Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

This anniversary week of the Six Day War we have been looking at some of the portrayals of that event which appear when a member of the public conducts an internet search for BBC produced content on the subject: see here and here.

Another item which appears on the first page of search results is Jeremy Bowen’s 2007 article titled “How 1967 defined the Middle East“. As readers may recall, the original version of that article was the subject of complaints to the BBC and the Editorial Standards Committee’s subsequent findings – which can be viewed here – upheld and partially upheld a range of specific points – much to Jeremy Bowen’s continuing chagrin.

Today, at the bottom of that article’s current version, readers will find the following footnote:

JB 67 am footnote

Readers might therefore reasonably assume that the article as it now stands is both accurate and impartial and so it is worth taking a look at the changes which were made to it, supposedly in order to bring it in line with the ESC’s rulings. Below are screenshots of the original article (on the left) and the amended version (on the right). Changes in wording are underlined in red and the screenshots can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The article’s introduction has been amended to clarify that this is Bowen’s “own assessment”, presumably in light of the ESC’s decision to uphold one complaint on the grounds of impartiality and partly uphold the other complaint on the same grounds (see pages 14 and 8 respectively here).

JB 67 both a 1

The next amendment makes little difference to Bowen’s ensuing claim and, although it arguably does inform readers that there are additional views beyond the one promoted by the BBC’s Middle East editor, such views are still not presented.

JB 67 both b

JB 67 both c

The next amendment presumably relates to the upholding of both complaints (pages 13 and 5 here) with regard to the accuracy of Bowen’s following statement.

“The statement that, “the Israeli generals…had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel’s independence war of 1948 for most of their careers.”

  • that, although the Middle East Editor stated that he had meant it to be understood that he was referring to the capture of East Jerusalem, it would have been impossible for a reader of the article to know which “unfinished business” had been meant; and
  • that there had been a breach of the guideline on accuracy with regard to the use of “clear, precise language” in this respect.”

JB 67 both d 1

Two additional amendments reflect the ESC’s upholding of complaints of breaches of accuracy on two further points.

“The reference to Zionism’s “innate instinct to push out the frontier”

  • that this statement had been unqualified and, as a result it had not been clear and precise; and
  • that there had been a breach of the guideline on accuracy in this respect.”

And:

“The statement that the Israeli settlement of occupied land was in defiance of”everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own”

  • that use of the word “everyone” had been imprecise and that it would have been simple to qualify this term;
  • that, particularly when writing about the Middle East, the BBC has to be careful about its use of “clear, precise language”;
  • that this sort of generalisation should have been picked up by BBC Online’s editorial processes; and
  • that there had been a breach of the guideline on accuracy”

JB 67 both e 1

JB 67 both f

With regard to the points raised in the ESC report on the issue of impartiality, it is distinctly obvious that the amendments made to the article do little to correct that breach of editorial guidelines as upheld by the ESC.

“Impartiality

  • that the article was on the news section of the BBC website and that, although it dealt with a historical subject, the legacy affects the Middle East today and is a matter of political controversy;
  • that this was a piece by the Middle East Editor, under his by-line;
  • that this was not a “personal view” under the guidelines and that the personal view guidelines did not apply;
  • that the article should be duly accurate and impartial in its own right;
  • that, although it was possible on the web to create a series of articles providing alternative views, linked to allow exploration of the range of views, there was no suggestion that this article was part of such a series;
  • that a “professional judgement” on a matter of opinion regarding a highly controversial subject should be contextualised to indicate that other views exist;
  • that the author of the article should have done more to explain that there were alternative views on the subject which had some weight;
  • that readers might come away from the article thinking that the interpretation offered was the only sensible view of the war;
  • that it was not necessary for equal space be given to the other arguments, but that the existence of alternative theses should have been more clearly signposted; and
  • that the article had breached the guideline on impartiality.”

Nevertheless, not only does this problematic article – albeit with minor cosmetic amendments – remain on the BBC website seven years after its initial publication and more than five years after the ESC’s rulings, but also still available via a link in the article is Bowen’s four-part radio series from 2007 on the same topic which promotes many of the same inaccuracies as the original article (as well as additional ones) and has not been amended in light of the ESC’s findings.

This material continues to be used as a basis for additional BBC material produced by Bowen and his colleagues. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s presentation of current Israel-related issues more often than not frames issues such as the status of Jerusalem using a selective account of history which commences in June 1967. That practice in itself obviously compromises the BBC’s ability to produce accurate and impartial content, but the problem is further compounded by the fact that – as this article clearly demonstrates – the person ultimately responsible for all BBC Middle East content is dedicated to the promotion of a politically motivated version of the events of June 1967 which paints Israel as a premeditating, expansionist aggressor. 

 

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