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A FORMAL COMPLAINT TO THE BBC – Part 4


This is a guest post by Mitnaged

BBC Radio London aired an interview with the Guardian’s Political Editor, Michael White on 14th December last year.  On the 19th December last, I initiated a formal complaint about the content and conduct of that interview.  You can find accounts of the various stages of the process here, here and here

The saga has come to an end.  I received two pages of very underwhelming guff from Andrew Bell, the Complaints Director of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.

Embedded in it, at the beginning of the penultimate paragraph, was the information that he had not been able to uphold my complaint.   There were clues earlier on, of course, notably where he told me that he had researched into targeted killings by Israel, which seemed to me to be over and above the call of duty, but no matter.  The letter informs me that I can if I wish take the complaint further still, but I get the distinct sense that that would be rather like shouting down a well.

I was treated to a reiteration of exactly what Michael White said.   In a discursive paragraph which set the scene (which I already knew by heart) of the discussion which had been prompted by the attack on Silvio Berlusconi, Bell told me that White began “recounting stories of broadly similar attacks on other politicians before changing tack slightly (emphasis mine) and addressing the rather distinct subject of political assassination.”

Bell reminded me about White’s mention of the lack of political assassinations in Northern Ireland during the troubles, that they “…didn’t take to murdering each other in a serious way…” (??)

This of course led on to the infamous and grammatically ridiculous statement from White:

“In Israel they murder each other a great deal.  The Israeli Defence Forces murder people 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….”

Andrew Bell admits that Michael White’s terminology is “not as exact as it might be” (this has to be the understatement of 2010 so far) but then goes on to presume to tell me what Michael White actually means by this fatuous nonsense – that “it is clear” that White is referring to Israel’s controversial targeted killings of opponents it believes are involved in terrorism.

Bell’s research appears to have taken him on a long journey outside the remit of his investigation when he tells me that these extra-judicial killings are called “foilings” and that, although they are approved by the Israeli Supreme Court, others, including Michael White, appear to believe that they are extra-judicial killings and “possibly murder.”

And how does Bell know what White had in mind?  Why, the implied comparison, by White, of Israeli leaders with political leaders in Northern Ireland who may have had a background in Republican terrorism but who “didn’t take to murdering each other in a serious way…!”

(The fundamental differences between the Northern Ireland conflict and that between Israel and her neighbours seem to have escaped Andrew Bell and Michael White both.  The Northern Irish conflict was always far less toxic than that in the Middle East, according to Lord Alderdyce, one of the main architects of the Northern Ireland peace process.  It seems to me therefore that any comparison between them is inherently flawed, but nevertheless Michael White, Andrew Bell and other misguided souls continue to try to use Northern Ireland as a template for solving Israel’s problems with Hamas’ murderous inclinations towards her).

Bell then continues that because White admitted that he had digressed from the original topic of discussion, this absolved the presenters from prolonging the digression by taking issue with his distinctly questionable and highly offensive views by challenging him about them!   Bell explains that the presenters did not want to challenge or open up a debate about the merits and legitimacy of a policy of targeted killings because it would have taken them even further away from the topic.

(The disingenuousness of this excuse almost beggars belief.  Bell has obviously forgotten that I, too, heard the broadcast.  Quite apart from the impression the presenters gave, that they could not have challenged their way out of a paper bag, Bell studiously omits to mention, much less to address, my concerns that not only did these two not challenge White, but actually indicated agreement with what he said!)

For myself, I care very little about White’s opinions about anything.  He is a Guardian political editor and little more need be said in the light of that.  I do care, however, that presenters of a radio programme showed partiality and bias in their agreement with White’s distinctly questionable anti-Israel views and his choice of where and how to air them, and have been allowed to get away with it.

I am also very concerned that the BBC, which I fund from my licence fee, can promulgate such drivel from Andrew Bell under the guise of an investigation into a complaint.  (In this it operates very much like CiF, which believes it can have the reader believing at least six impossible things before breakfast if it spins them correctly).  The letter was verbose and unclear from the beginning and, as I have said, I realised that my complaint had not been upheld only at the end of the penultimate paragraph.  In this it was rather like the tale told by an idiot, but one which completely lacked sound and fury and signified absolutely nothing and I began thinking, after the second reading of it, that Bell’s intention was to bore me into a stupor.

