The BBC's coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is riddled with biasby Michael Gove / June 25, 2006 / Leave a comment
The BBC enjoys a privileged position in our cultural life. It is paid for by a compulsory flat-rate tax on all television users. It enjoys a near monopoly over public service broadcasting. And yet it escapes rigorous scrutiny. Its governors and senior management are appointed without any of the open external oversight one might expect for individuals who spend billions of public money and dictate the shape of our cultural landscape.
It matters enormously what the BBC says, not only because its guaranteed public funding gives it a dominant position in British broadcast journalism, but also because the historic achievements of the World Service have won the organisation the trust of millions. And of all the issues which the BBC covers, few matter more than its approach to the politics of the middle east. The conflict which has blighted the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians is much more than a territorial struggle between two peoples: it is the front line of a broader ideological conflict between Islamism and the west. For any institution or individual covering this conflict, it is vital that a commitment to objectivity or balance does not descend into a posture of moral equivalence in which democrats who practice self-defence are placed on the same plane, or even judged more harshly, than combatants who set out to kill indiscriminately in the service of a totalitarian ideology.
The BBC seemed to appreciate the need to take particular care in reporting on the middle east when it recently appointed its own panel to examine recent coverage of the conflict. In the aftermath of the Gilligan affair, there was a growing sense of disquiet that our principal broadcaster was too willing to put the west in the dock, and unduly inclined to favour a casual, leftish, anti-American, anti-Israeli agenda.
But the report which was eventually published, drawn up by Quentin Thomas, the civil servant who masterminded the Northern Ireland peace process, draws four remarkable conclusions. First, it states that “apart from individual lapses, sometime of tone, language or attitude, there was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias; on the contrary there was evidence… of a commitment to be fair, accurate and impartial.” Second, it maintains that, “one side is wholly under the occupation of the other and, however reluctantly, necessarily endures the indignities of dependence.” Third, the report asserts, “that Israeli fatalities generally receive greater coverage than…