BBC WS radio ignores ‘contributors’ affiliations’ guidelines in Israel protests item

As we all too frequently have cause to note on these pages, the BBC regularly ignores its own editorial guidelines concerning ‘contributors’ affiliations’ which state:

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

The second hour of the February 20th edition of BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ included an example of how the recurrent failure to meet the requirements of that clause affects audience understanding of a story.

Presenter Sana Safi introduced an item [from 18:45 here] about the reading of a bill in the Knesset (a word which Safi had apparently not been advised how to pronounce correctly) with a simplified portrayal of the proposed legislation under discussion at that session.

Safi: “Let’s go to Israel where the Kessenet [sic] – the nation’s parliament – is due to hold its first leading – ehm, it’s first reading – of the legal reform bill today. The bill seeks to prevent the Supreme Court from striking down laws that have passed through the Kessenet [sic], giving politicians more sway over judicial appointments. However the ‘Israeli Spring’, as commentators are starting to call it, has caused controversy nationwide with upwards of 100,000 people having taken to the streets every Saturday night in cities across the country to voice their opposition, with many fearing that the proposal curbing the power of the Supreme Court will start Israel down an authority…authoritarian path.”

Notably, two days earlier a report in the Guardian had also used the phrase ‘The “Israeli spring”, as commentators are starting to call it’, likewise without identifying those “commentators”. However in contrast to that Guardian report, Safi’s phrasing implied that it is the proposed changes to the legal system that are the ‘Israeli Spring’ rather than the public protests against them. Safi continued:

Safi: “But some are saying it’s essential to reform the judicial system. Here with us now is Russell Shalev, a lawyer and researcher at Kohelet Policy Forum who supports the reform and he is with us now from Jerusalem to tell us why.”

Although listeners were told that Russell Avraham Shalev “supports the reform” himself, they were not given any information on the highly relevant topic of the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of the think-tank which employs him in its legal department.

The reason that missing information is important was clarified by another member of the same organisation a couple of months ago:

“…Kohelet is not just a successful policy institute but a revolutionary advocacy agency that has had an outsize influence in the intellectual debates of our times. […]

Kohelet also singlehandedly has put on the national agenda the demand for reform of the legal system and the need to re-balance the anchors of Israel’s democratic system – the Knesset and the courts.

In many ways, legal or constitutional reform is the hottest and most acute partisan issue on the domestic agenda, something akin to abortion as the most piercing issue in American politics. And Kohelet put it there (correctly so, in my view). I am sure that Kohelet’s thinkers and legal experts will play a sizeable role in the coming debate over the contours of judicial reform.”

Most of BBC World Service radio’s listeners will not have heard of the Kohelet Policy Forum and would certainly not be aware that the contributor they were hearing represents a foreign funded organisation which has been instrumental in advocating and drafting the highly controversial proposed changes.

What BBC audiences heard in this item were not only the private views of “a lawyer” but part of an ongoing PR campaign run by the Kohelet Policy Forum. The failure to adhere to the ‘contributors’ affiliations’ clause of the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality means that listeners were not able to put this interviewee’s latest contribution to his employer’s PR campaign into its relevant context.

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