“The BBC has criticised former director of television Danny Cohen for signing a letter opposing a cultural boycott of Israel.
The corporation said that it regretted the “impression” created by Mr Cohen’s name appearing on the letter but that it “had no bearing on his ability to do his day job”.
The letter, published in the Guardian in October, was signed by more than 150 writers, artists, musicians and media personalities including J K Rowling and Melvyn Bragg. It was a response to an earlier announcement by media personalities calling for a cultural boycott of Israel and described boycotting Israel as ‘a barrier to peace’.
Following a complaint to the BBC about Mr Cohen’s involvement, the BBC responded in a December email describing Mr Cohen’s actions as ‘inadvisable’. The email went on to say that senior employees “should avoid making their views known on issues of current political controversy”. However, no further action was taken as Mr Cohen, who announced that he was leaving the BBC the week before the letter was published, no longer worked for the corporation.”
Via the Guardian’s account of the story, we learn that:
“Sara Apps, interim director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the views in the letter opposing the boycott were “those of the Israeli state” and called on the BBC to provide reassurance that staff “are impartial and seen to be impartial, in their work at the BBC” .
She said: “By failing to take any action against Cohen, the BBC sent a message to licence fee payers that it only pays lip service to the concept of impartiality when it comes to the subject of Palestine and Israel, and that BBC executives are free to publicly express their views on this subject with no regard for the code of impartiality written into the royal charter.”
One cannot of course disagree with the demand for the BBC to ensure that its staff “are impartial and seen to be impartial, in their work at the BBC”. One also cannot disagree with the claim that when BBC staff “publicly express their views on this subject” there is a risk that the BBC’s impartiality may be compromised.
The trouble is that Ms Apps and her friends at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign who organized the complaints against Danny Cohen (the group’s second campaign against a Jewish BBC employee in just over a year) do not in fact care a fig about BBC impartiality.
If they did, they would have similarly protested when a BBC staff member with considerably more influence on the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting of news from the Middle East than the corporation’s director of television collaborated with an anti-Israel political campaign run by one of the signatories to that February 2015 pro-boycott letter, Leila Sansour.
They would surely also have had something to say on the topic of ‘impartiality’ in relation to the fact that the BBC has broadcast content made by a former employee who pinned his own political colours to the mast by collaborating with the Palestine Solidarity campaign.
There is of course nothing novel about this latest episode in the PSC’s employment of selective outrage over BBC impartiality for anti-Israel PR purposes. Sadly, there is also nothing remarkable about this latest example of the BBC allowing itself and its editorial guidelines to be used as tool in the political campaigning of an opaquely funded group which provides support for a terrorist organization proscribed by the British government.
And whilst we’re on that subject, if readers are wondering why the Palestine Solidarity Campaign currently has an ‘interim director’ (and what happened to the previous flotilla participating one), the answers can be found here.