BBC

Update on UK media’s race to the anti-Zionist bottom: Guardian writer accuses BBC of being too pro-Israel


This is cross posted by Anne, who blogs at Anne’s Opinions

This morning, as is my wont, I had a look-through the Guardian to see what new anti-Israel diatribes they had come up with overnight.  Never fear, there were plenty of articles. Check with CiF Watch for details.

Imagine my surprise then, when I came upon an article by a certain Tim Llewellyn (more about him at the end) entitled “BBC is ‘confusing cause and effect’ in its Israel coverage”.  “Finally!” I thought to myself. The Guardian has finally come around to our way of thinking and have realised the inherent bias in the BBC’s coverage of Israel.  I settled down to read the item and enjoy a bit of schadenfreude at the BBC’s expense.

And then reality hit me like a bucket of cold water.

The article is one of the most biased anti-Israel screeds I have ever had the misfortune to read. I never thought I would have to come to the defence of the BBC but… here goes.

It starts straight out with a bald-faced distortion stated as fact:

However, the BBC coverage of Israel and Palestine, where another state continually kills and oppresses Arabs, is replete with imbalance and distortion.

At this stage I still thought he meant Arabs oppressing Palestinians, until the next paragraph brought me up short with nasty little shock.

I covered the Middle East for the BBC from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, and am aggrieved by my ex-employer’s continuing inability to describe in a just and contextualised way the conflict between military occupier and militarily occupied. There is no attempt to properly convey cause and effect, to report the misery, violence and pillage that demean and deny freedom to the Palestinians and provoke their (limited) actions.

Hyperbole much? The exaggeration, not to mention outright distortion and untruth in these words is quite breath-taking.  This is how the author describes Israeli self-defence.

It turns out that a book has been written detailing the BBC’s bias in their Middle East reporting (with which we can all agree).  But the authors’ grievance, with which Llewellyn agrees, is that the BBC is much too pro-Israel and ignores or perverts the Arab or Palestinian side.

Greg Philo and Mike Berry, in their book More Bad News from Israel, prove by textual analysis and follow-up interviews with viewers and listeners that I am right – and so are an increasing number of people who are becoming aware that the BBC sells them short on Israel.

I couldn’t agree more, except it is the pro-Israel camp that are sold short.

Here is a list of some of their complaints, and when you recover from your laughter, I suggest you check in with any of the links in my sidebar (especially Honest ReportingCiF Watch, and Elder of Ziyon amongst others) to see how the reporting was really biased – against Israel.

They find that the Israeli explanation of why it went to war on a mainly defenceless Gazan population is the one broadly accepted by the BBC. It was a “response” to Palestinian rockets. The Palestinian case, …, was rarely put, if at all.

The BBC repeatedly stressed the word [Israeli] “retaliation”, and also implied that police stations bombed by the Israelis were military targets, describing other casualties as “civilian”. It described these civilian installations as “targets”. Newspapers such as the Guardian did point out the distinction.

Wow. Who knew the Guardian was worse than the Beeb?

Israel’s official view is given as fact, they say, but the Palestinian view, on the rare occasions it is found at all, is not. Israelis “state”, Palestinians “claim”.

In fact it is most frequently the exact opposite.

When the BBC and ITV did start reporting the horrific civilian casualties in Gaza and the use of phosphorus, Israeli spokespersons were immediately on hand to deny, explain or obfuscate. The Palestinians, especially Hamas, were rarely able to answer allegations.

Once again they have reversed reality.

The authors of the book continued on with their research and made some fascinating discoveries.

Philo and Berry quote the BBC correspondent Paul Adams, a Middle East expert: what is missing from the coverage, he says, is the view that the Palestinians are engaged in a war of national liberation, trying to throw off an occupying force. Any Israeli casualty is headline news, shown in high quality images. BBC teams are based in West Jerusalem, de facto Israeli territory, and are on hand. Arab casualties may be shown in reports of a funeral, usually agency film, the victim anonymous. The Israelis, it seems, are for the BBC “people like us”. The Arabs are “the other”.

