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Battling the BBC’s bias against Jews and Israel

A parliamentary inquiry is the only answer to the network’s continued refusal to deal with the problem.

BBC headquarters at Portland Place in London. Credit: Willy Barton/Shutterstock.
BBC headquarters at Portland Place in London. Credit: Willy Barton/Shutterstock.
Heath Sloane
Heath Sloane

The BBC’s chronic bias against Israel has repeatedly handed a victory to antisemites in the court of public opinion. The blame for this falls squarely on two parties: First, the BBC itself, whose long-term reluctance to listen to and act on the Jewish community’s concerns has allowed bias to flourish. Second, establishment Jewish community leaders, whose preference for direct talks rather than comprehensive action does nothing to ameliorate the situation and harms the Jewish community in general.

A new parliamentary inquiry, comprised of MPs and peers, has promised to examine evidence of bias in the BBC’s reporting on Israel and Jews, and offer recommendations for improvement. They have their work cut out for them, not least because of the BBC’s lack of an effective system for handling complaints and its failure to make timely corrections, even after admitting to reporting errors.

U.K. regulator OFCOM has already ruled that the BBC has breached its editorial rules. Non-governmental media watchdog group CAMERA has published dozens of examples of the BBC’s bias, failure to report accurately, omission of crucial context and misrepresentation of facts in coverage of Israel and Jews.

Among the most disturbing examples was the BBC’s coverage of an incident that occurred on Nov. 29, 2021, in which a group of Jewish students was subjected to an antisemitic attack while traveling on a privately-hired bus on Oxford Street, London during Hanukkah. The BBC not only failed to accurately report the facts of the incident but also inverted the victim/aggressor dynamic, falsely claiming that the Jewish students used derogatory language to refer to Muslims.

Then there’s BBC Arabic. The outlet has an audience of 36 million people worldwide and is seen as a voice of authority in the Middle East, raising fears that its repeated errors and outright distortions have contributed to growing antisemitism.

Given the extensive documentation of the BBC’s bias, the Jewish community’s widespread support for an inquiry and the announcement that such an inquiry will take place, it is puzzling that some establishment Jewish leaders are not leaning fully into the inquiry. Instead, they are seeking direct, opaque, closed-door discussions with the BBC. In the past, however, direct discussions between the Jewish community and the BBC have proven to be an ineffective and time-wasting endeavor.

There is a precedent for this. During Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader, multiple Jewish community representatives sat down with him in an attempt to address antisemitism in the Labour party. The talks amounted to nothing. Ultimately, only an inquiry spearheaded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission ushered in much-needed corrective measures.

The National Jewish Assembly feels that only such an inquiry—with the full support of community leaders—can bring about the necessary changes at the BBC and force the network to finally address its problematic coverage of Jews and Israel.

The failure of community leaders to grapple with the BBC’s ongoing bias has forced the community’s hand. Given an alternative avenue to express its discontent, without its concerns being bottlenecked by certain community representatives, the Jewish community turned out en masse. Over 10,000 people signed a petition launched in November by The Jewish Chronicle demanding a parliamentary inquiry.

The National Jewish Assembly unequivocally supports the inquiry and fully intends to deliver a detailed submission to it once the terms of reference are released. Only full-throated support for the inquiry will offer any meaningful prospect of moving the dial away from antisemitism and back towards an objective, unbiased BBC.

Heath Sloane is the press and marketing manager of the National Jewish Assembly. Follow the NJA on Twitter at @NJA_UK and Facebook at @NJAUK, and Heath Sloane on Twitter at @HeathSloane.

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