My 'biased' view of the Biased BBC blog - part five - Israel and Palestine
Over the last week or so I've been writing about the Biased BBC blog, which claims to hold the BBC to account for the biased coverage it broadcasts over the airwaves and online. So far I've looked at why I visit the site in the first place, some of the successes the site has had in altering BBC output, and also several reasons why I dismiss some of the complaints. Earlier this week I started looking at one of the areas of BBC coverage where Biased BBC raises interesting questions of BBC output, the debate (or lack of) over global warming. Today I want to look at an even more contentious area.
The coverage of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is probably the most challenging area the BBC faces in balancing news coverage, and I'm certainly not one of those peope who believes that the BBC gets it spot on in every report on every output medium. It should also be pointed out that a few minutes on Google will turn up plenty of people arguing that the BBC offers a pro-Israeli slant on the news. However, the general consensus of opinion on the Biased BBC blog is that the BBC is blatently and repeatedly biased against Israel in their coverage of the situation.
An independent study commissioned by the old BBC Board of Governors didn't find that to be the case, in fact it slightly erred on the side that the BBC didn't put across fully the disparity between the two sides, and thus was doing a disservice to the Palestinians. Previous to that, the contents of the 2004 Balen Report are not fully known, thanks to the BBC's attempts to prevent it being released into the public domain, but this is thought to be more critical of the coverage in the other direction.
Some commentators on the Biased BBC blog are not arguing that the BBC should take a neutral stance on the issue, they believe the corporation should 'grow a backbone' and stand up for what they say is right. And frequently on the site commentators leave references to the "Pretendistinians", which serves to make their own particualar bias on the issue quite clear.
And some of the claims on the Biased BBC blog are a clear nonsense. In the last few days, following an incident, the Israeli's recalled their ambassador to El Salvador in disgrace. In the comments thread of Biased BBC this was more clear evidence of anti-Israeli reporting by the BBC
"The BBC will scour the earth to sling mud at Israel. When is the last time you have heard any news from El Salvador?"
However, the Biased BBC site has been able to point, over the last few weeks, to a disturbing series of errors, ommissions, or as they see it, systematic anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic bias on the BBC's website. As a "Beedoid apologist", as I've been called a couple of times on the site, it has not been pretty to watch.
Take this version of the "Middle East Crisis" in-depth navigation panel that adorns every story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was live on the BBC News site towards the end of last year.
Now, look carefully at the section in the bottom - "Voices" - which offers "Palestinian viewpoints" and "Lebanese viewpoints". I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure there is another nation in the region that might have some people equally entitled to express their viewpoints on the topic as well.
The case argued by some at Biased BBC is that anti-Israel feeling within the BBC is so virulent and infectious that it manifests itself as broader anti-Semitism.
Take this blunder with the Today programme trying to recruit people for their listener's panel. Look at the form perspective contributors had to fill in.
Now there are six major religious groups recorded in the UK's census. Can you guess which one was missed off the Today programme's list, provoking the ire of the Biased BBC crowd?
Jewish was only added to the list after the BBC was prompted by complaints.
Innocent mistake or not, it seems astonishingly careless to make this kind of error when specifically recruiting a panel where religious preference is going to be a major factor on how some of the most pressing issues of the day are debated, whether it is domestic terrorism, multicultural integration, Iran's nuclear programme, or conflict in the Middle East.
Now, given the choice between explaining things with conspiracy or cock-up, I'd suspect the latter every time. However, this doesn't stop people with an agenda to prove that the BBC is institutionally anti-Semitic being able to seize on these kind of details to try to demonstrate a pattern of behaviour by the corporation.
In the next part of this series of posts I want to go on to look at a very serious incident that took place last month on one of the BBC's blogs, where due to a comprehensive failure of the moderation and complaints procedure, racist anti-Semitic material was left published on the BBC site for 24 hours.