BBC finally admits bias over pro-Israel commentator

Jonathan Sacerdoti on the BBC (Screenshot)

The BBC has finally admitted that it breached its own impartiality guidelines when it presented a pro-Israel commentator as if he was neutral.

The finding published yesterday by the BBC Trust, the highest level of complaints adjudication at the broadcaster, relates to appearances made by a commentator called Jonathan Sacerdoti during Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Cloud” bombing of Gaza in November 2012.

Sacerdoti was described simply as “director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy,” but has a long and ongoing history of pro-Israel campaigning, including a stint as director of public affairs for the Zionist Federation – a fact which was not made clear to viewers.

Despite previously acknowledging inaccuracy in failing to explain Sacerdoti’s pro-Israel politics to viewers, the BBC has spent over a year denying that this resulted in biased coverage.

With the help of Spinwatch, I initially filed a complaint almost 14 months ago, as did the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. At first BBC News merely said it recognized “more context could have been given.”

When the complaint was escalated, it was acknowledged that this response did not go “far enough in acknowledging the shortcomings,” and the BBC conceded that Sacerdoti’s “partisan associations” were clearly relevant since his contributions were “essentially pro-Israeli.”

But despite admitting that Sacerdoti had been “misleadingly introduced” in a way that “gave no clue as to his orientation and may indeed have contributed to an impression of impartiality,” the Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, still found that no breach of impartiality had occurred.

Serious failings

Steel dismissed the relevance of impartiality clause 4.4.14 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, claiming it was only applicable when producers had assumed an interviewee was neutral, whereas, he said, “Sacerdoti’s viewpoint is well known to program-makers in BBC News.”

However, when the complaint reached the Trust, it emerged that this was not the case, with the Controller of the BBC News Channel asserting to the contrary, that “In fact [the interviewee’s] background was not fully understood by the producer of the interview and therefore not conveyed to the presenter (and consequently the audience) in clear terms.”

This picture of events suggests serious failings on the part of BBC producers and likely contributed to the BBC Trust’s decision to overrule Steel.

The Trust stated that clause 4.4.14 had indeed been breached and the BBC had failed in its responsibility to appropriately signpost the interview so that viewers could properly evaluate Sacerdoti’s contribution for themselves.

“No requirement to balance”

But it also decided “there was no requirement to balance the interviewee’s comments with an accompanying guest holding an alternative viewpoint,” so the impartiality complaint was only partly upheld.

According to the BBC Trust, which eventually agreed that Sacerdoti was indeed “associated with a particular viewpoint,” he himself refuted the suggestion that he was a pro-Israel campaigner.

Instead he described himself as “an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs” and tried to downplay his pro-Israel work, telling the BBC’s Independent Editorial Adviser that he was only “briefly employed part-time and as a freelancer, by the Zionist Federation (for two months).”

Frequent appearances

Given that Sacerdoti appeared as a representative of the Zionist Federation on BBC Big Questions in November 2009, then on Sky News in June 2010 and, on the BBC again in September 2010, according to its own blog, it appears that he was in fact doing media work for the Zionist Federation for a period of at least 11 months.

Sacerdoti was emailed via the contact form on his website but did not respond to questions. However, he previously told The Jewish Chronicle newspaper that he felt his comments were “in keeping with the requirements of due impartiality.”

While the ruling is centrally a damning indictment of journalistic standards in the BBC news room, Sacerdoti – who tried to remove evidence of his pro-Israel connections from the internet – does not come off well either.


It is also important to point out that despite finally admitting it was wrong, the ruling should not be taken as legitimizing the BBC’s policy on the use of “experts,” nor its complaints procedure or problematic mechanisms of self-regulation.

The process leading up to the decision was lengthy, time-consuming and frequently exasperating; at every stage, the BBC appeared unwilling to investigate properly.

While it is important to try to hold the mainstream media to account, this is no cause for optimism about the trust we should place in the BBC’s capacity to report fairly on the Middle East.




How long does the British tax payer have to put up and pay for this shit?

Surely Israel has more than enough funding from Northern America to carry out its will without worry from the UN or anyone else.


