Israel-Palestine coverage is difficult, admits BBC chief amid accusations of bias
BBC Director-General Lord Hall has admitted that reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict is “tough,” but insists the corporation aims to be balanced in its coverage.
The BBC chief added that the broadcaster is committed to its coverage of the Middle East, including Israel and Palestine.
Hall made the comments at a Jewish charity event when questioned about the corporation’s coverage of last summer’s conflict in Gaza.
Laura Marks, senior vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, expressed her disappointment with the BBC’s coverage of the war between Israel and Hamas.
She told Hall: “Over the summer, your coverage of Gaza rather dented my trust in the BBC...and whilst I fully appreciate the enormity of the problem and the disaster facing civilians in Gaza, I think that Jews in the country felt that you did not put the case for both sides.”
“How would you respond to a feeling in this room that the BBC did not cover the problem facing Israel clearly because it had the humanitarian problem facing the people of Gaza – which overrode all of your coverage?” she asked.
Speaking before a 200-person audience at ORT UK’s business breakfast on Tuesday, the BBC boss said: “It is hard...tough. We do aim to give as impartial coverage as [best] we can across the period.”
“I do not want you to doubt for one second our commitment to the coverage of Israel and Palestine – but also the wider Middle East,” he added.
“What I hope you have seen – in terms of what we have covered in Iraq, in Libya, Syria and broader – is a real commitment to ensure we are covering those terrible wars and countries, as best we can...it is embedded in the soul of everybody who works for BBC – a commitment to making sure we cover broader issues in the Middle East. And that to my mind is really important.”
The BBC has come under fire in the past for its presentation of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry published a detailed critique of media coverage of the Middle East in 2011.
‘More Bad News From Israel’ found the BBC actually tended to show the Israeli side of events in its coverage.
“There is a preponderance of official ‘Israeli perspectives,’ particularly on BBC 1, where Israelis were interviewed or reported over twice as much as Palestinians,” the authors wrote.
“On top of this, US politicians who support Israel were very strongly featured. They appeared more than politicians from any other country and twice as much as those from Britain.”
An independent review of the BBC’s Israel-Palestine coverage published in 2006 found the corporation offered an “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.”
Protests erupted across the UK against the BBC's coverage of Israel’s military operation in Gaza last summer. Marches took place in Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle, demonstrating against “biased reporting.” The BBC's main headquarters in London saw the country's biggest rally.
Organizers, which included the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, wrote an open letter to the corporation explaining their motives.
“When you portray Israel’s shelling of a civilian population as a ‘response’ or ‘retaliation’ to rocket strikes from Gaza, we would like to remind you that these events flow from the displacement of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people from their homes and communities,” the open letter read.