Compromising public perceptions of BBC impartiality

Sadly – for both its colleagues in the field in which it operates and the many people around the world in need of the human rights sector – there is nothing novel about the seemingly interminable ability of ‘Human Rights Watch’ to bring itself into repeated disrepute and compromise its own reputation for impartiality. 

A long line of scandals includes fund-raising in Saudi Arabia, an HRW employee with a penchant for Nazi memorabilia, cooperation with the Ghaddafi regime and accusations – including from its own founder – of poor research methods.

Only last week the Wall Street Journal informed us of yet another problematic aspect to HRW. It turns out that HRW’s Executive Director of almost twenty years, Kenneth Roth, does not consider Iran to be in violation of the UN Genocide Convention.

“Asked in 2010 about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that Israel “must be wiped off the map,” Mr. Roth suggested that the Iranian president has been misunderstood. “There was a real question as to whether he actually said that,” Mr. Roth told The New Republic, because the Persian language lacks an idiom for wiping off the map. Then again, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s own English-language website translated his words that way, and the main alternative translation—”eliminated from the pages of history”—is no more benign. Nor is Mr. Ahmadinejad an outlier in the regime. Iran’s top military officer declared earlier this year that “the Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.”

Mr. Roth’s main claim is legalistic: Iran’s rhetoric doesn’t qualify as “incitement”—which is illegal under the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1948—but amounts merely to “advocacy,” which is legal.”

As the article’s author David Feith rightly points out, Roth’s approach conveniently ignores Iran’s sponsorship of its proxies Hamas and Hizballah which are quite open about their aims.

Three days after the Roth story broke, HRW published yet another of its rapidly produced reports – this time accusing Israel of “a clear violation of the laws of war” during the latest conflict between it and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip.  Like its problematic 2006 report on the Second Lebanon War, this report is based on ‘evidence’ gathered from local residents – with apparently no attempt made to first establish the possibility of their affiliations to terror organisations – and without the author Fred Abrahams – who is not a munitions expert – having been able to inspect the remnants of what he presumes was ” a large aerial bomb”.

Needless to say, the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians – with fatal results or without – is not yet the subject of a report by HRW.

Of course known Hamas cheerleaders were quick to embrace, publicise and promote the latest HRW report. Among them was professional anti-Israel campaigner, BDS promoter and advocate of the one-state ‘solution’ Ben White who is perhaps best known for his ‘understanding’ of antisemites.  

White chose two BBC journalists – Paul Danahar and Jon Donnison – as recipients of one of his many Tweets on the subject of the HRW report. 

White HRW report

Less than three hours later, Paul Danahar sent Tweets of his own on the subject:

Danahar HRW report

Coincidence?  

Even if White’s Tweet did not prompt Danahar’s own, the many problematic aspects of HRW’s reputation and the fact that its latest report had already been warmly embraced as propaganda material by known anti-Israel activists should surely have prompted Danahar to recall that the BBC Editorial Guidelines state in section 4.4.13:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.”

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