Very well written article and useful hyperlinks. Good, yet sad news that BBC is so entrenched in zionist bias. Any idea if the petition on calling for the BBC Trust to "Hold a Public Inquiry into Pro-Israeli Bias" is to be seriously submitted?


"it also decided “there was no requirement to balance the interviewee’s comments with an accompanying guest holding an alternative viewpoint,”

There are plenty of occasions, many of which you have reported on, in which the BBC has argued exactly the opposite. I'm surprised you didn't point this out.


This is disgusting my tax money used to cover up lies
I'm starting to think is the bbc linked to Zionism

ISREAL has been killing innocent Jewish Christian MUSLIMS since the creation of the illegal state
How could u do this to us bbc

ISREAL must be punished for its crime
And bbc is helping ISREAL cover the truth
ISREAL kills kids men women
ISREAL rapes women and girls
ISREAL make ppl homeless
ISREAL bombs innocent
ISREAL is terrorist state SO IS
Freedom to palastine


Thank you Hilary Aked, thank you electronic intifada for pressering the 5th power in state to admitting it's abuse!

My reading the issue is that the commentator "Jonathan Sacerdoti" and some other have been used/instrumented to pass a public deceiving strategy which is compatible with the policies of the British Government.

Today the BBC as a broadcaster admits only under pressure his abuse disregard of code of ethics & responsibility towards the English public.


I have long considered the BBC incapable of delivering an acceptable standard of news services. Frequently detail light and sloppy, it would almost be preferable if they didn't do tv news.


Greg Philo of the Glasgow media group studies Zionism in British media
Recently, Greg Philo of Glasgow University Media Unit complained on these pages that having pored over 4,000 lines of text from main UK broadcast bulletins during the 2008/9 Gaza war, not enough was said about Palestinians killed by Israel prior to the events being reported. Nothing could better illustrate the media obsession with Israel than the presence of such quantities of material for Philo to wade through. It is highly doubtful that 4,000 lines of text from main UK broadcast bulletins exist in relation to the closing weeks of the Sri Lanka war, also in 2009, in which up to 40 times more civilians died than in Gaza.

Seumas Milne writes that in Britain "a Mélenchon or Bradford-style platform could not of course make up a winning national strategy" (George Galloway and Jean-Luc Mélenchon expose a huge political gap, 4 April). Yet he also notes that withdrawal from Afghanistan is supported by 70% of the entire country.
When we suggested a wealth tax to raise £800bn out of the £4tn held by the richest in our society, to stop the cuts, we found very strong support with a YouGov poll showing 73% in favour. The problem is not the potential support, but the fact that most people are not offered such alternatives either in mainstream media or by the main political parties.
The BBC should be featuring alternative views, but its news programmes are largely a parade of vested interests. We analysed interviews on the BBC's Today programme in the period in which UK banks were part nationalised and found that 81% of the interviewees were either, "City sources", "free market economists" or "business representatives". The limiting of the range of alternatives impacts on public understanding of what is possible. Greg Philo


This will be also helpful to understanding where the BBC is coming from. It should be sent to every BBC licence-holder or be made available from the website of the BBC.


Curious how BBC has gotten it's pro Israel stance, Will this organization ever televise a program about The Stern Gang & Irgun terrorist groups murdering, assassinating sabotaging, extorting and kidnapping British soldiers, diplomats ,police and civilians both Arab & Jew if they got in the way of their agenda in the 1930's & 40's?
Skeleton in the closet eh?


I never thought the BBC would show pro-Israeli bias. Now, its just like the US media. During the Iraq War, they called it the US led war against Iraq. The US media called it "Operation Iraqi Freedom". BBC reported Orthodox Jews in Israel go to Orthodox Jewish schools and learn nothing except the Torah, the US media only talked about madrasas where nothing but Islam and terrorism are taught.


...are obviously spreading their nets. It is extraordinary that the BBC is party to such deceit and lies, thereby lowering their standards and losing our respect.

Hilary Aked

Hilary Aked's picture

Hilary Aked (@hilary_aked) is a London-based freelance writer and researcher, an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a PhD student at the University of Bath researching the pro-Israel lobby in the UK. They also write for Spinwatch, Ceasefire, OpenDemocracy and Huffington Post.