Sunday, April 19, 2009


BBC Israel coverage: Findings of the BBC Trust’s ESC

Attached are decisions by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) in response to complaints made by Jonathan Turner (a ZF member) about the coverage of Israel by Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor. Please respect the BBC’s embargo of 11am on 16 April.

The decisions will be included in the March/April edition of the BBC Trust’s monthly bulletin “Editorial Standards Findings” published at the following address:

1: “How 1967 Defined the Middle East” – BBC Website, 4 June 2007

An article “How 1967 Defined the Middle East” by Jeremy Bowen was posted on the BBC Website on 4 June 2007 (it is still there) :

The ESC found that the article breaches the BBC’s guideline on impartiality.

It found that the article breaches the BBC’s guideline on accuracy in three respects:

· It wrongly says of the settlements that Israel is “in defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own.”

· In the imprecise use of the phrase “unfinished business” in the statement “The Israeli generals, hugely self-confident, mainly sabras (native-born Israeli Jews) in their late 30s and early 40s, had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel's independence war of 1948 for most of their careers”;

· It wrongly refers to Zionism’s “innate instinct to push out the frontier”.

A similar decision in response to a complaint by a representative of the ‘Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’ will be published at the same time.

2: BBC Radio 4 “From Our Own Correspondent” – 12 January 2008

The ESC found that the statement that the Har Homa settlement was considered illegal by the United States breached the BBC’s guideline on accuracy.
The finding that Mr Bowen's article on the Six Day War breaches the guideline on impartiality is particularly significant, since he has written a book about this episode (“Six Days: How the 1967 War Shaped the Middle East”), which he regards as fundamental to understanding the Middle East. Indeed, that book is frequently cited by the BBC as a defence against complaints about Mr Bowen’s reporting, even though it had already given rise to questions about Mr Bowen’s objectivity - in his submission to the BBC, Mr Turner noted that in July 2005, Professor Efraim Karsh (Head of Mediterranean Studies at Kings College, London) described the book as "rife with standard anti-Israel prejudice, namely, the portrayal of Israel as the source of the ME conflict and the whitewashing of Arab-Palestinian rejection of Israel’s legitimacy and decades of relentless violence against the Jewish state.”

Mr Bowen’s position as Middle East Editor of a public service broadcaster is untenable in the light of the ESC’s findings.

Mr Bowen's submissions in the complaints procedure only add to concerns. For example, he said: "if Zionism didn’t have ‘an innate instinct to push out the frontier’ it’s hard to make sense of how the yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) grew from a handful of immigrants on a few patches of land into the powerful and rich regional superpower Israel has become". In fact, the yishuv included, inter alia, a very longstanding Jewish majority of the capital city, Jerusalem. And it is difficult to see why Mr Bowen referred in this connection to Israel being "rich", if not out of prejudice. Israel's economic success in recent years has been largely based on its high-tech industries which cover only a very small area of the country. In contrast Mr Bowen seems to think that Jews can only become rich by taking other people's land.

The BBC Trust took an inordinate length of time to address these complaints. The complaint about the Six Day War article was first made by Mr Turner in June 2007, over 1¾ years ago. The complaint about the Har Homa report was made in January 2008, nearly 1¼ years ago. Even now the BBC Trust has not recommended any remedial action in the light of its findings, despite the fact that Mr Bowen's article has been on the BBC website throughout the investigation period and was advertised for months by a prominent button on the main Middle East News Page.

These delays have allowed Mr Bowen and his colleagues to continue their biased coverage of Israel. The ZF believes this has been a significant contributor to the recent rise in antisemitic incidents in the UK to record levels. The ZF also regrets the BBC Trust’s refusal to consider a more general complaint that Mr Bowen is biased (on the grounds that Mr Turner’s Appeal was 3½ weeks out of time). The ZF calls on the government to bring the BBC under the full regulation of OFCOM, like all other broadcasting media.

The ZF calls on the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee to hold the BBC to account in this matter and in others relating to its coverage of the Middle East, for example its continuing refusal to publish the Balen Report despite a recent Law Lords decision. In the view of the ZF, the Committee also needs to examine in the light of this case whether the BBC’s complaints procedure is fair and meets contemporary standards in public sector governance.

Jonathan Turner can be contacted for further information, at any time on Skype (JonathanDCTurner) or by email ( or

Until 15 April Mr Turner can be contacted on 00 972 54 261 5149 or 020 3286 6624.

From 16 April Mr Turner can be contacted on 020 7831 4445 (office) or 07801 337157 (mobile).

The ZF can be contacted on 020 8343 9756 except on 13thApril, the afternoon of 14th and 15th and 16th (the 7th and 8th days of Passover). However in Israel Passover finishes on 15th and on 16th the ZF office there can be contacted on Israel mobile number 00 972 544 48 50 74 or (Vonage) 0208 455 8610.