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(Hatem Omar / Maan Images)

BBC Trust admits problems with reports on Palestine solidarity protest against Israeli theater in London

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Palestine solidarity demonstrators outside the Globe Theatre in London as Israel’s Habima performed inside.

(Asa Winstanley / The Electronic Intifada)

Palestine solidarity campaigners have welcomed a ruling by the BBC Trust, the broadcaster’s governing body, that news bulletin had breached accuracy guidelines in reports on protests at a performance by Israel’s Habima theater company in London last May.

“Having initially denied the breach, the BBC backed down following a six month campaign by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK), and this week released its new ruling. In its finding, the Trust said the relevant news bulletins had not been presented in ‘clear, precise language,’” the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said in a press release.

“We welcome the BBC Trust’s admission that these news bulletins were inaccurate in the information they gave to the BBC’s audience and should have been scripted more carefully,” PSC’s Amena Saleem said.

Protestors viewed BBC reports slurring them as “anti-Semitic”

During the controversial 28 May performance at London’s Globe Theatre, protestors, some silently carrying banners and flags, were manhandled and forcefully removed, as video showed.

On 29 May, a bulletin during BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today program stated:

One man was arrested when protestors tried to disrupt a performance by Israel’s Habima theatre company in London last night. About twenty people unfurled banners and displayed a Palestinian flag during a performance of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at the Globe Theatre. The Habima company has been criticised for performing for Jewish audiences in the Occupied Territories.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the BBC to complain that “the wording was offensive to the anti-racist campaigners who campaign on behalf of Palestinian human rights, as it implied that the protest was about race and could constitute a slur of anti-Semitism.”

After a lengthy complaints process, the BBC Trust ruling [PDF] “upheld a breach of the Accuracy Guidelines with regard to the omission of a clear and precise explanation that the criticisms were about performances in settlements regarded as illegal.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) notes in its press release, however, that the BBC Trust:

rejected PSC’s claim that the news bulletins had also breached the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality by making a ‘provocative reference to race and religion’ when this was irrelevant to the protest.

“We do not believe any reasonable explanation has been provided for this decision,” Saleem said.

Saleem has written several well-documented critiques of the BBC’s misreporting on Palestine for The Electronic Intifada, including most recently on gross distortions in the BBC’s coverage of the recent Israeli attack on Gaza.

Separately, BBC Newsround, a program aimed at children, apologized to CAABU, The Council for Arab-British Understanding, after the group submitted a complaint highlighting severe factual inaccuracies in a video report broadcast on 21 November during the assault on Gaza.

Comments

Says the BBC Trust Committee (btw: buried in the linked PDF paper and the topic or "anti-Semitism" not identified in the index): "In the view of the Committee the Today programme audience was generally knowledgeable about the Middle East." (p.28 of the linked PDF) and "given the likely knowledge of Today listeners" (p. 29). Well, BBC, where would the public got that knowledge from? From the Today programme? Are you saying that accuracy doesn't matter, because your listeners can think by themselves can translate it into a correct report? Circular reasoning: we don't have to be clear because our listeners can make it clear to themselves. (Next time defence: Now stop insulting our listeners. They are so smart, they don't even need the Today programme).

This is their escape logic with regard to the complaint about BBC's Impartiality and Fairness. On air was said "[because Habima played] to Jewish audiences in the Occupied Territories". Since the essential "Occupied Territories" was mentioned, it was not about "Jewish audiences" sec. (Probably *that* would be deemed anti-Semitic by BBC then?). A hindsight construction.

This is my conclusion. BBC, you introduced the word "Jewish" in the report yourself, there was absolutely no reason or background to do so. That is the smear of anti-semitism.