BBC admits pro-Israel bias in interview

BBC Radio 4 Today show presenter Sarah Montague has been criticised for not challenging statements made by the Israel defence minister on Palestine

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Listeners of BBC Radio 4 Today show complained about presenter Sarah Montague not being impartial during an interview with the Israeli defence minister about Palestine. 

BBC admitted that presenter Sarah Montague did not adequately challenge controversial comments made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon about Palestine on Radio 4’s “Today” programme.

According to BBC guidelines and journalistic ethic codes, a journalist has to be fair and unbiased. However Montague was accused of failing to be impartial. 

British director Ken Loach was one of  those who complained to the BBC about presenter Sarah Montague’s reporting on Palestine issue during an interview about the Israeli election in March.

Ken Loach said in his letter “You and your interviewer have seriously betrayed your obligation to report impartially and to challenge assertions that are unsustainable.”

Loach added “You understand, I’m sure, that this interview is a serious breach of the requirement for impartiality. Unlike all other Today interviews, the minister was allowed to speak without challenge. Why?”

In response to all the complaints, BBC head of editorial complaints Fraser Steel released a letter saying: “Mr Ya’alon was allowed to make several controversial statements on those matters without any meaningful challenge and the programme makers have accepted that the interviewer ought to have interrupted him and questioned him on his assertions.”

Fraser also added “the result was that the output fell below the BBC’s standards of impartiality.”

According to BBC’s impartiality rules news in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Sarah Colborne commented on the radio show saying: “Today presenters are known for their ferocious questioning of government ministers, their constant interruptions, their sharp challenges and refusal to brook any nonsense. However, Sarah Montague afforded Moshe Ya’alon the unprecedented privilege of absolute silence to set out the Israeli stall and meekly accepted everything he said.”

Colborne added, “It is inexplicable why she put aside Today’s normal standards of interviewing when faced with an Israeli government minister, and we hope the editorial complaints unit’s finding – that her interview breached the BBC’s impartiality guidelines – will ensure that she is never so accommodating to an Israeli spokesperson again.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign  released a statement concerning the BBC’s Israel -Palestine coverage and said  “BBC News reaches 81% of the UK every week via tv, radio and online articles. That is a huge number of people to be misinforming about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Because misinform is exactly what the BBC does.”

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign also stated that “BBC has a unique responsibility, enshrined in the BBC Charter, to provide news that is balanced, fair and accurate. In the case of its coverage of Palestine and Israel, this is not the case. Audiences are constantly presented with the Israeli perspective on events, while being kept in the dark about Israel’s atrocities committed against the Palestinians.”

It added “Unbalanced reporting from a public broadcaster must be challenged. Well-informed public opinion is vital to the Palestinian cause, and the BBC plays a major role in forming public opinion.”

The BBC has been criticised for its Israel - Palestine coverage many times. An independent review of the BBC’s Israel-Palestine coverage published in 2006 described BBC’s coverage as presenting a “incomplete” and “misleading” picture of the conflict.

Chaired by Sir Quentin Thomas, the report said the BBC failed to “convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation.”