Greg Dyke On Broadcasting
The BBC should never give in to pressure - or even be seen to
Monday 12 December 2005
Sharon has never hidden his intense dislike of Guerin or the BBC's reporting of the Middle East and Guerin was recently accused of being "anti-semitic" and of "identifying with the goals and methods of the Palestinian terror groups" by a former Israeli minister.
At the very least the BBC should have foreseen the suspicions that would arise from the two events - Thompson's visit and Guerin's departure - and separated them by several months. As it is, the timing of the announcement to move Guerin inevitably raises the question of how much pressure the Israeli Government put on the BBC, which in turn allows some to question the BBC's impartiality.
In my time at the BBC the two biggest areas of complaint about our news coverage - ignoring the never ending whinges from the Iain Duncan Smith-led Tory Party that they were not being taken seriously enough - were about our coverage of Europe and our coverage of Israel. In both cases the complaints came from groups who believed passionately in their causes and had convinced themselves that the BBC was, in their respective areas, institutionally pro-European and institutionally anti-Israeli. I would argue passionately that neither was true.
The people who complained about the BBC's coverage of Israel were almost entirely Jewish and there was some evidence that their campaign against the BBC was being "encouraged" by the Israeli Embassy in London. There was no doubt that Prime Minister Sharon put enormous pressure on his ambassador in Britain to try to force the BBC to change its coverage to make it more pro-Israeli.
We investigated many of the complaints and most of the time found our reporting had been totally fair. Of course the pro-Israeli lobby didn't accept that but then they had a different agenda. The problem with reporting the Middle East, as with reporting so many conflicts, is that both sides are adamant they are right. As I explained to a meeting at a north London synagogue recently, the BBC's role was to try to report all sides in the Middle East conflict "fairly", which was not what they or the Israeli Government wanted to hear.
But the point is that the passionate advocates of a particular view on any issue are not "impartial" which is why their allegations against journalists who are doing their best to be fair always have to be dealt with seriously but also with a degree of scepticism.
The argument I used with both the Euro-sceptics and the pro-Israel lobby was the same as the one I used with Tony Blair during the run up to the Iraq War. Given their passionately held views how could they possibly be the judge of impartiality? They were in no way objective.
One prominent Jew who did not believe the BBC was biased against Israel was the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I invited him to speak to a management group at the BBC one morning and he would have none of the argument that the BBC was doing anything other than trying to report a difficult situation fairly. But he wasn't typical amongst the Jewish community in Britain.
I once went to receive an award for the BBC's coverage of the first ever Holocaust Day from a prominent Jewish organisation and was told, in no uncertain terms, that the award was for our coverage of that event only. I shrugged, accepted the award and thought to myself "Well they would say that wouldn't they?"
No-one summed up the whole position better than the BBC's World Affairs editor John Simpson when he wrote that in recent times the BBC has reported a series of conflicts as fairly as it could. On every occasion the Government of the day had tried to bully the BBC into supporting a particular line and on each occasion the BBC had resisted. "Governments have as much right as anyone to put pressure on the BBC; it's only a problem if the BBC caves in." The same applies to the Israeli Government.
With Friends Reunited like these, who needs enemies?
One former senior executive of ITV wouldn't have been too pleased last week when ITV announced that it had bought the Friends Reunited website. When I saw this particular former executive recently I commiserated that his marriage had broken up, and out of politeness I asked him what had happened. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was a victim of "fucking Friends Reunited".
Of course he's not the only one. There are literally hundreds of stories around of people going to the school reunion, or getting reconnected through Friends Reunited, only to rediscover their boyfriend or girlfriend of many years before, and the two of them deciding to get together. It's becoming a classic story of the baby boomer generation.
All of which makes you wonder what sort of programmes ITV chief executive Charles Allen was referring to when he said that the acquisition of Friends Reunited would result in the creation of an exciting new programme for ITV which would be the modern-dayBlind Date.
In the world of reality television no one is going to be interested in a bunch of 50-year-olds meeting up at the school reunion and then nothing happening, so it seems we can look forward to a new Saturday night show in which we all have to guess who will have an illicit affair with whom and, as a result, abandon their current partner back home. Maybe they could call the show Surprise Surprise.
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