BBC Radio 4’s Nick Robinson does not convince

The April 15th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme received some sharp criticism due to a claim made by presenter Nick Robinson during a long interview with the UK Foreign Secretary.

As reported by the Jewish Chronicle:

“Politicians have attacked the BBC and accused it of “shocking bias” after presenter Nick Robinson said on Monday that Israel had “murdered tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians”.

Senior Tory Theresa Villiers said there should be “an immediate investigation” into Robinson’s comments.

In an interview with the Foreign Secretary, Lord David Cameron, the BBC Radio 4 Today presenter said he would ask “a question of morality”.

“Western governments appear to back Israel the moment that Israel is under attack, but when Israel attacks and murders tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians, we say the words, but we do almost nothing,” Robinson said.”

Later in the day, Robinson put out a Tweet:

The key sentence in that statement is this one:

“I should have been clearer that I was not expressing my own view let alone that of the BBC when I used the words ‘murders’.”

As noted by Robinson, that question was the final one in a fifteen-minute interview (from 2:10:12 here). However, Robinson’s introduction to the item, together with the phrasing of many of his seventeen questions, casts doubt on the claim that he was not expressing his own view when he stated – without any qualification – that “Israel attacks and murders tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians”.

Introduction: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “The UK is no mere bystander in the possible slide to a full-scale war in the Middle East. We are active participants. RAF Typhoons flew over the skies of the region to help protect Israel on Saturday night after Iran, for the first time since the Islamic revolution in 1997 [sic] launched a direct attack on the country. If what follows is what the leaders of the G7 have called a devastating full-scale conflict, it is possible that British bases and British interests in the region could come under attack.

We’re also not onlookers in Israel’s continuing and devastating war in Gaza, which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and – as we heard in the last hour of the programme – may soon see the largest famine on the planet.

Until recently the UK government has helped block UN votes supporting a ceasefire in Gaza. It continues to say that Israel’s actions are not in breach of international law. It continues to supply arms to Israel and boycott the UN aid agency UNRWA as well. The question underlying all of these, is why?”

Questions:

Robinson: “Why is the question I’m asking today. Why risk British lives and spend British taxpayers’ money in defence of Israel?”

Robinson: “Now, the former ambassador to Iran – our former ambassador – said that this is not our call and pointed out – as almost everyone did – that Israel attacked sovereign Iranian territory, albeit a diplomatic mission in another country, in Syria. You can’t dispute that, can you?”

Robinson: “Sure, but Israel hit diplomatic territory, didn’t it?”

Robinson: “Israel hit diplomatic territory.”

Robinson: “I know you give Israel the benefit of the doubt on this when it’s pretty clear to everybody that Israel attacked Iranian sovereign territory and you would surely say they’ve got a right of self-defence as Israel itself has.”

Robinson: “I’ll turn to Gaza if I may, as you suggested just a moment ago. There’s another ‘why’ question here. Why does Britain continue to support Israel – sells it arms, says it’s not in breach of international law – when you can see what is happening in Gaza and the warnings we heard this morning that we’re on the brink of famine; warnings that even the United States has echoed recently.”

Robinson [in response to Cameron’s statements regarding the entry of more aid to Gaza, the opening of a new crossing in the north, the transportation of aid via Ashdod port]: “They’re all things they [Israel] say they’ll do but they haven’t actually done. Let me put it to you, if I may, that the word ‘frustrating’ isn’t quite up to the scale of a famine which might be the largest on the planet and the British government is choosing to support the Israeli government. It’s choosing to sell arms, it’s choosing to say they’re not in breach of international law.”

Robinson: “If you’ve been clear and forceful, isn’t the possibility that they’re [Israel] simply not listening? That they regard the fact that the British government continues to sell them arms, does not declare them in breach of international law – which you hinted only a month ago that you might well do, by the way – and think ‘the British government: forget what they say. They’re effectively giving us a green light to continue as we have been in Gaza’.”

Robinson: “…they [Israel] need the British, they need the French, they need the Jordanians and the Americans and that perhaps – despite the words which I accept that you’ve uttered since you’ve become foreign secretary – you haven’t used proper leverage, which is saying ‘if you don’t do what we are recommending, you’re on your own’.”

Robinson: “If they [Israel] ignore you on Gaza, they utter the words, they promise to do this and that and those on the ground say well we’re still not seeing it; aid’s still not going through, the famine is still getting ever more likely…”

From there, it was obviously just a short hop to Robinson’s final question:

Robinson: “I want to end if I could with a question of morality. You will know – I think you’ve talked about the fact that the West has been perceived to lose the argument with even many of its own people ever since the war on terror began. Isn’t the real risk of where we are now that Western governments appear to back Israel the moment that Israel is under attack but when Israel attacks and murders tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians, we say the words but we do almost nothing.”

Nowhere in this fifteen-minute interview did listeners hear Robinson use qualifying phrases such as ‘some might say that…’ or ‘there are those who contend that…’. At no point did Robinson reference terrorism, Hamas or the October 7th atrocities. What listeners did hear from him, however, were context-free claims – for example regarding UNRWA and the status of the building next to the Iranian embassy in Damascus – and allegations.

While he may now be seeking to do damage control in light of the public uproar at his choice of words, Robinson will have to do a lot more in order to convince many that this was not an expression of his “own view”. And if, as he claims, it was not his view or “that of the BBC”, then surely he should be able to tell us whose view it is that Israel “murders tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians” and why he found fit to amplify that obviously inaccurate smear to BBC Radio 4 listeners. 

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3 Comments

  1. says: Steven Cohen

    There article doesn’t seem to state that Israel DID NOT hit Iranian diplomatic premises….Israel struck the building next door and the Iranian building’s windows were not even broken

  2. says: Nigel Blumenthal

    Everyone who spends more than a few minutes listening to Robinson’s biased drivel knows that he’s just an anti-semite at heart. And maybe that is the BBC’s position too – he certainly seems to ally his position with that of his employer.

    1. says: Richard Foster Turnbull

      You beat me to it, Nick Robinson has been biased on the I/P issues since forever – I hear him on the BBC World News broadcasts on and off here in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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