It took the BBC almost three years to acknowledge last month that it had got a report about the Middle East badly wrong. It’s a pity it took so long for the obvious to come out.
On June 10, 2011, the BBC’s flagship radio news programme Today broadcast a report marking the 44th anniversary of the Six Day War in 1967. The report, by Middle East Correspondent Kevin Connolly, recorded the scale of Israel’s victory, stating that “Israel trebled in size”, and then noted its failure to trade that captured land for peace.
The report neglected to mention that the Sinai, comprising the vast majority of the land seized, was returned to Egypt in 1982, under the terms of a peace treaty signed in 1979. That was the substance of a complaint I made to the BBC on the day the broadcast was made.
It seemed absurd in the context of the report not to mention those things. It also appeared to me to be dangerous. It played to a narrative of absolute Israeli intransigence and unwillingness to engage meaningfully with those around it. And when the dominant, authoritative broadcaster transmits misleading stories which fit that narrative, it matters.
Instead of accepting it had broadcast a poorly-framed report, the BBC pulled down the shutters and denied any fault in it. Connolly also fully defended his journalism. As time dragged on, with the BBC showing utter disregard for its own complaint guidelines, the justifications became ever more complex and outlandish.
At first the BBC said the report was about peace with the Palestinians. When it was pointed out more than half the report came from the Syrian border on land with no bearing to a deal with the Palestinians, the goalposts were moved and were kept moving at every stage.
This January the BBC Trust found that by not updating the historic figure for the amount of territory conquered and in maintaining that land for peace had not arisen in any form, the report was not “duly accurate”. These inaccuracies created a report that “failed to observe due impartiality”.
It was a conclusion any independent listener with some knowledge of journalism and the region would have reached. It appears the BBC did not have any of that to hand. That’s something for BBC news, the Today programme, and the correspondent who produced inaccurate and misleading journalism to dwell on.