BBC Trust Rules Against its Mideast Editor Jeremy Bowen
April 15, 2009
Boston, MA - The BBC has determined that its Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, had violated the broadcaster's ethical guidelines calling for impartiality and accuracy. The finding is likely to amplify concerns that BBC news coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is largely biased against Israel.
The March 31, 2009 decision by the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC), a unit of the BBC's top decision-making body, the BBC Trust, comes in response to a formal complaint filed by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and a similar complaint filed independently by a member of the U.K.-based Zionist Federation.
CAMERA's complaint charged that Bowen's June 4, 2007 article about the Six-Day War and its aftermath was marred by "serious omissions, exaggerations and outright anti-Israel bias." The detailed complaint came before the ESC after the BBC News Web site and Editorial Complaints Unit defended Bowen's article.
In response to the ruling, CAMERA Senior Research Analyst Gilead Ini said that while ESC's willingness to openly fault unethical reporting by Bowen is important and encouraging, it is unclear that the BBC will draw appropriate conclusions from its findings and take concrete steps to combat the broadcaster's chronically biased reporting. "Acknowledging the glaring problems in this article is a good first step, but it's only a first step," he said. "The BBC also needs to consider the wider implications here. Not only did the senior BBC reporter in the Middle East show bias in his reporting, but he also made it clear, while defending his piece before the ESC, that he thinks it's reasonable to report from the Palestinian perspective and ignore other mainstream narratives."
Ini feels that the ESC findings and, especially, Bowen's "outrageously deceptive" attempts to defend his report, explain the journalist's past biased coverage and cast doubt on his suitability as a BBC reporter and editor. "There's good reason to be skeptical of Mr. Bowen's reporting," he said, "and by extension, the reporting of BBC reporters who are subordinate to him."
CAMERA is concerned that the ESC, despite having ruled that Bowen's reporting was not impartial, is apparently not calling on the reporter to be objective in future articles. Its ruling states that it is not necessary for Bowen to have given equal space to different views. "All that was required was a clear statement signposting that there were alternative theses subscribed to by respectable historians."
This assertion is inconsistent with the BBC's Editorial Guidelines, Ini argues. "If Jeremy Bowen consistently promotes only one point of view linked to a controversial subject and fails to relay in any real depth other prominent and reasonable views, the result is biased reporting," he said. "This is true regardless of whether or not Bowen throws in a sentence 'signposting' that other views exist."
The ESC finding that "the article had breached the guideline on impartiality" came after an independent advisor commissioned by the BBC described Bowen's assessment of the Six-Day War as being "firmly of the 'New Historian' kind," and "unqualified by an acknowledgment that the opposite or 'mainstream' opinion might have some weight too."
The advisor had also consulted with mainstream historian Martin Gilbert and revisionist historian Avi Shlaim, who both agreed that aspects of Bowen's piece were not accurate.
CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), is a national non-profit media-monitoring organization, focusing on the coverage of Israel and the Middle East.
Take A Pen has covered BBC bias since 2001, among others in five thorough studies (in 2005) which received the response of the BBC's chairman of the Board.