Note the “de facto Israeli territory” – as if they do not really accept Jerusalem, even West Jerusalem, as Israeli territory.  They are in complete denial of reality.

I also disagree completely with their depiction of the BBC. Israeli casualties are ignored or belittled, the Palestinians are always the eternal victims. But if in some alternate universe the BBC did report on Israel this way, it would be to their credit because that is what the reality is. And if the Arabs are regarded as “the other”,  perhaps that reflects their lack of civilisation and not the bias of the BBC.

Philo and Berry go on to interview viewers and listeners, all in higher education. They find that these focus groups were largely unaware of the Israeli occupation, often believing the Palestinians are the occupiers.

This is one of the funniest lines I have ever read on the Middle East conflict. Which higher education facilities did they visit? End-of-the-World University?  South-Pole College?  The boycott and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, the Apartheid Weeks, the anti-Zionist posters, all advertised and heavily promoted on university campuses worldwide; the problems caused to student Jewish Societies,  all these are considered pro-Israel activity? I find myself speechless.

For example, the BBC consistently describes illegal Israeli settlements as “held to be illegal”. But they are illegal. Even the Foreign Office says so.

The authors sound so petty and childish here. The fact remains that no matter what the Foreign Office says or believes, for a change the BBC is in the right. Or at least nearer to correct than the FO.

Why is BBC reporting like this? The book addresses this in Chapter 4. In my view, the rot set in during 2001, after 9/11. Israel and its friends were quick to capitalise on “terror” and “Arabs” and massively enhanced their propaganda effort here,

Ah, it’s those wicked Israelis capitalizing on Arab terror. It does not occur to them that Western reporters might find more affinity with Israelis who have suffered under terrorism for so long rather than Arabs who promote such terrorism against Western targets.

The BBC’s main Middle East bureau in west Jerusalem is liable to Israeli pressure, and it is in Israel that the BBC perspective on the regional conflict is formed.

Hmm. I suppose the BBC’s main Middle East bureau in Beirut, Damascus, Riyadh or Cairo are not susceptible to Arab pressure. Nah, couldn’t possibly be.

Perhaps the most overwhelming distortion of the BBC in its coverage of Israel and Palestine is what I term “spurious equivalence”: that the Palestinians and Israelis are two equal sides “at war” over “disputed” territory and may the best man win. Or, come on chaps, shouldn’t reason prevail? The BBC knows that the Palestinians are a people fighting for independence, but its coverage does not tell it like it is.

It would make a change if the BBC really did accord Israel some equivalence to the Palestinians. As it is, Israel is usually cast in the wicked villain’s role and the Palestinians are the innocent victims, pure as the driven snow.

In 2006, an independent panel appointed by the BBC governors assessed impartiality in coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Their review came after many complaints and the first edition of this book, which examined in similar form the BBC’s distorted reporting of the Al-Aqsa (second) intifada and the subsequent Israeli bombardments and invasion of the cities of the West Bank.

The commission confirmed many of the Philo/Berry criticisms: “BBC output does not consistently give a full and fair account of the conflict. In some ways the picture is incomplete and, in that sense, misleading.”

If the BBC report indeed considered their reporting too pro-Israel, then shame on them, but it still does not reflect the truth.

While writing this post I have felt like Alice through the Looking Glass, looking into an upside down world. I find it fascinating that there are people out there who really believe this clearly refutable tripe.

As to Tim Llewellyn himself, the author of this piece, all becomes clear when you read what the BBC had this to say at the end of the article:

Although Tim Llewellyn was indeed a BBC correspondent some years ago, we note that he subsequently was active for a period with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU).

Honest Reporting has some more background on his biases.

29 replies »

  1. However, the BBC coverage of Israel and Palestine, where another state continually kills and oppresses Arabs, is replete with imbalance and distortion.

    I also found that a rather ridiculous line. And it was only a foretaste of the bias to come in the rest of the article.

