Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review by the BBC Governors - Public Consultation

 by Martin Belam, 14 November 2005

The BBC Governors are currently carrying out a public consultation into the impartiality of the BBC's coverage of issues involving Israel and Palestine. It is one of the most sensitive areas of BBC coverage, and one which generates a legion of comments hostile to BBC coverage from both sides of the conflict on our message boards and via our complaints process.

The review by the Governors has some very interesting terms of reference, and will be looking at a years worth of data analysing the:

  • frequency of stories
  • location of stories
  • types of story covered
  • interviewees/sources
  • context (historical, cause and effect)
  • amount of time devoted to Israelis/Palestinians
  • use of language and terminology
  • use of pictures
  • prominence compared to other Middle East stories
  • other stories on the agenda at the time
  • accessibility/clarity
  • reporting casualties
  • use of headlines

My personal opinion is that online coverage is one of the easiest places to signpost context and in-depth coverage. As stories develop bulletins and rolling news can't necessarily carry in-depth analysis or a full historical exposition or timeline of why events are significant. Online, however, the BBC is always able to signpost ways to in-depth sections like 'Israel and the Palestinians'

Mind you, that in itself can cause problems. The semantics of calling that section 'Israel and the Palestinians' rather than "The Palestinian State and Israel" or "The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government" or "A History of the Intifada" or "Terrorism against Israel" or "Freedom Fighters of Palestine" illustrate just how much the language used in conveying news can offend the sensibilities of either side, or be used to argue that the BBC is acting as a propaganda mouthpiece for one or other.

You can email the review at or write to:

Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review
BBC Governance Unit
Room 211, 35 Marylebone High Street
London, W1U 4AA

The consultation closes on Friday 25th November 2005 at 5pm.

In recent years these kind of reviews have definitely had an impact on staff. One of the most recent reviews to report was about the BBC's coverage of the EU, and as a result Mark Mardell was moved to become the new Europe editor, and in the last couple of weeks the BBC has introduced a new online training course which has to be taken by all journalists to improve their knowledge and understanding of the EU and how to report it.

Keep up to date on my new blog