I am not surprised, of course.  This is, after all, the BBC.

However, I did email Bell once more:

“Dear Mr Bell

“Thank you for your letter of 4th March.

“In it, you write, “… I do not feel that there was any lack of impartiality shown by the fact that he [ie Michael White] was not challenged….”

“I am afraid that you miss the point completely:

“My complaint was not only that the presenters failed to challenge Michael White but that they indicated agreement with his views.

“It is evident to me that you have singularly failed to address this evident bias on their part in your reply to me and I would like an explanation of whether this was because you ignored this in your investigation and, if so, why you did not think it important.

“Yours sincerely”

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  1. Mitnaged: I too wrote to the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit, having received an unsatisfactory reply from the editors of the programme, and have just received an even more far-fetched explanation from the very same Andrew Bell. Here’s an extract: “I think it’s clear from that, although Michael White’s terminology is not as exact as it might be, what he is referring to when he mentions Israel, is its controversial policy of target killings of opponents it deems to be involved in terrorism. ..Overall, it seems clear to me that Michael White is, albeit in very imprecise terms, expressing the view that such killings are counter-productive and (by referring to them as murder) that they are illegitimate. ..[I]t does not seem to me that the presenters were required, in those circumstances, to prolong his digression by challenging him and opening up a debate about the merits and legitimacy of a policy of targeted killings…Given all of this, I do not feel that their failure to challenge the view he put forward was a serious breach of editorial standards.” I find the contortions he has gone through almost comical. How we have got from a clear implication of politicians murdering each other to a policy of targeted killings of terrorists I do not know but somehow we seem to have managed it. Well, it clears up one mystery. Mossad agents murdered a Hamas operative in Dubai (allegedly) because according to Mr White “they did not like his political style and what he had to say”. Still, there appears to be one tiny admission: it was not “a serious breach of editorial guidelines”. Not serious, but a breach nevertheless. Adloyada: The BBC has wriggled out of worse charges of bias before now so I am discouraged from taking it further. All in all a fruitless exercise but good to have tied up Mr Bell for a bit.

  2. Adloyada, yes, I could, but see NicoleS’s post below yours. I have a life and a busy one. The BBC has made up its mind and doesn’t want to be confused by facts.

    NicoleS, I was trying to fathom why Bell’s letter was so lacking in “connect” with his correspndent, and you have provided an answer. It was a form letter, which was probably identical to yours.

    Hawkeye, I wonder whether all this should be made known to BiasedBBC? What do others think?

  3. Your tenacity is remarkable. I also once filed a complaint with the BBC on similar grounds. Amazingly, they found no bias then as well. Won’t wonders never cease! I do have a suggestion for all of us who are exasperated with the BBC, the Guardian, and those of the same ilk – offer them either psychological counseling or some tutoring. There are two possibilities here – one is that they know what they are doing and are acting imbecilic, or they are imbecilic. In either case we might as well talk to the walls, which has the advantage that they won’t talk back.

    Of course, we need to expose these morons.

  4. Andrew Bell is defending Michael White, no surprises there then. BBC and Guardian are one and the same where historical facts and reality are suspended in pursuit of demonizing Israel.

    And this little exchange between Mitnaged and the BBC confirms this. So at least in that respect Mitnaged’s efforts were not all in vain.

  5. GaryO: ‘Andrew Bell is defending Michael White, no surprises there then.’ No, he is obviously very anxious to avoid a charge of ‘breaching editorial guidelines’ being upheld. Does anyone know why that is? Are the consequences really dire?

  6. Bob Geldoff goes nuclear on BBC’s ass.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/09/bob-geldof-world-service-ethiopia#start-of-comments

    Read what he says about its reporting on Band Aid’s money going to purchase arms and substitute it for its reporting on I/P conflict and it all sounds very, very similar.

