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Is James Harding’s religion relevant when reporting on his new position at the BBC?

Lisa O’Carroll’s April 16 story in the Guardian reports on the appointment of James Harding (former Times editor) as the BBC’s new director of news and current affairs.


O’Carroll’s report includes the following passages:

Some of the Times’s anti-BBC leader columns may also come back to haunt Harding in his new job. In 2010, when hostilities between Murdoch and the BBC were at their height over the News Corporation’s bid to take over BSkyB, Harding ran an editorial accusing the corporation’s then director general Mark Thompson of “seeking to gain commercial advantages in league with News Corp’s rivals”.

Harding, who is Jewish, will also have to leave behind the pro-Israeli line of the Times. In a debate at the Jewish Community Centre For London in 2011, Harding said “I am pro-Israel” and that in reporting on the Middle East, “I haven’t found it too hard” because “the Times has been pro-Israel for a long time”. However, he also stressed the need for balanced news reporting and said he was also in favour of a Palestinian state.

The ‘Editor’s Code of Practice‘ (published by the Press Complaints Commissionthe ‘independent’ regulatory body in the UK) which all editors and publishers in the UK are required to abide by, contains the following warning in their section on ‘discrimination':

Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Whilst O’Carroll’s contention that Harding will have to leave his ‘pro-Israeli line’ behind now that he’s been appointed news director of the BBC is quite interesting in the context of the Beeb’s coverage of Israel and the Middle East, two particular questions come to mind:

Does O’Carroll’s decision to note that Harding is Jewish in the particular passage cited indicate she has already concluded that his religious affiliation is relevant in that it explains his ‘pro-Israeli’ views?  

If that is not what O’Carroll is suggesting, in what other way, per the language in the PCC Editor’s Code, is Harding’s religion relevant to a story about his new position at the BBC?

22 replies »

      • I think that’s the point. It is just as silly to suggest that the Beeb is suddenly going to become “pro-Israel” just because the director of news is Jewish.

          • Pretz, are you saying all Jews support Israel?
            Some Jews I know think the media is ran by Zionist and do not respect the independence day.
            Hardly supporting Israel or Zionism I’d say.

  1. From the Guardian’s openly hostile position on Israel it will be of crucial importance to the paper who is in charge of news at the BBC. It will be a problem for the Guardian if the BBC now begins to report the Middle East in less biased ways than it does at present.

    Telling its readers that James Harding is both a Jew and a supporter of Israel (things most of them wouldn’t probably have been aware of) is a way of letting them know right from the start that the BBC’s news coverage is now in the grip of the Zionist tentacles/Jewish lobby/etc. Any detection of a non-condemnatory reporting of Israel stance – real or imagined – in any BBC news item will unleash the wrath of the Guardian and its hordes of pro-Palestinian coolie-Cif posters.

    I naturally hope James Harding will be a successful news and current affairs director, able and courageous enough to do what any individual, no matter how impartial, would find a daunting task. It speaks for itself that the Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll publicising Harding’s Jewish identity and the overt warning that he will have to leave his own views ‘behind’, makes it obvious that the Guardian will have its snipers ready to shoot at the slightest nuance that meets their disapproval.

    • is a way of letting them know right from the start that the BBC’s news coverage is now in the grip of the Zionist tentacles

      Oh come on. Don’t be silly.

  2. It’s relevant to those who believe it makes a difference.
    In other words it’s relevant to prejudice people and racists.

  3. Does O’Carroll’s decision to note that Harding is Jewish in the particular passage cited indicate she has already concluded that his religious affiliation is relevant in that it explains his ‘pro-Israeli’ views?

    No. Not at all.

    I think you’re clutching at straws on this one, Adam.

    • Pretz. Adam does sometimes “clutch at straws” as you put it, and I have called him out on this on a number of occasions. But I don’t think this is one.

      O’Carroll’s reference to Harding’s Jewish background is in a sentence in which the only other topic is his pro-Israel views. She clearly relates the two, and I would argue in a causative way.

      • If we were talking about someone else but with “pro-Palestinian” views, O’Carroll might well likewise have mentioned their Jewish background.

    • Pretz, the question I’m asking is how, per the UK Editor’s Code, Harding’s Jewishness is relevant to the story. If O’Carroll is not suggesting that his faith explains his pro-Israel views, then why did she mention it?

        • I just read your comment at 5:16, but am unconvinced she would have noted it in that context.

          However, here’s a better example. The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade has/had affiliations with Sinn Fein. If he were to be appointed to the BBC, would, (assuming, for the sake of argument, he’s Catholic), a report in the Guardian or elsewhere mention his religion and that he will now have to leave his IRA sympathies behind him?

          Extremely doubtful.

          • If Roy Greenslade has/had affiliations with Sinn Fein, I think the Guardian would certainly mention that.

            • Ok, pretz you make a neutralising point with regard to Greenslade. If you can show it was mentioned anywhere with Greenslade or any another example of a journalist being treated in a similar way and in a similar context where religion has been used in this way I’ll raise my hat to you.

              The problem with the Guardian pretz, is that like the case of the shlemiel who keeps dropping his toast on the ground ALWAYS landing buttered -side down, the Guardian’s slant is invariably always going to show being Jewish as being a problem. The toast rarely lands buttered side up!

  4. This is typical Guardian double standards.
    I mean, they have never, so far as I am aware, pointed up the fact that the head of Religious Programming at the BBC is a Muslim…

    Anyone care to speculate why?