In November 2013, whilst interviewing Baroness Warsi on the subject of persecution of Christians for the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, Sarah Montague said:
“But are you saying – can I just ask – countries like Pakistan that you refer to, or perhaps Israel or even Iraq where there is a functioning government – is it just down to the politicians in those countries to speak out and this problem could be solved?”
Listeners would of course have understood from Sarah Montague’s reference to Israel – alongside Pakistan and Iraq – that Christians are subject to persecution in that country too.
A complaint lodged at the time produced the following unsatisfactory response from the programme’s assistant editor Dominic Groves:
“Thank you for your email. Sarah Montague cited Israel not as an example of a country which persecutes Christians but of a country where there is a functioning Government. She did this in the context of asking what responsibility politicians should bear for promoting harmony between those of different faiths.”
The listener pursued his complaint further and has now received a response from the Head of Editorial Complaints which includes the following:
“Your complaint has been considered in the light of the BBC’s guidelines on Accuracy. You felt that a question asked of Baroness Warsi during an interview on the persecution of Christians gave the misleading impression that this was happening in Israel:
Sarah Montague: But are you saying – can I just ask – countries like Pakistan that you refer to, or perhaps Israel or even Iraq where there is a functioning government – is it just down to the politicians in those countries to speak out and this problem could be solved?
While I take Dominic Groves’ point that the intention was to cite Israel as an example of a country with a functioning government, rather than a country which persecutes Christians, it seems to me that bracketing it with Pakistan and Iraq, in the context of an item arising from Baroness Warsi’s warning that Christians in some parts of the world face extinction because of violence against them, nevertheless tended to give the impression that Christians in Israel were suffering violence comparable to what had been experienced in the other countries named, and that this impression, however inadvertent, was misleading.
I’m therefore proposing to uphold your complaint.”
It of course remains to be seen how the BBC will deal with the issue of informing the ‘Today’ programme’s millions of listeners of that breach of Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and correcting the mistaken impression created by Sarah Montague.
BBC R4′s ‘Today’ programme implies persecution of Christians in Israel