A BBC template response to complaints

On November 7th 2012 an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme featured a conversation between the presenter and the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, relating to the re-election of Barak Obama. The relevant portion of the programme can be heard here

At 03:13 Simpson says: [all emphasis added]

“And anyway, Obama has taken a rather different line towards Israel – a more hostile line towards Israel. And he’s still won the election in spite of everything the Israeli Prime Minister could do to discourage Americans from voting for him…”

Later, the presenter says:

“A message of sup…I was going to say support…not a message of support – a message of congratulations (laughs) from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli (laughs) Prime Minister. But..erm…I wonder what, briefly, will be going through his mind.”

Simpson replies:

“Oh, I should think he’s really disappointed. Err…he threw everything that he could, including calling..err…Mr Obama – effectively calling him weak in dealing with Iran. Including saying …err…more openly that he wasn’t the kind of friend that Israel would have chosen. Ahm..he didn’t use those words, but that was very clear. Ah..so he must feel that he’s got the wrong president there.”

Several members of the general public have informed BBC Watch that they made complaints to the BBC regarding Simpson’s claim in this programme that attempts were made by the Israeli Prime Minister to influence the US elections. Interestingly, all those who submitted complaints received exactly the same reply from the BBC. 

Dear ******

Reference ***********

Thanks for contacting us about Radio 4’s Today broadcast on 7 November.

Firstly we’d like to apologise for the delay in replying. We realise correspondents expect a quick response and we’re sorry you‘ve had to wait on this occasion.

We understand you believe John Simpson made inaccurate and slanderous comments about the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, during a discussion on the 2012 US Presidential election.

We forwarded your concerns to the Today programme who pointed out that John Simpson specifically said:

”Obama has taken a…more hostile line towards Israel and still won the election despite everything the Israeli PM could do to discourage Americans from voting for him.”

Later he amplified that by saying:

“He (Netanyahu) threw everything that he could including…effectively calling him weak in dealing with Iran including, saying more openly that he wasn’t the kind of friend Israel would have chosen – he didn’t use those words but that was clear – so he must feel he got the wrong President there.”

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the relationship between the two leaders is poor and this has been reported elsewhere in the media. Reuters has referred to “long-strained ties” between the two, while the Telegraph has referred to difficulties between the two:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/nilegardiner/100180493/barack-obama-refuses-to-meet-benjamin-netanyahu-on-his-us-visit-a-rude-snub-to-7-million-israelis/

Meanwhile in the Guardian it was reported how the relationship was dysfunctional:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/10611303

And how, in a story about Netanyahu’s appearance in a political ad produced by a fringe non-profit group to criticise President Obama, that:

“The ad is the latest in a series of appearances by Netanyahu in the heated US presidential election. The prime minister made a point of being photographed with Republican challenger Mitt Romney on his visit to Israel in July and praised the candidate’s views on Iran. In a Jerusalem press conference on the 9/11 anniversary, Netanyahu criticized the Obama administration’s refusal to notify Iran of a ‘red line’ that would trigger an attack on its nuclear facilities. Complaints by the prime minister’s office about Obama declining a meeting at the UN next week have been eagerly used by Republicans in attacks on the president.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/20/netanyahu-us-political-ad-obama

(Please note that the BBC isn’t responsible for the content found on any external websites.)

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen also spoke of how: “As expected, Israel is being supported from the United States – despite the poor relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20346981

The programme added, in closing, that the poor relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is an open secret and has been widely reported and commented upon. And it’s part of John Simpson’s job as World Affairs Editor to offer analysis of this kind for our audience.

Nevertheless, we appreciate your concerns about John Simpson’s comments and we’d like to assure you that we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers. The audience logs are important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Stuart Webb

BBC Complaints

The most striking thing about this response is its utter failure to answer the substance of the complaints. Readers did not complain about Simpson’s portrayal of the relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, but about his claim of attempts by the Israeli Prime Minister to influence the US elections. 

Of the four references the response provides as evidence for the rejection of the complaints, one is from the BBC itself: a one-line quote from Jeremy Bowen which merely reflects his own subjective assessment of the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. Another reference comes from the Daily Telegraph and two others from the Guardian – the first actually being a reproduction of an AP article which quotes a representative of ‘Americans for Peace Now’.  Interestingly, the BBC apparently finds it legitimate to use articles from other sources (including even the Guardian – singled out on more than one occasion by the CST in its annual report on antisemitic discourse) as ‘evidence’ for its stance, whilst simultaneously stating that “the BBC isn’t responsible for the content found on any external websites”. 

The second of those Guardian links refers to a video made by a third-party in which publicly available footage of Netanyahu speaking about the Iranian nuclear operation was used. Neither it, nor any of the other links provided by the BBC, show evidence of the direct – and massive – intervention which Simpson claimed had occurred. 

As a supposed response to numerous complaints on the same subject, this reply from the BBC is sorely lacking in both substance and respect for its audiences’ intelligence. 

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