After Sir Salman Rushdie was attacked in New York last month by a Muslim intent on fulfilling the murderous 1989 Iranian fatwa against him, the BBC’s Dateline London program ran an interview with the Palestinian commentator Abdel Bari Atwan.
Atwan said on the show that The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s satirical novel for which he attracted the fatwa (“religious edict”) was “blasphemy” and “offensive.”
Rushdie, said Atwan, was “very, very cruel when he talked about the Prophet Mohammed and his wives,” which was also “very, very dangerous.” He added: “About 90% of the people of the Muslim world believe that freedom of expression [is] practiced only to insult Muslims.”
The Jewish Chronicle reports that this prompted Baroness Deech, a former BBC governor, to write in protest to BBC director-general Tim Davie.
Deech, a former Oxford University law lecturer, wrote that “it is absolutely unacceptable to respond to comments with murder or violence,” and that Atwan’s comments “could amount to glorifying terrorism,” a crime under English law.
The BBC dismissed her complaint, insisting that inviting Atwan to comment was “editorially justified” and that “if extreme views are expressed on the BBC we would always seek to challenge them.”
Here, though, lies the rub. For the BBC’s definition of extremism is subjective, ideological and deeply flawed.
In giving a platform to Atwan and standing by his comments, the BBC adopted the attitude common in the West ever since that Rushdie fatwa: genuflection to the claims made by Islamists about their religion which they enforce with murderous violence.
Their charge against Rushdie’s novel was that it was offensive towards Islam’s founder, Mohammed, and therefore blasphemous. The same charge was leveled against satirical cartoons of Mohammed whose publication led to dozens of killings around the world. It also led to censorship by most of the Western media of anything that Muslims held to be offensive.
Along with the rest of the secular West, whose disdain for religious belief is exceeded only by its readiness to capitulate to Muslim demands, the BBC internalized the claim that being offensive about Islam was a religious prohibition that should be respected.
So the BBC probably assumed that Atwan’s comments represented a legitimate point of view. The fact that such an interpretation inspires terrorist violence is a link that, wearing such cultural blinders, it would be unable to make.
Moreover, it has been giving a platform to Atwan for years as an impartial commentator, despite his virulent libels against Israel and support for terrorism.
He has praised Palestinian terrorists as “martyrs.” On YouTube, he called April’s shooting of three Israelis in Tel Aviv a “miracle.” Last month, he claimed that the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes was not committed by Black September terrorists, with Mahmoud Abbas among the planners, but by “Israeli Mossad operatives and German police”; and that the hands of acting Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid were “soaked in the blood of Palestinian children.”
Yet the BBC repeatedly uses Atwan as a respectable commentator. But then, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, the BBC almost always suspends any critical judgment that it applies to other parts of the world.
Reversing the truth about victim and aggressor, it presents Israel as a colonialist power oppressing the Palestinians, and taking away their rights and even their lives. Its interpretation of even-handedness seems to permit people promoting murder and hatred to express such views because, in parts of the BBC mind, this is conceived as a kind of resistance.
This is in accord with the left-wing view that the West is an intrinsic oppressor and the developing world is its victim.
Complaints about the BBC’s wildly unfair reporting about Israel have been made for decades—and have got absolutely nowhere.
In 2004 a senior broadcast journalist, Malcolm Balen, wrote a 20,000-word report about coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that the BBC commissioned following persistent complaints of bias. The broadcaster then went to enormous expense and effort to suppress the publication of this report, which has never seen the light of day.
The media monitoring group CAMERA UK tirelessly records the BBC’s egregiously slanted coverage of Israel. Recently, for example, this watchdog reported that for at least eight years, the BBC has been giving a regular platform to Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom, to spout falsehoods and libels about Israel with no serious challenge.
It also reported that the BBC has presented as “human-rights activists” one individual who had been arrested three times because of his activity in a terrorist organization, and another who promoted the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and called Israel an “apartheid state.”
And it said that a report aired many times on BBC World News TV about possible evictions in the disputed territories inverted the sequence of events to give a grossly misleading impression and unjustly traduce Israel.
The campaign group Honest Reporting has identified numerous journalists working for the BBC’s Arabic service who have made remarks on their personal Twitter accounts—which all state they are employed by the BBC—that include describing Israel as a “terrorist” and “apartheid” state, supporting BDS and expressing the hope that Israel is “going down.”
This is even though the BBC’s social-media guidelines warn employees against bringing the broadcaster into disrepute by advocating a particular position on any “controversial subject.” The corporation has also made it clear that social-media disclaimers aren’t a defense against “personal expressions of opinion on social media that may conflict with BBC guidelines.”
The problem is, however, that along with the rest of the left the BBC genuinely thinks it is indeed upholding balance, fairness and objectivity. It believes that it represents the political center ground. That’s why it views its critics axiomatically as extremists who can safely be disregarded.
And it’s why, when it does aim to provide balance, this tends to be merely a token gesture. It may consist of one against two or three opposing views, for example; or giving air-time to someone who defends Israel from the left and who thus fails to articulate the critically important facts that need to be brought to public attention.
In short, the BBC represents a perfectly sealed thought system.
I have myself come up against this for years. I appear regularly on BBC current affairs programs merely as a token “right-winger”—which in BBC/leftie-speak is code for an enemy of civilization—and am almost never given the opportunity to address the lies told about Israel.
All this matters a great deal. The BBC has a unique place in the world. Its brand is regarded as the global kite mark of truthfulness and objectivity.
It plays a key role in making Britain’s cultural weather. Over past decades, those suffering under tyranny around the world have relied upon it as a beacon of truth-telling that has helped give them the strength to resist.
That reputation is now under severe strain. The BBC is the broadcasting arm of the intelligentsia, which is now overwhelmingly and aggressively left-wing and intent on canceling dissent. The British public has become increasingly appalled by the BBC’s resulting collapse of objectivity across the board, taking editorial standards down the drain with it.
The fact is, however, that the BBC was once a titanic cultural force because it represented a nation that knew what it was. The British admired, valued and wanted to uphold the principles that held everyone together in a common national project. The BBC helped provide the cultural glue.
Now that cultural cohesion has fragmented into groups warring for power and control under the destructive force of identity politics. The BBC’s bias won’t be corrected unless and until Britain halts its slide off the edge of the cultural cliff.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.