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.