    This para in particular reminds me of all those claiming Gazan misery and genocide:

    “Where were all the dead people then? If no one was getting food, why was nobody dying? That would have been one of the first questions I’d have asked. But they weren’t dying because they were getting help, and massive amounts of it. But of course no one did ask where the bodies were at the World Service. That and many, many, other unasked questions”.

    I doubt dear old Bob is particularly sympathetic to Israel (I dunno, he kind of comes across as Mr Galloway’s friend – although I could be wrong!), but what he is only just waking up to in BBC, we’ve known for quite some time.

  7. So, as Michael White might have said if he were an honest man:

    “At the BBC, we lie to each other a great deal”.

  8. Mitnaged, I really think it’s worth a letter to the Trustees. Not that I think you’ll get a more positive response, but the response you do get will demonstrate to the world to what extent the ultimate authorities for safeguarding the BBC’s supposed impartiality go along with a preposterous brush-off like Bell’s.

    And yes, BiasedBBC does often feature complaints like yours.

    If you leave the field to Bell, it will only encourage him.

  9. Mitnaged

    Thanks for your perseverance, and report.

    GaryO writes,

    “…….There are two possibilities here – one is that they know what they are doing and are acting imbecilic, or they are imbecilic……”

    Here is another recent complaint lodged against the BBC, this time by the American Jewish Committee, and reported in the JP (“BBC blasted for ‘bigoted fear-mongering'”, 22/02/2010). Same basic story as the one Mitnaged has been working on.

    “……..The New York-based American Jewish Committee blasted the BBC on Sunday for airing an accusation that Jews around the world assist in supposed Mossad assassinations.

    The AJC said in a statement that it was “dismayed that a guest on BBC Radio 4 was allowed to state unchallenged” that the Mossad relies on Jews for assassination plots.

    “This baseless accusation crosses every red line between legitimate public discussion and bigoted fear-mongering,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “In less than a minute, the BBC has cast a shadow on the lives of Jews worldwide.”

    BBC Radio 4’s PM program interviewed Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon’s Spies, a book about the Mossad, about the January 20 assassination of Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. 

    Local authorities and many international media outlets believe that the killing of Mabhouh, who bought rockets for Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, was carried out by theMossad.

    In explaining the Mossad’s operating methods outside Israel, Thomas told PM host Eddie Mair, “They have a whole backup system called ‘asylum.’ These are people, local residents, Jewish people, who help the Mossad. It is estimated to be in the world about half a million; some people say a million; I tend to say it’s about half a million, all of them Mossad people.”……”

    These people are not stupid, or morons or imbecilic. In fact, they are very bright. They simply have an agenda. Its called delegitimization. The above statement went unchallenged because this is exactly what the hosts of Radio 4 believe. The statement that 500,000-1,000,000 Jews world-wide help the Mossad with assassinations simply made sense to the Radio 4 hosts. Its as natural as starting the day with a trip to the bathroom and a cup of coffee. Can there be a better display of bigotry, unconscious or conscious? A better display of bias, unconscious, or conscious?

    How is this any different than the moderators at the Guardian, or Huffington Post etc.?

  10. GaryO

    “Where were all the dead people then? If no one was getting food, why was nobody dying? That would have been one of the first questions I’d have asked. But they weren’t dying because they were getting help, and massive amounts of it. But of course no one did ask where the bodies were at the World Service. That and many, many, other unasked questions”.

    Seeing pictures from Gaza, they all look quite rotund to me. Now. When I see pictures from Darfur and other refugee centers in Africa, there I really do see starvation.

  11. Ben, I can honestly say that no amount of psychological counselling will affect the BBC’s or CiF’s benightedness. Both have too much emotional energy in remaining exactly the way they are – see my previous posts about cognitive dissonance.

  12. “White’s distinctly questionable anti-Israel views and his choice of where and how to air them, ”

    Even if this is correct Israel does herself no favours. It took me some 10 years following the 67 war to stop admiring Israel… but a lot of modern Brits have never had such loyalty.All they see is violence and intransigence.

    The Biden snub was a corker….the total lack of support for Israel was obvious on CIF. Either all the pro Israelis have left CIF or else no one…and I mean no one at all… is able to say anything. I see folk here are desperately avoiding the issue as well. I’m not surprised. What can you say?