  2. The Guardian in its anti-semitism appears to be beholden to a sort of naive, pedantic and distorted literalism in interpreting events, history etc from the wrong end of the telescope. If, as the complex entity known as Hitch-22 suggests, irony is never wasted on the Jews, then the Guardian’s anti-semitism might necessarily lead one to believe that it inhabits an irony-depleted zone of its own making.

    Hat-tip to the Hitch who identifies himself as a semi-Semite in his recent memoirs.

  3. Thanks.

    Ooer, trouble in Paradise between the two cheeks of the same arse.

    Whatever next

  4. The more I read about the meeja, the more I am convinced that they (or we) live in some sort of parallel, inverted universe.

    What is wrong with them? It’s like a mass virus which deprives the sufferer of his/her capability to reality test.

    But it does give meaning to the haters’ lives. It’s probably the only thing that gets them out of bed in the morning.

  5. The Beeb is pro Israel????

    So THAT’s why they dared not publish the Balen Report – it’d cause them too much embarrassment at the chatterati dinner parties!

    Has anyone told Jeremy Bowen?

    He’ll be gutted! He won’t be able to appear in “respectable” anti-Israel company until the stink dies down!

  6. Did anyone see BBC news 24 at around 9am this morning?. A Security adviser(I didn’t catch his name) was speaking to a reporter about the tight security surrounding Obama’s London visit, he mentioned threats posed from Al Qaeda, lone woolf type assasins, and then he suddenly said ; ‘also don’t forget Israel.. some Zionists would like Obama out of the way, I couldn’t believe my ears, I have watched the 10am news piece and so far that item has not been repeated. Unbelievable.

  7. There are even some who will accuse the Guardian of being too pro-Israel:

    “Those moderators tend to tilt the balance anyway by allowing extraordinarily extreme pro-Israeli rants, but obliterating anything that might offend the tender sensibilities of those authoring said rants.”

    cornhil at 24 May 2011 10:33AM on Welcome Hamas’s conciliation with Fatah

    I assume CIF will soon comment on the viciously untruthful article itself.

  8. Forget the article and read the book. Philo and Berry are academics who have carefully analysed BBC news output and put a standard set of questions to focus groups of students. Their methodology is fully explained and has been widely praised by peers. Just asserting that their findings concerning pro-Israeli bias on the BBC are wrong isn’t good enough. One of their central findings is that news reports rarely attempt to explain the historic background to violent incidents. It’s not altogether surprising then that two thirds of their sample didn’t know who is occupying whom. That’s a scientific finding, not a guess or a simple assertion. To doubt it you would have to question the researchers’ methods or their honesty.

    • So you number crunch for psychology do you, Sencar? You’re not, God forbid, a psychology practitioner are you?

      Perhaps people may be interested in the following excerpt from the blurb about the book, from the Amazon page:

      “…Philo is NOT a pro-Palestinian campaigner, he makes it clear at the outset that he is not endorsing any killing – Israeli or Palestinian. He is interested in how people misunderstand events, and what the cause of that knowledge was. Despite this, he has been the target of letter-writing campaigns, and malicious reviews in international publications which have clearly not read his work…. (unlike sencar)

      And then, curiously, the following. Bearing in mind the book title, “More Bad News from Israel”, I wonder what people make of it:

      “An eye-opening insight into how the public misunderstands Palestine, and how reporters are subconsciously responsible..”

      “Misunderstands Palestine

      Hmmm

  9. academics who have carefully analysed BBC news output and put a standard set of questions to focus groups of students –
    Maybe,but this doesn’t necessarily cover which stories the BBC chooses to report,how to report them,what phrases to use,which historical events are referred to,what is omitted,who to speak to,etc etc.Herein lies the roots of imbalance.
    I have studied social sciences and am aware of the methodology of establishing data and am aware that “scientific finding” can be made to say just about anything,and that most pieces I read asserted that,for example,Smith and Jones found x,y,z…however,Brown and Jones later research found a,b,c…..
    Apparently,the book finds the BBC explanation that Cast Lead was a response to rocket attack unacceptable.
    http://www.spectator.co.uk/rodliddle/6967833/the-bbcs-proisraeli-bias.thtml
    Surreal indeed,or,is it,if you’re going to tell a lie,make sure it is a really big one.

