Tuesday, August 16, 2011

16-Aug-11: When the powers at the BBC put this much effort into something, they must really care

Fiona Paveley and her late husband Steven Sugar: A courageous ongoing fight
At every opportunity, we say that the unwillingness or inability of ordinary people, the news-reporting media, public officials, analysts and thought leaders of every kind to comprehend terrorism is making the defeat of terrorism, in this ongoing war, so much more difficult.

We say that not everyone carries an equal burden in this war; there are organizations that have enormous influence, and that influence imposes an enormous responsibility.

The BBC, by far the most influential news channel in the world, is at the peak of that list of global organizations with enormous influence. As a public body, its budget was funded by tax-payers to the tune of 3,200 million pounds (translates to US$5.2 Billion) last year. That rate is expected to remain consistently in that range over the next few years. This is one extraordinarily well-funded voice.

But it's a voice with some deplorable practices and well-documented double standards. As solemnly enunciated by Joanna Mills, an editor at BBC World Update, eight years ago: "It is the style of the BBC World Service to call no one a terrorist, aware as we are that one man's terrorist is another one's freedom fighter." This is the bureaucratic fig-leaf that covers the nakedness of the BBC's deplorable practice of terming the jihadist/terrorist killers of innocent Israelis 'militants' and 'activists'. (But not always - see this.)

A British lawyer, Steven Sugar, campaigned tirelessly in the courts to force the BBC to publicly release the Balen Report - the BBC's own investigation into whether it holds an anti-Israel bias. He died in January 2011. Now, as the Telegraph reports below, his widow is carrying on the battle. We wish her the greatest of success, and the courage and energy to keep going.

Widow takes on BBC over Israel 'bias’
The BBC faces a legal challenge over a report it has kept secret - but the case is being brought from beyond the grave. | [UK Telegraph]
13th August 2011 - For six years, Steven Sugar pursued a one-man legal battle against the BBC in an attempt to force it to disclose a secret report. He was trying to get the corporation to publish an internal assessment off its coverage of the Middle East conflict, which he believed would reveal bias against Israel. Mr Sugar won an appeal for a full court hearing but when he died of cancer in January at the age of 61 it appeared his mission was at an end.
Now, his widow, Fiona Paveley, has taken up the fight to reveal the contents of the 20,000-word document and the case is to be heard at the Supreme Court.
The BBC has spent more than £270,000 on legal fees to prevent the public from seeing the report, written in 2004 by Malcolm Balen, a senior journalist, for Richard Sambrook, then BBC director of news. But a defeat for the BBC could cost the corporation even more because it could weaken its ability to deny requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Mr Sugar lost at the Information Tribunal, the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but his legal team - who have waived their fees - are hopeful of success in the Supreme Court.
Mrs Paveley said: “I used to tease Steven about his obsession with fighting this so I think he would have a wry smile that I’m carrying it on, but I couldn’t let it drop.” Mr Sugar, a solicitor, first asked the BBC to publish the Balen Report in 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act and refused to accept the BBC’s argument that it was outside the Act’s scope. The corporation successfully argued in the past that the report should not be released because it was held for “the purposes of journalism, art or literature” and, as such, was exempt. It was commissioned to analyse the BBC’s coverage of Middle East issues and make recommendations for improvement. Mrs Paveley, a 48-year-old clinical psychologist, was approached by her husband’s lawyers after he died. They explained that the case could only continue if he was represented at court. “I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to abandon it,” she says. “It would have almost felt like a betrayal to let all his hard work go to waste. He never gave up, so why should I?” Mrs Paveley said that she and her late husband saw an anti-Israeli bias in the reporting of Orla Guerin, the BBC’s former Middle East correspondent, who was accused of anti-Semitism in 2004 by the Israeli government. Mrs Paveley said: “Steven thought that reporting should be balanced. As a publicly-funded body, it seems wrong that the BBC is afraid and reluctant to be more transparent.” Another reporter, Barbara Plett, was found by BBC governors to have “breached the requirements of due impartiality” after she said she cried as a dying Yasser Arafat left the West Bank in 2004. More recently, Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, was also found to have breached rules on accuracy and impartiality in two reports about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
A BBC spokesman said: “If we are not able to pursue our journalism freely and have honest debate and analysis over how we are covering important issues, then how effectively we can serve the public will be diminished.”
The entire Telegraph article is here.

Just to be clear, we're not hostile to the BBC or its journalists, some of whom we greatly admire. What we are firmly against is the hypocrisy that characterizes its corporate approach to terrorism in our midst (we do mean "our midst") and the high-handedness that has accompanied the Balen Report saga from the outset. The BBC fully deserves to be judged against the very highest of ethical, legal and journalistic standards. Its management's conduct of a campaign to bury the report speaks eloquently for itself.

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