Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

What a Difference a Jane Makes - to BBC balance on the Middle East

Regular readers of this blog (it feels good to use that phrase, and I cherish the hope there are a few!) will realise that the BBC is hardly my favourite broadcaster.  While acknowledging that there are many things the BBC does extremely well – after all, it should, since unlike its commercial rivals it has a huge enforced remuneration from licence-payers to finance its efforts – I loathe the BBC's leftist bias for many reasons: its obligation to be impartial, its antipathy towards British traditions, towards Judeo-Christian values, towards western interests, and towards Israel.

Not for a moment do I believe that all Al Beeb's employees share in such antipathy, but it is undoubtedly that ethos which dominates; it can be seen in all its ignominy on the BBC News website, which is run (if a photo that they once posted of themselves is any guide) by 20- and 30- somethings – a fact which I believe informs their view of Israel, for having been born well after 1967, they are imbued with the widespread narrative that Israel is a colonial oppressor and thus help to spread that narrative themselves. 

And let there be no mistaking the fact that Al Beeb has a leftist bias; some of its own presenters and executives have admitted as much.  Thus, Andrew Marr : "The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people.” And Ben Stephenson: "We need to foster peculiarity, idiosyncrasy, stubborn-mindedness, left-of-centre thinking." (hat tip: Biased BBC)

So it was with trepidation that I switched on BBC One's Panorama last evening, to see "Death in the Med", an account of the Mavi Marmara affair presented by Jane Corbin.  Now, I haven't always been unequivocally admiring of her reportage (although, praise providence, she is no Jeremy Bowen), but here she got the tone and coverage absolutely correct.  She'd been given unprecedented access to the elite commando unit which raided the Mavi Marmara, and her reportage – in terms of style, airtime, and content – was meticulously fair to both sides.   I was pleased to see that she included intemperate words from the flotilla leader in her report, as well as an excerpt from a video clip of a participant on board, who said that he was fully prepared to die as a shahid (martyr), and footage of iron bars being fashioned out of fittings on board and Israelis being savagely beaten.  I do not believe that partisans of the Palestinian cause have any grounds for complaint either.  So thank you, Ms Corbin, for an exceptional piece of BBC journalism. 

Sometimes, in BBC reports from the Middle East, it's not so much what they say as the way they say it which betrays their bias against Israel.  As well as being a master of the snide remark, the oh-so-world-weary Jeremy Bowen is well-practised in the sneering vocal tone, in the eyebrow sardonically raised.  Jane Corbin had none of that.  Nor did she use the well-tried BBC device of giving the Israeli viewpoint last or begrudgingly, as in the "Israel says ..." which typically ends BBC reports after the Palestinian position has been highlighted.

I've taken a close look at the website of the BBC College of Journalism (CoJo), which is billed as “a smart way for the BBC to decide whether journalists are suitable – before the vacancies arise”.  I was alarmed by its assertion that "Impartiality is not the same as objectivity, neutrality or balance", but reassured by the excellent training video on that subject by well-known presenter Evan Davis.

Less reassuring is the fact that CoJo has linked to a video interview for the Frontline Club ("Championing Independent Journalism") given by Al Beeb's Jezza to CoJo head Vin Ray.   There's Bowen, proclaiming (yet again) that, following complaints from supporters of Israel, the BBC Trust was "wrong" in  finding him guilty of three inaccuracies and one breach of impartiality in his online article "How 1967 defined the Middle East" and of one inaccuracy in his From Our Own Correspondent report. There he is, adding "It doesn't really worry me" (and we all know that the Trust's rebuke has scarcely made Jezza break his anti-Israel stride).  There he is, admitting that "my emotions are very skin deep" and that "Of course I empathised enormously with the people there [Gaza] - who couldn't?" and describing Gaza as "a big prison camp". And there he is, regretting that he appeared during Cast Lead to be "pulling a few punches" and blaming that on the fact he and other foreign journalists had been prevented from reporting from there by the Israelis. "Had I got into Gaza I would have been much more powerful".  As for (sssssssh, you know who, "I know what they're going to be worked up about", Jezza tells the audience, so he tries "deliberately to spike their guns".

In an interview published in the Independent (11 December 2006) Bowen declared: "It's certainly the case that many Israelis and... many people in the British Jewish community regard us as, if not anti-Israel actively, then certainly pro-Palestinian. Some regard us as being actively anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. ... The difficulty of reporting from the Middle East is that what people really want ... is for you to come down on their side."

Not so.  What people - we, the hard-pressed licence-payers – really want is for the BBC to abide by the terms of its Charter and its Producers' Guidelines.  We want the BBC to exhibit impartiality, to give both sides to a dispute an equal airing, and to display a non-judgmental style in its broadcasts (I suggest Bowen looks at Evan Davis's CoJo video for tips on what this entails).  Jane Corbin managed these things admirably in her Panorama report last evening.  Why, then, is impartiality beyond Bowen and his cohorts?


  1. Here, courtesy of mattpryor, commenting over at the JCBlogs, are links to two reactions on the programme from "the other side" (they seem distinctly unhappy with balance!):


    By contrast, here's the Zionist Federation's reaction:

    We commend the BBC for their presentation of this issue in last night's 'Panorama' and encourage you to write to them to thank them for their fair coverage. You can do so by using this email address:

  2. Somebody gave me this link. The London-based pro-Palestinian US marine who disarmed one of the beaten up commandos aboard the Mavi Marmara (and who was featured in the programme)is not at all impressed with the result.