    • If you (like Liddle in his blog you refer to) had read the book and not just the Guardian article you would know that the aspects of reporting mentioned in your second paragraph are precisely the sort Philo and Berry analyse in the first part of their research. They don’t just ‘bean count’ minutes devoted to each side, as Liddle puts it, but quote extensively from the reports and interviews concerned to illustrate the ways in which they are slanted.
      As someone who has studied statistics and research methods, and used them (in the field of psychology rather than social science), I always find it irritating to see arguments of the “damned lies and statistics” or “(social science research) can be made to say just about anything” sort. Researchers like Philo and Berry describe their methods in some detail precisely to show that they have been used correctly and that their results therefore have some validity.
      Philo and Berry don’t say that “Cast Lead (wasn’t) a response to rocket attack”. What they point out is that BBC reports emphasise the view that it was, and say nothing of the opposing view that Israel broke the ceasefire first in November 2008 and that the rocket attacks resumed after this.

      • The first review at Amazon says:

        Judging by the other reviews there, I begin to get an angle on why sencar likes this book so much.

        The second review exhibits the sort of paranoid projection and perceptual inversion (are you with me sencar?) typical of the biased anti-Israel reader;

        The third refers disturbingly to the “British nation” being deceived and rants on:

        “…The justice of the Palestinian cause has been denied a proper explanation; the war-crimes of the Israeli occupiers have been concealed and the sufferings of the poor and the oppressed have not been reported accurately, if at all.

        “I urge all those interested in learning the truth about Palestine and in confronting the bias of the media to read this book.”

        These explain very well why sencar is drawn to the book because it confirms his own biases, but is dressed up in academic language. I wouldn’t be surprised if he himself wrote one of the reviews – perhaps the last above – which has a flavour of him.

        It also seems that Philo should be careful of the company he keeps if he is to convey an unbiased image. Here he is at SOAS (where he’d have been flayed alive had he dared to be open-minded about Israel rather than pro-Palestinian):

        which means he’s either very pro-Palestinian or is utterly morally bankrupt, (or even both) and he’s talking here to an audience of the inveterate Israel haters about the cunning Jews’ use of language to prosecute their case. He, like sencar, doesn’t believe that Israel/Jews have the right to defend themselves, even in the media. I imagine there were dozens of sencar-types in the audience.

        And lookee here – we have “unbiased” academic Philo sharing a platform with John Pilger, who lied about the “massacre” at Jenin. Again, Philo should be very careful of the company he keeps if he wants to come across as an unbiased academic.

        http://palestinevideo.blogspot.com/2011/05/john-pilger-and-greg-philo-discuss.html

        And to cap it all, we get Philo speaking at the BDS conference (sencar was probably there, too) still banging on his favourite drum, see http://londonbds.org/2011/05/24/do-the-media-aid-israel/

        Tell me, sencar, did he teach you? Are you a disciple in the same way as the unfortunate Papalagi of the faux-historian Ilan Pappe?

        • OK, I watched the video and read the blog. Which bit of either do you actually disagree with, and with what evidence? It matters not who Philo is speaking to or who shares the platform. What matters is what he says and whether it is true. Please address the issues at that level and not that of ad hominem abuse.

          • I’ve watched the videos and it’s plain that, his behaviour taken as a whole, Greg Philo is biased against Israel.

            Look at the company he keeps.

            Why should we even consider whether anything this man says is true (and I do believe that statistics can be bent to serve whatever purpose their interpreters want them to serve, because I have watched it done) when he is so at pains to suck up to SOAS and pants along with Pilger, who is himself a liar and bends the truth to suit the BDS movement?

