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At the Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing of BBC Director General Tony Hall and BBC Chairman Chris Patten on 25 April 2013 on the topic: “Priorities for the Director-General of the BBC” the issue of the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ was raised. Jim Sheridan MP raised the Electronic Intifada blog by Amena Saleem, PSC, and asked about what checks and balances are in place in the BBC about Palestine. This follows the BBC’s appointment of James Harding as the BBC’s Head of News, a self-confessed ‘pro-Israel’ advocate, and former LFI Chair, James Purnell, as director of strategy and digital. 

– John Whittingdale (@approx 24mins):  Just in connection with James Purnell’s appointment, can you give any example previously of where a senior management position within the BBC has been filled by somebody who’s not just politically affiliated but has been a very active recent participant in party politics?
– Tony Hall: My judgement about James was that he’s hung his boots up at the door and left politics behind some two and a half to three years ago. (Passage omitted) Do I think that he can leave all where he has been behind him? Yes, I do. (Passage omitted) The key thing is – and James’ job is of course not editorial – but do you believe that people who are coming to work for the BBC will be impartial, will buy into its impartiality or not? That to me is the key test. And in his case I am satisfied that is the case.- Jim Sheridan (@ approx 2:16:16) I would like to refer very briefly to the impartiality. (Passage omitted) Can I say that there is an organisation, I’ve never heard of them, know nothing about them, called The Electronic Intifada, and they have a headline called “Apologists for Israel Take Top Posts at the BBC“, and they criticise you as declaring you as a very firm supporter of pro-Israel; they then criticise James Purnell as a former member of Labour Friends of Israel when he was a member of Parliament, and then they criticise Ceri Thomas for repeatedly inviting Israel politicians to be interviewed as opposed to the other side. Now I suggest you’d probably challenge those allegations, but what checks and balances are in place to ensure that when you’re covering things like Israel/Palestine, that both sides get an equal hearing?
– Tony Hall: Personally I’ve had no connection whatsoever with any pro-Israel or any other groupings, so I don’t quite know where that’s come from. James Purnell – as we talked about earlier – has no editorial role and he’s hung up his boots on all other issues. And to go back on  James Harding, when you enter the BBC you leave behind all those contacts you might have had, issues that you might have been involved with, and absolutely your job is about ensuring the impartiality of the BBC, and that means looking at all ranges of voices across all issues, including Israel.
– Jim Sheridan:  What checks and balances are in place?
– Tony Hall: Well, there’s me, there are Complaints and there’s the Trust. I can tell you now that James Harding and I will be absolutely clear about the impartiality when we cover Israel or Palestine or any other issue… (? absolutely).
– Chris Patten: And there are some wonderful journalists like Jeremy Bowen and Ian Pannell in Syria who risk their lives to report news and news in the sort of way I think you would approve of.
The extracts from the two and a half hour session were transcribed jointly by Eric Willoughby and Elizabeth Morley. Many thanks to them.