‘Open Bethlehem’ is a political campaign which describes its aim as being “to address the state of emergency in Bethlehem”. Partnered by the Amos Trust, promotion of its campaign message is largely focused around a film of the same name made by Leila Sansour.
The campaign’s Facebook account states:
“Open Bethlehem aims to bring world attention to the crisis facing the city by reaching out to decision-makers, church leaders and the media and acting as a route into Bethlehem for initiatives of all kinds. Above all, we aim to build a positive legacy for Palestine and the wider region by reasserting Bethlehem’s unique historical character as a living example of an open and multi-faith Middle East.”
A recent review in the Guardian informs readers that:
“Leila Sansour’s documentary Open Bethlehem follows her campaign to stop occupying Israeli forces encircling her hometown with a concrete wall.”
“Palestinian director Leila Sansour has made a fierce, poignant film about her family and her hometown of Bethlehem, now in Palestinian territory but progressively stifled by the Israeli government’s anti-terrorist barrier…”
According to the film’s production company blurb:
“Iambic Dream Films is thrilled to present a film that Jon Snow calls: “One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen. The tragedy of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one town – Bethlehem.” […] The film spans ten momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation.”
Bethlehem of course has not been “under occupation” for two decades and neither is it ‘encircled’ by a “concrete wall” but readers no doubt recall that same theme being promoted by the BBC’s Yolande Knell exactly a year ago in her Christmas reporting from Bethlehem and yet again in her reporting on the Pope’s visit in May 2014.
Hence, it does not come as too much of a surprise to see this:
Now, what would the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality have to say about the self conscription of a BBC correspondent to a political campaign directly connected to the field she covers?
“A conflict of interest may arise when the external activities of anyone involved in making our content affects the BBC’s reputation for integrity, independence and high standards, or may be reasonably perceived to do so. Our audiences must be able to trust the BBC and be confident that our editorial decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures, or any personal interests.”
News and current affairs output may at any time deal with any issue, cause, organisation or individual and there must be no doubt over the integrity and objectivity of editorial teams. For this reason, there are specific constraints on those working in BBC News and Current Affairs, Global News and news output in the Nations. Staff, correspondents and freelances primarily known as BBC news presenters or reporters are affected by these constraints.”
“It is essential that BBC staff, BBC correspondents on non staff contracts and freelances known to the public primarily as presenters or reporters on BBC news or current affairs programmes do not undertake any off-air activities which could undermine the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. Nothing they do or say should bring the BBC into disrepute. No off-air activity, including writing for newspapers, magazines or websites, writing books, giving interviews, making speeches or chairing conferences should lead to any doubt about the objectivity or integrity of their work for the BBC. If BBC journalists, presenters or reporters publicly express personal views off-air on controversial issues, then their editorial or on-air role may be severely compromised.”
Whether or not Yolande Knell got the required permission from her Head of Department before agreeing to allow her name and BBC brand-linked title to be used for promotion of the ‘Open Bethlehem’ film we do not know. What is clear, however, is that her position as an ‘impartial’ BBC correspondent based in its Jerusalem bureau is compromised and indeed untenable after such political activity.