A Formal Complaint to the BBC

This is a guest post by Mitnaged

After the Guardian’s Political Editor, Michael White, made ill-judged and scurrilous allegations about the IDF on the BBC Radio London’s Breakfast programme on 14th December, I felt constrained to make a formal complaint to the BBC.   Those who missed what White said can find it verbatim by clicking here.

A copy of the BBC’s reply to me follows, prefixed by “>” and embedded in it, in italics, is my subsequent reply to them:

>—–Original Message—–
>From: []
>Sent: 19 December 2009 10:58
>To: [intentionally omitted]
>Subject: [intentionally omitted]
>Thanks for your email about the interview on BBC London 94.9’s
>’Breakfast’ programme on December 14 with the Guardian newspaper’s
>assistant editor Michael White.
>Mr White was invited to give his views on the news story of the attack
>on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
>Having investigated your complaint, BBC London would like to apologise
>for any offence you might have felt on hearing Mr White’s comments.
>However, we would point out that Mr White is not a BBC journalist, and
>he was clearly introduced to listeners as a commentator from the
>Guardian newspaper.

I am glad that you apologised.  It matters little whether or not
Mr White was one of your journalists (given the paper for which he writes his comments were hardly surprising – but most offensive was the fact that he was allowed to make those remarks unchallenged by the BBC hosts of the programme.

>He was putting forward his own views with his own choice of words, and,
>as with other commentators, the listener is free to make up their own
>mind on the validity of his arguments. The BBC’s advice to its own
>journalists would be to use plain and simple language, rather than make
>value judgements, but we cannot apply the same guidance to interviewees.

See my point above.  The BBC has a responsibility to those who pay it to make sure that lies are not promulgated unchallenged.  That the hosts remained silent implied that they agreed with those lies. (Additional note, not in the original:  I have since been reminded that actually, the interviewer did not remain silent.  She made a noise expressing agreement, as if what White said was as obvious as the fact that the sun always rises, and then they went on).

>Mr White’s comments about Israel were a brief aside, along with other
>remarks about Northern Ireland, during the interview about Signor
>Berlusconi. In these circumstances, the presenter had to judge whether
>to divert the interview into a discussion about what Israel calls
>’targeted killing’ or his comments about Northern Ireland rather than
>concentrate on the matter in hand.

I disagree.  Brief asides can nevertheless be offensive and inciteful.  The presenter could either have challenged White or carefully steered him away from digging himself a hole by a statement that his remarks were beyond the remit of the programme.
>Given this background and the incidental nature of Mr White’s comments,
>we believe the presenters were right to concentrate on the substance of
>the interview.

I am not surprised, given the BBC’s record in the past.  I however want to remain on record as taking issue with your reasoning.

I intend to take this up to the highest level.  Not only did the presenters not concentrate on “the substance of the programme” as the BBC called it, but their presenter actually agreed with what White said, or at least failed to correct it.  More predictable, however, was the standard BBC excuse and divesting themselves of all responsibility by reminding me that White was not one of theirs.   That makes little difference – indeed I would argue that there is precious little clear blue water between the BBC’s attitude towards Israel and that of Michael White – but the BBC put out the programme, therefore the BBC was responsible for the content of it and for any offence caused.

Categories: BBC, Guardian

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13 replies »

  1. If Michael White had said that ‘In Palestine [because of course everyone recognizes that such a country exists] they murder each other a great deal … because they don’t like their political style and what they’ve got to say and it only means that people more extreme come in and take their place…’, then of course that would have been acceptable to the BBC? I can just imagine it.

    Good for you Mitnaged.

    Bloody hypocrites.

  2. The BBC excuse machine is almost exactly like the LA Times. In the span of a few months, the LA Times oped page, under the leadership of Editor Jim Newton, printed opeds from Walt and Mersheimer and Neve Gordon. When people complained about the onesided opeds that appear in the LA Times, Mr. Newton just gave platitudes about the people’s right to know, freedom of information and the usual cliches and bromides. It is the same pablum from the BBC. When the BBC invited White of the Guardian onto its program, the BBC knew full well that White would unleash his hatred of Israel and of London’s Jewish community. White can’t help himself. White is like a water pistol loaded with bile. White just spews out hatred and contempt with every breath he takes.

  3. I complained too and got exactly the same reply, which only made me even more angry. What a pathetic, weaselly attempt to fob off dissatisfied listeners. I would add to your comments that the apology was beside the point, since I was not being a delicate flower and complaining of ‘offence’. I was pointing to poor standards of journalism and fairness, and asked that the BBC retract false, damaging statements that further poison attitudes to Israel and to British Jews. That White was clearly introduced as being from the Guardian is beside the point too, since the BBC is responsible for what it broadcasts and is usually quick to stop its interviewees making possibly slanderous statements. Nor could listeners ‘make their own minds up’ about his remarks, since they were presented as facts, not ‘arguments’ or ‘value judgements’. The notion that the presenter considered leaping to Israel’s defense but wisely decided not to allow the discussion to be sidetracked is just laughable. Far more likely that in her totally unprofessional state of ignorance and unpreparedness, she believed every word. And since when did ‘murdering each other a great deal’ become code for ‘targeted killing’? I too would like to take it further but am not sure how.

  4. @NicoleS, keep on writing, using their online complaint form and the unique reference number you will have been given. I believe that Cifwatch will publish that correspondence here if you want them to, appropriately anonymised, as they have mine.

    If you still get no joy then complain to Ofcom, as I shall if I still get rubbish from them.

    Something tells me that they believe that their apology for the offence they and White caused me has protected them but it cannot have. White slandered the IDF and therefore the Israeli people in front of a national audience on a popular radio programme. I am after an on-air apology, on the same programme, from White so that the slander can be vitiated. Nothing less will suffice.

  5. The BBC is attempting a whitewash but it won’t work.
    Their heart isn’t in it but anyway, White’s heart is soot black.

    Good work, Mitnaged!

  6. Legally, we should write letters not emails, because the BBC has to reply to letters and doesn’t have to reply to emails. The time spent replying to letters affects the BBC budgets.

  7. Nicole: It was on the Radio London show with Paul Ross and Joanne Goode – not Radio 5.

    You can also write to Ofsted if you feel that you don’t get the reply that is needed from the BBC (as if it could be otherwise!)

  8. Thanks Romo. Silly me. I like the idea of the BBC having to write back as they lick the end of their pencils, stick stamps on, etc. Hope others will write too. I think the main point to emphasise is that they allowed an interviewee to make unfounded and scurrilous factual statements without being challenged. I’m pretty sure they are not supposed to do that. They usually wriggle out of accusations of bias by saying (falsely) that they present alternative views in other programmes.

  9. With all due respect, the BBC have little to answer for in this case. This petty witchhunt reminds me a lot of the CAIR and other Muslim org. techniques used to stifle debate and to silence any critique in the West. Of course White’s comments are outrageous, but compaining about them won’t make him change his mind, and or the bias of the editors and staff of the BBC and the Guardian. I mean, what exactly is it you’re hoping to achieve with this compaint besides making some BBC staff really annoyed at you?

    I salute CifWatch for making information like that of the White interview available to the public, and for exposing him for the nutcase that he is. But that’s where a decent piece of “watching” ends and a futile venting of frustration begins.