|BBC: ‘We were wrong to hide commentator’s pro-Israeli credentials during Gaza assault’
|The BBC has admitted it breached its own guidelines on accuracy in presenting a pro-Israeli commentator as an independent analyst during Israel’s assault on Gaza in November 2012.Jonathan Sacerdoti appeared on BBC News 24 four times over two days at the beginning of the eight day attack to give his assessment of the events leading up to Israel’s actions.
On each occasion, he was introduced as ‘Jonathan Sacerdoti of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy’, and the name of this supposedly neutral think tank appeared on-screen during his appearances.
Over two days, Sacerdoti defended Israel’s right to attack and presented a pro-Israeli perspective. No commentator was interviewed alongside him to give a Palestinian point of view.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) wrote to the BBC to ask why it was misleading viewers by presenting Sacerdoti as being a neutral expert on Israel and Palestine, when he is, in fact, strongly Zionist.
He previously worked as Director of Public Affairs at the Zionist Federation and, in August 2011, spoke at a pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar Square organised by the British Israel Coalition and supported by the Israeli government. In 2010, Sacerdoti defended Israel’s killing of nine Turkish activists on the aid flotilla to Gaza.
None of this information was made available to the BBC News 24 audience.
Nearly a year after the broadcasts and PSC’s initial email, the BBC has made a ruling on PSC’s complaints and published its findings online.
In a separate letter to PSC, the BBC says the broadcasts breached the following clause in its Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy:
‘We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.’
In the same letter, the BBC admits that, during his appearances on News 24, Sacerdoti ‘offered an essentially pro-Israeli narrative and pro-Israeli analysis…viewers should have been made aware that he spoke from a particular viewpoint.’
However, the BBC added that it did not believe it had breached its guidelines on impartiality in its presentation of Sacerdoti.
Sarah Colborne, Director of PSC, said: ‘The BBC misled its audiences by withholding Sacerdoti’s strong pro-Israel standpoint from them while asking him to comment on Israel’s assault on Gaza.
‘As a result, the majority of viewers, who have no idea about his background, would have believed they were hearing a factual analysis from an independent think tank expert, rather than a heavily biased opinion promoting Israel’s assault. This could only have advantaged the Israeli government and disadvantaged the Palestinians.
‘PSC continues to believe that not only was this inaccurate broadcasting, as the BBC has acknowledged, but it was also less than impartial. We trust that when the BBC features spokespeople for the Israeli occupation in future, it will make their affiliations clear to its audiences. In this case, it clearly failed to do so and that is unacceptable for a publicly-funded broadcaster.’
Notes for the editor