            Anyone who cared a jot about his own reputation as a disinterested and honest academic would steer clear of such people.

            You must really be exercised that we have seen through you given your accusation. Note: it is not ad hominem abuse to say that the man is biased against Israel – it’s simply the truth on the evidence I have found and presented here, in particular his choosing to share a platform at the BDS conference! Why attend if he were not in sympathy with its crackpot aims? Did he need the exposure so much because the book wasn’t selling? If that was so it makes his conduct even less excusable and he really did sell his soul, didn’t he?

  10. “The Palestinians, especially Hamas, were rarely able to answer allegations.”

    The Afghanis, especially Al-Qaida, were rarely able to answer allegations.

    “They find that these focus groups were largely unaware of the Israeli occupation, often believing the Palestinians are the occupiers.” –

    Who? where? what? Maybe blame the education system? These clowns set a standard of reporting virtually unprecedented even for the highest possible journalistic ethics (and that’s not the BBC) with linguistic clutching-at-straws at the molecular level! Whole thing’s nitpicking of the highest order.

  11. Thanks anneipt but it isn’t really. Whenever a low form of pond life like sencar starts talking as if he is intelligent and even handed you have to suspect that something is afoot. It didn’t take me too long to suss him out and Greg Philo alongside him.

    I hope that no-one here buys his “disinterested” and “academically-based” book, given the company Philo keeps.

    • Hairshirt, you are right to be suspicious. Strange that sencar didn’t tell us that his hero’s scribblings were not so universally acclaimed as he would have us believe (not surprising, given that sencar has an agenda to drive here) but Mike Brennan’s book review at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/democratiya/article_pdfs/d3Brennan-2.pdf argues that from a scholarly point of view, the focus of the book and its methodology are faulty, viz

      ” The problems are two-fold. First, Philo and Berry’s book invests in an ultra-leftist discourse in which Arab nationalism is valorised as a righteous and heroic struggle against Western/Zionist imperialism, whilst Zionism – itself a (former) vehicle of national liberation – is demonised. [4] Second, and more serious from a scholarly, rather than purely political, perspective, the research methodology is faulty…”

      So much for sencar’s fulsome praise in that regard.

      Sencar, if you really are up to it and can argue your case here again, go to p55 of the article and read what is says there under “Flawed methodology”. Answer us as to why you think this is an excellent book, written by a good academic researcher in the light of that and in the light of the conclusions the academic who reviewed the book came to:

      “Conclusion

      “As I have attempted to illustrate here, there is much that is flawed about Bad News from Israel. Ultimately this is a rather tendentious and agenda-driven book in which the researchers set out to prove their own politically-inflected views. Its claims are based upon data generated by the selective use of historical material and flawed research methods. The net effect of the book will be to reinforce perceptions of Israel as monolithic, and will give succour to those who claim that the western media are controlled by ‘Zionists.’ ”

      I remember that you praised the methodology which means either that you are been economical with the actualite or really don’t know anything much about what does and does not constitute rigorous and unbiased academic enquiry. So what do you have to say now, sencar?

      • As I may be the only one on this thread who has actually read the book here is an online version: http://www.scribd.com/doc/46342793/Palestine-Israel-Bad-News
        I invite anyone to find hard evidence from the text of an “ultra-leftist discourse in which Arab nationalism is valorised as a righteous and heroic struggle against Western/Zionist imperialism, whilst Zionism – itself a (former) vehicle of national liberation – is demonised”.
        Brennan’s review was followed up by a response from a professor of sociology, John Eldridge, and by Philo and Berry (in which they defend their methodology amongst other things). Brennan commented on both. See here: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/democratiya/article_pdfs/d4PhiloandBrennan.pdf
        Please note first the biting tone of Eldridge’s comment, unusual for a senior academic and suggesting that Brennan’s is no ordinary objective review:
        “John Eldridge: Brennan cannot be serious
        Editors: Mike Brennan’s review of Bad News from Israel (Democratiya 3) was a triumph of maliciousness over accuracy. It is a sorry day for sociology when a Research Fellow in the subject actually complains that ‘swathes of the book groan under the weight of empirical data.’ In a similar way, he refers to the ‘dreary list of appendices,’ where further data and information about research methods are to be found. This is what we call evidence. It is what sociologists do: they gather evidence, analyse it and present it for public scrutiny. From my knowledge of Warwick
        University sociology department that is precisely what his colleagues routinely do. But this man, in the immortal words of John McEnroe, cannot be serious.
        John Eldridge, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Glasgow”

