Every so often I get into an online or telephone discussion with British friends or just folks who hang on the same lists I do about the BBC. I frequently hear from them how the BBC is not biased against Israel. I almost always do a double-take. These are generally intelligent, reasonably open minded, fair minded and often liberal people. They sincerely believe what they are saying.
I will admit any day of the week that I am a news junkie. I spend an inordinate amount of my free time keeping up on the news. I am especially interested in the news from Israel and the Middle East as a whole for a very simple reason: much of my family lives there. Therefore it is very much in my personal interest that whatever will allow Israel to live in peace and security happens. Like most sane people I don't want to bury a family member, someone I grew up with and care about.
The reason the BBC is important is that it was, and for many still is, a highly regarded and trusted source for news. Not for me. Not anymore.
Oh, and just to admit my oh-so-obvious bias again up-front: I am pro-Israel. I am a Zionist. I am, by birth, an Israeli. My father fought in the 1948 War of Independence. My great uncle moved to what is now Israel in 1926. I have very deep roots there and I plan to move there myself at some point. Honest enough for you?
That does not mean I am oblivious to the suffering of Palestinian Arabs who no more want terrorism or war than I do. I have no objection to the BBC or anyone else factually reporting on that suffering. I tend to blame the Palestinian leadership for prolonging their suffering. I know enough about the conflict and Israeli government policy to know that if the Palestinians wanted to live in peace side by side by Israel they could do so.
The idea that the BBC is biased and, at times, outright fabricates stories to support their agenda is nothing new. I am not at all the first to bring up such an idea. Trevor Asserson, a British lawyer, has been asserting just that. His views are seen in an interview titled What Went Wrong at the BBC. Mr. Asserson, along with Lee Kern, is responsible for a site dedicated to BBC bias called BBCwatch.com. Now I do expect some to dismiss these assertions and websites as right-wing propaganda. The fact is that my own viewing, listening, and reading of BBC versus other media from around the world tells me that they are, in fact, quite accurate.
On February 18, 2005 the BBC apologized for a false report claiming an Arab IDF soldier had been jailed for refusing to shoot Muslim children. Such reports are not only false but add fuel to the fire of the intifada. Many studies have shown that long after such apologies and retractions the original stories are still believed. If this was an isolated case it could easily be forgiven. Sadly it is anything but a single error. A March, 2003 BBC film titled Israel's Secret Weapon, dealing with Israel's nuclear weapons program, made the patently false claim that nerve gas was used against the Palestinians. The BBC never apologized for this falsehood, and in the words of the BBC's Richard Sambrook, "...we stand behind the veracity of the film".
Bias can also be seen in choosing which events to cover and which to leave out of a news program. David Margolis, in his piece titled Bad News: Why Israel is Losing the Media War reports how, in 2001, the BBC's Paul Adams was roughed up twice. Once was by Palestinians in Bethlehem; the second time was in Elon Moreh by right-wing Jewish settlers. Both events, in my view, were wrong and worthy of coverage. The BBC chose to include the incident in Elon Moreh in its report but not the incident in Bethlehem. Why? Is there an agenda here?
I could list dozens of additional examples to back up my view that the BBC does, in fact, have an anti-Israel agenda. Would it convince my British friends and correspondents? I doubt it. They've grown up believing in the BBC much as I grew up believing in the New York Times. The difference is that I know the Times has bias. Oh, and for what it's worth, I have given kudos to both the New York Times and the BBC when they have done a good job. It's really a pity that I spend much more time taking both to task.