BBC’s Franks ignores ‘contributors’ affiliations’ guidelines

Since the public protests against the Israeli government’s plans to make major changes to the judicial system began in early January 2023, events on the ground have for the most part been covered by the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau journalists, sometimes with additional reporting from their colleagues at the BBC News website in London.

As of last week that coverage also included reports by Tim Franks who was sent from London to Israel.

The March 22nd editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (which lists Franks among its presenters) included lengthy contributions from Franks [from 14:06 and from 30:07 here], the first of which includes a particularly notable interview.

Franks began his report by interviewing two participants in a demonstration in Tel Aviv before going on to speak to Dorit Beinisch, a former president of Israel’s Supreme Court. However at 19:05, the focus – and location – of the item shifted.

Franks: “It’s evening in the northern city of Haifa. Osama Tanous is out on the streets along with a group of his friends. But they’re not here to demonstrate. Rather, it’s their regular Monday evening running club. Osama is a paediatrician and a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. 20% of the population here is Israeli Arab. He’s not joining the protests because for him, there’s a category error. The demonstrators may claim that they want to save democracy. ‘What democracy?’ Osama asks. He only sees a system that disempowers and discriminates against Palestinians.”

Besides that short portrayal of Tanous’ profession and ethnicity, listeners heard nothing more about that contributor’s affiliations as required by the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality 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.”

Neither were listeners informed how Franks came to be in Haifa or by whom he had been connected with that particular jogging doctor before they heard the following:

Tanous: “I don’t know what people think of us, whether we’re like incredibly stupid or have amnesia or really don’t know what is our history and our context that we are born into. So now seeing people coming out to kind of object that and wanting us to join in their protests is absolutely ridiculous. Also when it comes to the language that they are speaking, it’s like, you know, brothers in arms, that we have fought for this country. You have fought us. You’ve been killing us for this country. And they are not, you know, calling for the state of all its citizens. They are not calling for full equality, for full democracy. They are calling for a democracy for the masters, you know, democracy of the Jews, for the Jews, by the Jews.”

Had BBC listeners worldwide been told that Tanous studied, inter alia, at Tel Aviv University’s faculty of medicine and at Harvard University Medical School, they may have been able to put Franks’ reference to “a system that disempowers and discriminates against Palestinians” into some perspective.

Had they also been informed that Tanous is a board member at the political NGO ‘B’Tselem’ and a member of the board of directors at the political NGO ‘Physicians for Human Rights -Israel’ as well as a member of ‘Al Shabaka’ who is not averse to politicising his profession in the media, they would obviously have been better placed to put his contribution into its appropriate context.

However, as is all too often the case, those BBC editorial guidelines on contributors’ affiliations were completely ignored, meaning that listeners remained unaware that Tim Franks apparently travelled to Haifa to meet a political activist he presented solely as a medic in order to present an ‘angle’ that is not part of the story on which he was supposedly reporting but does tap into a narrative that the BBC has been promoting for years.

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  1. says: Grimey

    The wording of Franks’ report implies that his meeting this Tamous in Haifa was a by-chance, random affair – when the fact is that it was a typical pre-arranged BBC stunt with the usual intent of demonising Israel. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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