        I have my own criticisms of Brennan’s rebuttal of Philo and Berry’s comments which I will detail if anyone is interested.

        • Why not answer the accusation of flawed methodology?

          Don’t forget we’ve seen the video of Philo in the sort of dodgy company which would probably feed into that flawed methodology.

          The point, sencar, is that you didn’t mention all this controversy about the methodology at the beginning did you?

          You simply swallowed Philo’s flawed premises whole and unthinkingly because they chimed with your own.

          And as for “..It is what sociologists do: they gather evidence, analyse it and present it for public scrutiny. From my knowledge of Warwick
          University sociology department that is precisely what his colleagues routinely do…”

          The best of them (ie not the likes of Philo) do so in an unbiased fashion, don’t they, but you cannot deflect from the fact that Philo’s biases, at the BDS conference and at SOAS are evident and on show which makes any of his findings suspect.

          And I might even begin to think you were half-way intelligent and capable of critical analysis had you chosen someone other than John Eldridge who, being at Glasgow University alongside your guru Philo, could easily be biased in his favour.

          My mark for your critical analysis of data – FAIL – uses sources which themselves are associated with the university department which spawned the original biased source.

          RECOMMENDATION: Provide at least TWO other established academic sources which substantiate Eldridge but not from the same department at Glasgow University

          • SilverTrees

            Your original post raised two issues:
            1) The accusation that Philo’s book “invests in an ultra-leftist discourse” etc. I dealt with that by pointing to an online copy and inviting readers to find evidence in it of such a discourse. Interestingly no-one has taken up the invitation.
            2) “the research methodology is faulty”. When you look at what Brennan says about methodology (p55) he refers not to the general approach of analysing BBC output and investigating people’s views via focus groups but to two small sections of the book: a: the use of a brief summary of the events of 1948 and 1967 to help focus group members understand the background. Philo & Berry deal with this in point 6 (p74) of their rejoinder to Brennan’s review: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/democratiya/article_pdfs/d4PhiloandBrennan.pdf. b: “dismissal of some research group participant’s views as stemming from their ‘connections with Israel’”. This is dealt with in point 4 of the same document.

            Your second post raises three issues:
            1) You say I haven’t dealt with methodology. See above.
            2) You say Philo’s work must be flawed because of the company he keeps. Philo wouldn’t deny that he is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and obviously he sometimes speaks to fellow sympathisers. His research work, however stands on its own merits and you can’t dismiss it on the basis of his opinions or who he talks to. Philo & Berry comment on a similar point at the bottom of p75 in the paper above. Please read it.
            3) You dismiss Eldridge’s comment because he comes from Philo’s university and call for two supporting quotes from elsewhere. To quote McEnroe again “you cannot be serious” if you imagine that a professor would put his own reputation on the line by supporting a colleague against the evidence. Obviously I can’t show you two other critics of Brennan’s piece because as far as I know no-one else has commented on it in print, for or against.

    • How the Islamoloons love to feel got at!

      The MPACUK page is the best example of paranoid projection I have seen in quite some time.

        • Why not??

          It sends them round the bend not to be taken as seriously as they take themselves.

          They are distinctly disturbed already, so why stop at half-measures??

          Didn’t want to give them the hit, but I went to the MPACUK page and noted the sub-heading “Green Muslims”

          I’ve heard of “little green men” but little Green Muslims?

          OMG!