That followed complaints over the years, many from supporters of Israel, that the BBC’s coverage in particular was often skewed in favor of the Palestinians.
The authors conclude that broadcasters generally accept the Israeli explanation that the attack on Gaza was a response to Palestinian rockets fired on Israeli towns, while giving little emphasis to the Palestinian contention that Israelis violated a nearly five-month-old ceasefire and to the long Israeli blockade of Gaza. “The story was unpacked in the manner of the Israeli view,” they write.
They also state that the BBC, which has long prided itself on a record of impartiality, gave 421.5 lines of text to Israeli explanations, just 14.25 lines to references to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories and 10.5 lines to the Israeli blockade.
They noted that, while Israeli spokesmen were readily available for media comment, it was less easy for reporters to reach spokesmen in Gaza—yet articulate Palestinian sources in Britain were rarely called on. A BBC source is quoted as telling the authors: “The Israeli ambassador was practically camped at TV Centre.”
The authors spoke to a number of focus groups representing educated citizens to gauge their knowledge of the history of the conflict, and found that many were largely unaware of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, with some people believing the Palestinians are the occupiers. Few of the respondents knew that the Hamas government in Gaza was democratically elected in January 2006.
Writing in the Guardian on Monday, Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC correspondent in the Middle East, hailed the findings of the new book and lambasted his former employers’ “continuing inability to describe in a just and contextualized way the conflict between military occupier and militarily occupied. There is no attempt to properly convey cause and effect. . .”
In response, the BBC issued a statement to the Guardian defending its impartiality, objectivity and accuracy. It also noted that, while Mr. Llewellyn was a former BBC correspondent, he also was active for a period with the Council for Arab-British Understanding.
One of Mr. Llewellyn’s complaints concerned the difficulty of getting responses from the BBC to criticism of its coverage, saying the process involves “an obstacle course of form-filling and stonewalling.”
In a separate article, the Guardian said it had learned through a freedom-of-information request that the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, spent nearly £700,000 between January 2007 and March 2011 on advice from external lawyers regarding complaints about its coverage—and the Israel-Palestine conflict was believed to account for the largest share of that.
Lord Patten, recently named as chairman of the BBC Trust, said on taking office he wanted to reform the complaints procedure, making it “quicker, simpler and more transparent.”
The Guardian article pointed out that complaints do not always come from those sympathetic to the Palestinian viewpoint. A large number resulted from a 2007 BBC online article by Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, in which he referred to “Zionism’s innate instinct to push out the frontier,” and to a 2008 radio broadcast in which he portrayed Jewish settlers of Har Homa as despoiling land he implied belonged to Palestinians.
The BBC executive board rejected these complaints, but a panel chaired by a former ITV director of programs ruled that Bowen had breached certain accuracy and impartiality guidelines.
(Ray Moseley is a London-based former chief European correspondent of the Chicago Tribune and has worked extensively in the Middle East. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)