen, (soon to be Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman) called the BBC "the only international English-speaking news outlet that is downright hostile to Israel on every level" she was spot on. One could fill this entire newspaper with examples of the blatant bias, the sloppy reporting, the mischievous "context" which the BBC gives to events and the sheer Hizbullah propaganda which the organization churns out. Suffice it for now, however, to give two pertinent examples. A BBC reporter in Israel, Nick Thorpe, had this say last month: "The Kassams mostly needle the Israelis, like pinpricks in the ankles of a giant, taunting him to stamp back with his big, US-issue army boots. The Katyushas are like poisoned arrows. They drive him mad." Ignore the factual errors (the boots are Israeli-made). The sheer, dripping, contemptuous hatred pours forth from every syllable. Then there's the now infamous Sunday AM, which the BBC calls its "most prestigious" political program. In the last edition of the summer, it invited four guests on to discuss Israeli action: a Member of the European Parliament, Glenys Kinnock, who is well known for her campaigning against Israeli policy; a journalist, Matthew Parris, who had written days before his appearance that "the past 40 years" - presumably of Israeli policies since 1967 - have been a catastrophe "for world Jewry"; the Lebanese minister, Nayla Mouawad; and the pathologically anti-Israel leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, Sir Menzies Campbell. The BBC did not consider it necessary to invite anyone who might mention that there might be a legitimate reason for Israel to defend its citizens from terror. ALL IN ALL, it's a strange interpretation of the BBC's governing charter's requirement of balance. There's no doubt that the BBC has an ingrained anti-Israel bias. The question is what to do about it. It's important to be realistic. Like it or not, the BBC is one of world's biggest sources of news. Its programs, via the World Service on radio and BBC World on TV are heard across the planet. But the idea that the BBC's bias would change if it was denied access to press conferences and Israeli officials is risible. The BBC's bias is the result of a pervasive contemporary left-liberal mindset, which holds that Israel is at best a bully and at worst illegitimate as a nation. Indeed, far from altering the BBC's behavior, quite the opposite would happen. The BBC would then have no choice but to be biased, at least in the guests it chose to interview. Take the program I mentioned above. Imagine if a boycott was already in place when it was broadcast. The BBC would have had a perfect alibi for its bias: Israel refused to provide a spokesman. BOYCOTTS DO not work against organizations such as the BBC, whose existence and funding are guaranteed by British law and which are driven by a conviction in their inherent superiority. We know this from the MFA's boycott in 2003. Did it make any difference? It made the problem worse, by removing any official Israeli viewpoint from the BBC's airwaves. It ended only when the BBC set up a committee to look into the bias. To the surprise of no one in the UK who knows how the BBC whitewashes its behavior, the committee gave its coverage of the Middle East a clean bill of health. A leaked internal BBC document which I was sent by an employee ashamed of its reporting shows that the BBC still believes that its coverage is perfect. Its Global News Editorial Forum (dated 7th August) says this: "[O]ur coverage stands out from our competitors because we continually give context." The "context" that the BBC gives, of course, is that Israel is the aggressor fighting disproportionately against Lebanon. It carries on: "The lowering of the Qana death toll last week was a reminder of the need always to attribute fatality figures. We were right to report the revised figure..." That last sentence shows the warping of editorial values at the heart of the bias - as if there was any choice to be made in continuing to use an entirely inaccurate Hizbullah figure, or to start using the actual number of deaths. Remove what little exposure is given to Israel's case, through interviews - however hostile they may be - with such excellent spokesmen as Mark Regev, and the chances of the BBC's viewers understanding the case for Israel's actions would be all but removed. The writer is a columnist with The Times of London.