On January 13th the 13:06 GMT edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ included live coverage of what its synopsis describes as the “State funeral ceremony for former Isrsali [sic] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon”.
Whilst the programme itself was hosted by Razia Iqbal, the section of it covering the funeral of Ariel Sharon (starting from about 01:14 in the link above) was presented by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet from the Sharon family’s HaShikmim Farm near Sderot and throughout the live broadcast listeners could hear announcements relating to the ongoing funeral in the background.
Against that backdrop, Doucet chose to describe Sharon as:
“War hero to some, war criminal to others: revered and reviled.”
Later, she described Sharon as having:
“…bulldozed the land as housing minister to make way for settlements.”
As noted here earlier this week, that is another clearly all too prevalent BBC myth which does not stand up to scrutiny.
The most notable part of this programme, however, was the editorial decision to provide a platform for the head of the Fatah political committee Abdullah Abdullah during a live broadcast meters away from an ongoing funeral.
When asked by Doucet why the Palestinians do not give Sharon credit for the Gaza Strip disengagement, Abdullah said:
“Credit for what? Credit for the massacre of Qibya in 1953? Credit of the Sabra and Shatilla in 19…eh…82? Credit for ….eh…the continued…probably he is one of the top accused of the assassination of President Arafat. Credit for…” [emphasis added]
With no clarification for listeners that two separate reports recently determined that Arafat died of natural causes, Doucet then changed the subject to the disengagement from Gaza, which gave Abdullah the opportunity to say:
“Excuse me, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip was not a sign of peace because he refused to discuss this with any party concerned. This was a design to get rid of 1.7 million Palestinians from the demographic threat that Sharon was afraid of. So it was – and look now what’s going on in the negotiations. Gaza is not brought into these negotiations. They thought that it is outside the Palestinian territory and not only that but Israel continued to control the lives of the people in the Gaza Strip, be it in land…the sea, from the land and from the air. And so I don’t think there is a credit for that but rather it’s a design that meant to concentrate his atrocities in the West Bank.”
In response to a later question, Abdullah added:
“Well I think peace to Sharon meant unilateral peace: peace only for the Israelis at the expense of the Palestinians. That’s not peace. That’s segregation.”
There are of course no BBC Editorial Guidelines or Style Guides on the issue of bad taste. If there were, then the on-site broadcasting of a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ defamation of a statesman in the process of being buried as a “war criminal”, along with the on-air propagation of crackpot conspiracy theories about his alleged involvement in an unproven “assassination” of Arafat, would surely go down as a prime example of how not to manage a live broadcast. There are, however, editorial guidelines on the subject of live output and parts of this one at the very least fall into the category of ‘offensive comments’.
“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we should make an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity.”
But of course Lyse Doucet had been building up to this for days. Her previous two ‘Newshour’ programmes on the subject of Sharon included numerous breaches of editorial guidelines and it seems that no-one on that programme’s production team is capable of controlling the damage.