The BBC’s own watchdog has upheld a complaint of bias against the Today programme after it was found to have aired an item on Israel which “failed to observe due impartiality”.
The ruling, reported in The Times, is another dent to the corporation’s news division after the BBC Trust was forced to accept viewers’ complaints about the five-minute report from Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly, which aired in 2011.
Complainants said it wrongly gave the impression that Israel occupied land three times its original size as a result of the Six Day War. In addition, listeners allege that Connolly suggested Israel was unwilling to trade land for peace, when it had reached peace deals with Jordan and Egypt that included transfers of conquered territory.
“The combined effect meant that the item left the incorrect impression that Israel had not handed back territory since 1967,” read the findings. “Consequently, there had been a failure to observe due impartiality.”
There have been tensions between the trust – which acts as internal watchdog – and the news division ever since complaints of partiality against reports by Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen were upheld five years ago.
The ill feeling from that episode was further compounded when it emerged that one of the “independent” experts the trust sought advice from was Israel’s Ambassador to the United States.
News of the pending judgement on Connelly’s report came in the same week that Fraser Steel, Head of Editorial Complaints, upheld yet another grievance against the Today programme.
In an interview with Minister of Faith and Communities Baroness Warsi in November, interviewer Sarah Montague implied that Israel was a country in which violence against Christians was forcing the extinction of the religion in the region.
“The intention of the question was to cite Israel as an example of a country where there was a functioning government, but in the context, it nevertheless created the impression complained of,” admitted Fraser.
Having upheld the complaint, the Editorial Complaints Unit said the editor would “discuss the findings with the presenter and underline the need for care,” a remedy that left complainants unsatisfied.
“Simply having a word with the interviewer is really not enough,” said listener Clive Hyman. “It does nothing to correct the false impression she created.”
He added: “Whether it’s deliberate or through ignorance and lack of proper research, only she and her colleagues can tell you.”