  3. An excellent posting. Maybe, just maybe, the
    BBC is turning over a new leaf! (Sure!)
    Herbert S.

  4. I'd love to think so, Herbert, but I believe that anything in which Jeremy Bowen is involved is likely to continue to be "bad news" for supporters of truth and fairness. If only the BBC would appoint a Middle East editor of unsullied reputation - the Zionist Federation made the justified point that in light of the BBC Trust's finding against him his position had become "untenable". But the wretch is still there.

    Those growls and howls of protest from the Israel-hating left over Jane Corbin's scrupulously fair and balanced "Death in the Med" Panorama piece continue.
    Obviously, Israel's British foes were expecting a hatchet job on Israel, and Al Beeb's refusal to give them one has them reeling in disbelief!

    I've just been alerted to plans by them for a demo against the BBC:

  5. So now the lefties and Islamists are trying to bully the BBC into disseminating lies.


  6. Indeed.
    I should have made it clear that the originators of the demo - which is set to last for five hours by the seem of it! - are the Muslim Defence League and Ken O'Keefe, the anti-Israel London-domiciled US marine shown on the programme (though obviously not for as long as he thought he would be, having apparently been interviewed at some length by Jane Corbin).

  7. The BBC has issued a statement, as follows, a quite extraordinary development, for it doesn't usually give complainants the time of day, let alone with such alacrity. It musy be worried by the planned demo!:

    Panorama has received a large response to Death in the Med.

    Among the responses were complaints from viewers who felt this programme showed bias in favour of Israel. Some viewers were unhappy about some of the video and audio footage we showed and disputed its sources. Viewers also felt that certain points regarding the flotilla raid were not documented, notably the location of the flotilla at the time of the raid. Complainants also alleged that the programme showed bias against the group in charge of the Mavi Marmara, the IHH and against the Palestinian situation in Gaza and as a whole.

    Panorama's Response:

    We understand the strength of feeling regarding the Israel Defence Force's operation against the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010. We recognise the complexity of the subject and note its ramifications within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole.

    This programme intended to explore the considerable confusion about what actually happened on the Mavi Marmara on the day in question.

    Israel has been accused of breaking international law by seizing a Turkish ship. Israel says they were terrorists. Turkey insists they were innocent victims. With several inquiries underway Jane Corbin uncovered new evidence from both sides in a bid to uncover what really happened.

    Jane Corbin is a world renowned journalist with 20 years experience reporting for 'Panorama' on the on-going conflict in the Middle East. She is respected for her dedicated, impartial and balanced work from both sides of the conflict and approached this subject with the same level of fairness which she is known for.

    We appreciate some viewers were unhappy about the nature of the video and audio footage we showed. We can assure you that a great level of detail was involved in selecting the footage we showed. During the programme we made it clear that a variety of different sources were shown, some from the Israeli Defence Force, some from the IHH and "" and others from individuals who were onboard the Mavi Marmara on the night in question. The majority of the footage used in the programme is openly available on the internet.

    All featured footage was meticulously double and cross checked to verify its accuracy, any footage of uncertain events during the raid were clearly labelled as such.

    Viewers were shown a wide range of opinions and whenever a question of authenticity of footage arose, we made this clear.

    We also spoke extensively to the groups and individuals involved in the incident including three Israeli commandos involved in the raid; the head of the IHH - Bulent Yildirim; the Free Gaza Coordinator onboard the Mavi Marmara - Lubna Masarwa; three Turkish activists and activist Ken O'Keefe, all who were onboard the Mavi Marmara on the night in question. We also spoke to Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef in Gaza. They were all given sufficient time and a platform to make their points.

    The programme made it clear that the flotilla was still in international waters, 90 miles from Gaza. The programme also made it clear that a number of inquiries are ongoing.

    Overall we dismiss claims that this programme showed bias in favour of Israel. The programme's aim was to try to uncover what really happened on the Mavi Marmara. Panorama went to great lengths to give opposing sides the opportunity to air their views and we felt the programme accordingly carried out its analysis in a fair, impartial and balanced manner. We simply allowed viewers to make up their own minds in their own time based on what they saw and heard.

  8. Oh, this is so...terrible. That the BBC can be biased but in Israel's favour. O rrather in favour of the truth.

  9. It is outrageous of the BBC to issue a lengthy explanation to the left-Muslim extremist brigade, when they don't give pro-Israeli protesters the time of day. It shows their management is still as awful as ever. Herbert S.

  10. Thank you, gentlemen.

    Herbert - I so completely agree. I think they've been a bit mealy-mouthed in saying "We understand the strength of feeling ..."
    I wouldn't be surprised if Middle East editor Jezza has a hand in this. Still, it's good they're sticking to their guns. A showdown on Sunday seems still to be in the works.

  11. Ken O'Keefe has posted An Open Letter to Jane Corbin on his blog. Assuming this passage is not wishful thinking, it's rather revealing:

    It is up to you Jane, make no mistake, there are insiders within the BBC who are so disgusted with what you have done, they are making their moves from within the BBC because the benefits of prostituting themselves has finally reached its breaking point.