Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

On May 5th the BBC continued its previous day’s promotion of the booklet of anonymous claims published by the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ with an additional item on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – available here from 36:28.Newshour 5 5 BtS

Once again, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality were completely ignored, with no effort made to inform listeners of the group’s pre-existing “particular viewpoint”, “standpoint” or “ideology”. Presenter James Menendez introduced the segment as follows: [emphasis added]

“Now if you were listening to Newshour yesterday you’ll have heard our coverage from Israel about a report by a human rights group called ‘Breaking the Silence’ into the way some Israeli soldiers say they were instructed to behave during last year’s war against Hamas in Gaza. The group gathered the testimonies of more than sixty former and serving soldiers and what they said appears to contradict the government’s insistence that everything was done to avoid killing civilians. Well today we have a response from the Israeli government – we’ll play you that interview in a moment. First though, here’s some of that testimony from a soldier in an armoured brigade who served in the central Gaza Strip – distorted to protect his identity as well as voiced-over in English.”

Throughout his interview with Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, Menendez adopted the role of advocate for the approach of the group he had failed to accurately describe to his listeners and displayed little understanding of the process of investigation of military incidents either in Israel or in other countries.

As Matti Friedman recently wrote on Facebook:

“Professional journalists looking at this report, and at similar reports, should be asking (but aren’t, of course): Compared to what? IDF open-fire regulations are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province? “Lax” and “high” are relative terms. If Israel is being compared to other countries in similar situations, we need to know what the comparison is. Otherwise, beyond the details of individual instances the broad criticism is meaningless. […]

Today, like B’Tselem and others, it’s [Breaking the Silence] a group funded in large part by European money which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave.”

In three reports spread over two days of coverage the BBC has variously described ‘Breaking the Silence’ as an “activist group”, an “advocacy group” and a “human rights group” whilst promoting its claims. Clearly the BBC’s failure to inform its audiences of the very relevant context of the political motivations behind its story’s source means that what BBC audiences have been reading and hearing is activism rather than journalism.


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