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The BBC Trust has admitted that the BBC breached its own editorial guidelines on accuracy when reporting on protests against an Israeli theatre company playing in London.

Having initially denied the breach, the BBC backed down following a six month campaign by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (UK), and this week released its new ruling.

In its finding, the Trust said the relevant news bulletins had not been presented in ‘clear, precise language’.

The bulletins were broadcast on Radio 4 on May 29, 2012. They covered the unfurling of banners and a Palestinian flag at a performance in the Globe Theatre by Israel’s Habima theatre company the previous evening.

The bulletins ended by saying: ‘The Habima Company is being criticised for performing to Jewish audiences in the occupied territories.’

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) wrote to the BBC saying the wording was offensive to the anti-racist campaigners who campaign on behalf of Palestinian human rights, as it implied that the protest was about race and could constitute a slur of anti-Semitism.
PSC’s letter added: ‘[The wording] is blatantly inaccurate. The Habima Company is not being criticised for performing to Jewish audiences in either the occupied territories or anywhere else in the world. Nor, strictly speaking, is it being criticised for performing in the occupied territories themselves. The Habima Company is being criticised for performing in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank – ie on land that has been taken, against international law, from Palestinians, and to which the Palestinians no longer have access.’
This week, the BBC Trust upheld the complaint. However, it rejected PSC’s claim that the news bulletins had also breached the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality by making a ‘provocative reference to race and religion’ when this was irrelevant to the protest.
Amena Saleem, media campaigner for PSC, said: ‘We welcome the BBC Trust’s admission that these news bulletins were inaccurate in the information they gave to the BBC’s audience and should have been scripted more carefully.
‘The BBC is funded by the UK taxpayer and has a responsibility, enshrined in its Charter, to report accurately and impartially. Its coverage of Palestine too often fails in this respect. We hope that, by challenging the BBC on its reporting, it will take steps towards improved and fair coverage.’
Ms Saleem added: ‘The BBC publishes advice for its journalists, which states, “Be careful over whether you mean ‘Israeli’ or ‘Jewish’: the latter might imply that the story is about race or religion, rather than the actions of the state or its citizens.” We put this to the BBC in respect of these news bulletins, but the Trust still decided the bulletins did not breach its guidelines on impartiality. This is unfortunate, and we do not believe any reasonable explanation has been provided for this decision.”
  1. The BBC Trust’s finding can be read in full here (p24)>>
  2. The full text of the news bulletins, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on May 29, 2012, was: ‘One man was arrested when protestors tried to disrupt a performance by Israel’s theatre company in London last night. About 20 people unfurled banners and displayed a Palestinian flag during a performance of The Merchant of Venice in the Globe Theatre. The Habima Company is being criticised for performing to Jewish audiences in the Occupied Territories.’