Friday, May 12, 2006

IS THE POPE JEWISH?

Nice piece in yesterday's Times from the UPI's Martin Walker - "The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?":
The official report for the governors of the BBC on its coverage of the Palestine-Israeli conflict found predictably that there was “was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias” but then went on to list a series of measurements by which the BBC could be said to be biased in favour of Israel.

This produced mocking guffaws in my own newsroom, where some of the BBC’s greatest hits — or perhaps misses — remain fresh in the memory. There was the hagiographic send-off for Yassir Arafat by a BBC reporter with tears in her eyes and that half-hour profile of Arafat in 2002 which called him a “hero” and “an icon” and concluded that the corrupt old brute was “the stuff of legends”.

There was Orla Guerin’s unforgettably inventive spin on the story of a Palestinian child being deployed as a suicide bomber, which most journalists saw as a sickening example of child abuse in the pursuit of terrorism. Guerin had it as “Israel’s cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes”.

...

There was the extraordinarily naive coverage of the London visit of Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, the predominant imam of Mecca, to open London’s largest new mosque. He was described as a widely respected religious figure who works for “community cohesion”, and a video on the BBC website was captioned “The BBC’s Mark Easton: ‘Events like today offer grounds for optimism’.”

The BBC must have missed his sermon of February 1, 2004, that said “the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels . . . calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers . . . the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs . . . These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil, and corruption . . .”
I must admit, I'd forgotten about the latter example of BBC cluelessness.

As Walker says, these are isolated incidents, but his analysis of how the BBC report came to the conclusions it did is worth reading, for things aren't quite as simple as the initial coverage of this story made out.

Perhaps surprisingly, at the end of the piece Walker actually speaks of the BBC with a hint of admiration. On the report's conclusion that the BBC ought to use the T-word to describe terrorist acts:
[T]he report goes on to say: “While those immediately responsible for the actions might be described as terrorists, the BBC is right to avoid so labelling organisations, except in attributed remarks.”

So think of the poor hack on deadline in a flak jacket trying to remember whether to say some crazed Jihadist killer was “a terrorist from Hamas” rather than “a Hamas terrorist” while squeezing more historical background and more Palestinian talk-time into the news report.It’s amazing that the coverage is as decent as it is, and that most of us in the business concede privately that, for all its flaws, the BBC still does a better job that any other news organisation on Earth.
I think that's what annoys people - we expect more from the BBC than we do from commercial news outlets. And so we should - we're paying for it.

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