BBC Complaints defends Bowen’s inaccurate history

BBC Complaints asserts that an inaccurate presentation of historical chronology aimed to "help listeners unfamiliar with the complex historical background".

As noted here last week a report on Prince William’s visit to Jordan, Israel and Palestinian Authority controlled territories that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on June 25th included an inaccurate portrayal of a historic event.

Part of the conversation between presenter Martha Kearney and the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen went as follows:

Kearney: “And interesting how some of the various groups have been greeting the visit. The Palestinian diplomatic representative in London said – referring to the Balfour Declaration – said that this is…eh…considered to be an act of indirect apology.”

Bowen: “Yes. Balfour Declaration of course being the decision by Britain when it was the colonial power in Palestine to say that they supported the establishment of a Jewish state – that was about 100 years ago. So for the Palestinians it’s as if it happened yesterday: they’re very, very angry about it still.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccurate portrayal, pointing out that while the Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2nd 1917, British forces did not complete their First World War ‘Sinai and Palestine Campaign’ until October 30th 1918 – almost a year after the Balfour Declaration was issued – and that the region was not under British control – “colonial” or otherwise – when the Balfour Declaration was issued as claimed by the BBC’s Middle East editor.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“We raised your complaint with the programme team and senior staff, who respond:

The presenter, Martha Kearney, put it to our Middle East Editor that Prince William’s visit was being seen as an ‘indirect apology’ for the Balfour Declaration, in the words of the Palestinian Representative in London who had commented on the visit.

As this was the first mention of the Balfour Declaration, Jeremy Bowen responded by attempting to explain in a few words the significance of Balfour for the audience. His summary was not intended to mislead but rather help listeners unfamiliar with the complex historical background and give context to Prince William’s trip. His phrase ‘about a hundred years ago’ clearly indicated that he was précising the details for the benefit for the listener and not setting out an exact sequence of historical events. Nor do we think ‘colonial power’ is an inappropriate phrase to cover this period, given that at the time Britain had a large Empire and went onto administer Palestine at the behest of the League of Nations in 1923.”

Quite how that inaccurate presentation of the chronology of events can be claimed to “help listeners unfamiliar with the complex historical background” is of course unclear. So much for BBC editorial standards of ‘accuracy’. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ forces Brexit and Gaza into royal visit report

More from Hadar Sela

Islamic Human Rights Commission & Al Quds Day: Tip of the UK’s Iranian support network iceberg

Introduction: In 1979 the Iranian regime, newly under the control of Ayatollah...
Read More