'If you have views, you will see bias in every choice of adjective'

As an inquiry is announced into the BBC's reporting of the Arab-Israeli conflict, industry leaders tell us what they think of its coverage
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The Independent Online

David Elstein, former chief executive Channel Five, chairman British Screen Advisory Council

I don't believe the BBC as an institution or its reporters as individuals show bias. However, the coverage suffers from the same shortcomings that characterise so much of modern foreign reporting: response rather than analysis. When did Panorama, or File on Four, last offer 30 or 40 minutes, as opposed to news items or even Newsnight and World at One reports? It's in the gap between the three minutes on the 10 o'clock bulletin and the four-part Lapping documentary series that the bias arises: so, no wonder that research shows such profound public ignorance of the issues and their background. Of course, no other broadcast organisation does better, or even as well: but that's not the point.

Professor Greg Philo, head of Glasgow University Media Group

We undertook a study over three years which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and subjected to peer review by independent academics. It was rated outstanding. It concluded that there were clear absences in coverage of the history, origin and causes of the conflict and that these had profound influences on how the public understand the Palestinian case. In contrast the Israeli case was very well represented. Israelis were either interviewed or reported twice as often as Palestinians or the BBC spoke to Americans who were universally supportive of the Israeli case. These issues were clearly laid out. The question is why the BBC chose to ignore our study and commission a much smaller one.

Tim Llewellyn, BBC Middle East correspondent 1975-1992

The BBC does not report the conflict entirely honestly because it is not properly enmeshed with the Palestinian side. What the BBC does not do is go into the West Bank and live there and be there. If it did that, and lived life as a Palestinian Arab lives, then it would experience the daily humiliation of that existence. That would change the way it covers the issue. The BBC should do this, not because it has a duty to agree with any particular perspective but because it has a duty to explore and consider all perspectives.

Stuart Cosgrove, director of Nations and Regions, Channel 4

Balance is a very evasive concept and is under substantial threat from new means of communication such as internet blogs, VJ video journalism and the proliferation of new niche channels. The BBC has to cohere incoherent and emotionally divisive subjects and the Palestine/Israel conflict is only one of many. Furthermore, they are required to show balance within the context of a specific programme, which can be formidably difficult. If you have already committed views you will see bias in every nod of the head and choice of adjective. Balance is a minefield.

Jerry Lewis, London correspondent for Israel Radio

Most Israelis view BBC coverage as biased against them and overtly sympathetic to the Palestinians. After a terrorist incident the BBC inevitably focuses on the likely "revenge" by Israel and then gives greater prominence to Palestinian casualties, omitting to mention that their terrorist groups hide among civilians for protection. Terrorist attacks in which Israelis are killed or injured, and successful interceptions of suicide bombers are rarely mentioned, thus BBC audiences are ill-informed about why Israel defends itself. The choice of guests - so-called "Middle East experts" - rarely mentions their background. Many have close links with Arab lobby groups but they slag off or blame Israel almost as if they are impartial observers. Jewish community sources point to increased anti-Semitism in the UK due to slanted coverage, especially on the BBC.

Rod Liddle, former editor of Today

There is a naive consensus among an awful lot of individuals at the BBC which sees the world as a perpetual struggle between the strong and the weak - which always equates to the bad and the good. So it is with Israel: because the Israelis have tanks and a decently equipped army they are de facto always in the wrong against the incompetent Arabs and especially the Palestinians. To use a singularly inapt metaphor, they see the Middle East as David versus Goliath - except that David isn't a good Jewish boy any more, but a stone-throwing Arab. Foreign affairs really are that simplistic for some producers and reporters. The top foreign correspondents, who have spent a lot of time in the Middle East - Paul Adams pre-eminent among them - are not at all naive, and you would be hard-pressed to accuse them of bias.

Interviews by Tim Luckhurst

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