  13. Mitnaged
    I wont go in to all the matters you raised, but like many other commentators you spend a lot of time demeaning the work of the BBC. I am British by naturalization and personally hold the BBC in very high regard, and I am sure millions of others share my opinion.
    You also state that you fund the BBC from your license fee, which is patently wrong. You like me and millions of others pay a very small contribution personally.

  14. Mr. Erdman

    I repeat, Meretz has no hope at all to regain its role in Israeli politics until its UK chairman spend his time for apologising for Jew-haters and doing so objectively serving the interests of the Israeli far right. Naturally I have forwarded your posts on CifWatch to all of my Meretz voter friends.

  15. Abandon hope: It appears from the news this morning that the announcement about settlement building was a local one and nothing to do with government policy. Or so they are saying. In any case, Obama has already turned his back on Israel by putting all the pressure in her to freeze settlements, while saying nothing about the Palestinians’ repeated refusal to negotiate. If I were Netanyahu, I’d be tempted to say ‘up yours’ too, however unwisely. As for not talking about settlements, I agree, we should do far more of it. Let’s hear the arguments. What is the point of a settlement that cannot grow to accommodate families? Why don’t the Palestininans discuss land swaps? Even if the Israelis are unreasonably adamant they want settlements on the West Bank, why not work round that? A few houses in the wrong place (which in itself is debatable) is not the worst crime in the world, for goodness sake.

  16. You also state that you fund the BBC from your license fee, which is patently wrong. You like me and millions of others pay a very small contribution personally.

    Nobody can touch this sentence in its pure, unadultered stupidity.

  17. Getting a 2 pager from Bell is an achievement in its own right.
    The bbc have been totally biased for the last 15 years, but far worse than this loony left so-called liberal bias is their sheer arrogance.
    Every complaint is treated with utter disdain and not one aspect is conceded.
    The trust under Lyons is as bad as the bbc under Thompson and until these two are got rid of and a professional restrucutre and culture change happens, this overweight and overfunded bureaucratic giant will eventually implode.

  18. Yehuda Erdman, there is obviously no accounting for taste. That you have to shore up your argument with the allusion to millions of others sharing your opinion hardly makes it more attractive or well-founded.

    Are you in agreement, then, with the BBC’s withholding the publication of the Balen Report, upheld by the High Court at an estimated cost to me and others like me of approximately £200,000 ? Do you think that was money well-spent?

    The BBC’s press release following the High Court judgment included the following statement:

    “The BBC’s action in this case had nothing to do with the fact that the Balen report was about the Middle East – the same approach would have been taken whatever area of news output was covered.”

    Oh yes, and the earth is flat, the moon is made of green cheese and all pigs are fuelled and ready to fly.

    Seems to me that the BBC had something to hide if it went to so much expense, whether or not you and “millions of others” hold them in high esteem.

    (See also:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/bbc-fights-to-suppress-internal-report-into-allegations-of-bias-against-israel-442150.html

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23628970-the-secret-report-at-heart-of-bbcs-gaza-paranoia.do

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1531443/BBC-mounts-court-fight-to-keep-critical-report-secret.html

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article1575543.ece).

  19. “..It took me some 10 years following the 67 war to stop admiring Israel… but a lot of modern Brits have never had such loyalty…”

    And by this you mean what, Berchmans? That Israel should be grateful for your “admiration” for ten whole years?

    Did you stop admiring Israel when you became so far left that you were almost falling over?

    Or was that the booze?

  20. That’s part of the BBC’s modus operandi isn’t it, to bore it’s complainants into submission. They cheapen themselves with such biased anti-Israeli trash.

    The way I see it, the only solution to this sorry situation, is to stop paying the licence fee, en masse. They would probably try to get round the inevitable decline in revenue by lobbying for some kind of TV tax.

    If I wasn’t forced to pay a television licence under threat of fines and imprisonment, I would not care less what the “envy of the world” churned out. I would be very interested to see how it would fare on a subscription-only basis, and compete with other broadcasters and not be allowed to distort the market.

    Either way, the rise of the internet will hasten the BBC’s inevitable decline. I’m glad.