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UK Jews: Replace BBC Mideast editor

A British Jewish community leader is demanding that BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen be replaced following contentious remarks about Israel made in a BBC memo.

Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the Zionist Federation of Britain and Ireland, has written to the chair of the BBC Trust, Dr Chitra Bharucha, following a leaked e-mail Bowen sent last month that questions Bowen's impartiality as he appears to put the onus of blame for the violence in the region on Israel. The Middle East editor blames the "fragmentation of Palestinian society" on the "death of hope" citing Israel as the reason for this.

The e-mail, with the subject title, Mini briefing on the Israeli and Palestinians, was sent to senior BBC staff including BBC Director-General Mark Byford, head of the BBC's Jerusalem bureau, Simon Wilson, the BBC Editorial Board and the editors of the BBC's world bureaus.

"What is new in the last year, and will be one of the big stories in the coming 12 months, is the way that Palestinian society, which used to draw strength from resistance to the occupation, is now fragmenting," the e-mail read.

"The reason is the death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel's military activities, land expropriation and settlement building - and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government which are destroying Palestinian institutions that were anyway flawed and fragile.

"The result is that internecine violence between Hamas and Fatah is getting worse. On Thursday six people were killed in clashes between them in Gaza. The death of a major figure on either side would spark something much more serious."

He continues, "Israel's major military incursion into Ramallah on Thursday, killing four Palestinians after a botched arrest operation, was a reminder of the non stop pressures of the Israeli occupation."

In his letter to the BBC, Balcombe cited the press briefing released by the BBC when Bowen was appointed as Middle East editor in June 2005.

"The new role is designed to enhance our audience's understanding of the Middle East; and to provide extra commentary, focus and analysis to an increasingly complex area of the world," the briefing said.

"Recent events indicate that Bowen is unable to perform this role to the standard required," Balcombe insisted.

"This simply does not represent balanced reporting and does not contribute to BBC viewers' understanding of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this way Bowen is doing a disservice to the BBC's customers."

Balcombe cited two respected journalists who question Bowen's stance.

Speaking about the memo, respected author and journalist Stephen Pollard said: "Israel is to blame for almost everything. The Palestinians are not responsible for anything; Israel is the culpable party...If this is what passes for high-level analysis at the BBC, is it any wonder its reporting is so poisonous?"

Daniel Finkelstein, columnist and Comment Editor of The Times, said: "...beyond the question of balance, what is striking about the memo is how poor the analysis is. There's no hint for instance of anything deeper...If this is the best that the Middle East Editor can do, how can correspondents with less specialist knowledge do better?"

In an article in this week's Jewish Chronicle, Bowen said that writing such memos is part of his job and is designed to give an idea of future stories and developments. He strongly denies that he had singled out Israel for criticism.

Balcome also cited a BBC radio programme in which Bowen conducted five interviews, three with Palestinians who were critical of Israeli policies, one with a radical Israeli lawyer who calls his country's policies "apartheid" and only one Israeli attempting to explain Israel's position. "Thus, in a report lasting six minutes, an Israeli-supportive viewpoint was expressed for a total of 17 seconds," said Balcome.

Balcombe said that Bowen is a hugely experienced and accomplished journalist and certainly the BBC can use his talents in another international location but suggested that an experience in 2000 has "colored" Bowen's view of Israel.

"In May 2000, Bowen's driver Abd al-Rahman Taqqush was mistakenly killed by an Israeli tank shell during fighting in South Lebanon. Bowen was only several metres away and no matter his professionalism, this disturbing incident may have colored Bowen's views about Israel ever since," Balcombe said.

"The BBC is rightly considered one of the world's most prominent news organizations and its Israel and Middle East coverage is viewed by millions. Therefore, it is urgent that you appoint a new Middle East Editor who can better direct the news coverage of this critical region."

"Israeli policies towards the Palestinians create hardship and tough, critical reporting is legitimate, though it may make uncomfortable viewing for Israel supporters," said Gavin Gross, campaigns director of the ZF.

"However, equal time and emphasis must also be given to presenting Israel's viewpoint and the threats it faces, or else it is bad journalism. Sadly, the BBC's coverage does not meet this test, which is why we are calling for Jeremy Bowen to be replaced as Middle East editor," he said.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, added that: "the ZF's move clearly reflects the concerns of many in the community. Recent reports by Jeremy Bowen bear out the suspicions raised by his recent leaked internal BBC memo that he is unwilling or unable to shake off his preconceptions about Israel. This does nothing to give any confidence in the impartiality of the BBC on this issue."

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, a spokesman for the BBC said that "the memo was a mini briefing on the situation in the Middle East sent out to an internal informed audience; these are issued on a regular basis. The memo looks at what stories could come up in the year ahead."

"We acknowledge receipt of Mr Balcombe's letter which we are taking very seriously and a response will be sent in due course," he added.

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Thank you whispering Jack and his Blank pages of al'age for exposing al' jazeeras representtative News paper in melbourne, perhaps it should be called 'emirates al'age'

Posted by Michael on 2007-11-19 07:13:50 GMT

The antisemitic lobby and far-left will rave on about the "Jewish Lobby" irrespective of what the Jewish Lobby actually does (or does not do). Our community should not set its agenda and plan its tactics on the basis of how they might be interpreted by our enemies. In other words: Don't temper our complaints about anti-Israel reporting for fear of aggravating anti-Israel groups. The traditional Jewish attitude of keeping quiet and "not making trouble" isn't, and never was, consistent with the survival of our people.

Posted by Daniel Lewis on 2007-02-05 10:01:59 GMT

Good point Anonymous. Wouldn't want the Jewish Lobby to be invoked! I know, let's talk, talk, talk and then do nothing! ...And MT, there is nothing wrong with performing a well-constructed study. It is the bedrock upon which all your graphs and slides are based. Several years ago - before the study that you are so convinced had little impact, most Jewish people in Melbourne I spoke to would say..."The Age is not so bad". Today many Jewish people I speak to say that the Age is so bad that they have ditched their subscription in favour of the Australian (note en passant today's excellent Abraham Rabinovich article: Shame Silences Gaza's media - dont expect to bereading anything like it in The Age =(,20867,21171002-2703,00.html. )Even Colin Rubinstein and others of his AIJAC crew have come out blazing against Ed O'Loughlin. No, I think it is a differnet Melbourne Jewish culture today. And I think that there would be a receptive non-Jewish sector as well if reasoned clear information were presented to them. The clincher is that AlJazeera is actually fair but the Age is not! Maybe because Al-Jazeera is not run by Left-wing ignoramouses, and because in reporting pretty much all the events they create an inherent contextuality from which the reader can draw fair conclusions, while on the other hand The Age reports spasmotically and selectively.

Posted by Paul Rozental on 2007-02-05 04:11:06 GMT

Some good ideas here but the way in which it is to be tackled should be thought out carefully. The first accusation that's going to be levelled at the community if it tackles an O'Loughlin, a Leunig or a Terry Lane is that the Jewish Lobby is at it again. I don't advocate that we shirk from taking action because we're going to be accused of this but some thought should be given to tactics and strategies.

Posted on 2007-02-05 03:46:54 GMT

Paul, I think rather than a voluminous study, reiterating some of the detailed study you and your team compiled earlier about the Age, (and unfortunately largely ignored by the media), -- what I would like to see is a Public Meeting, hopefully supported (in advance) by some of our top Jewish Community leaders, with a number of short precise presentations, with overhead slides and graphics, giving some (brief) statistics and numerous real examples of Ed O'L's biased reporting and additions/ommissions. What is essential is to have community leaders on board who are prepared to speak out at the end of the public meeting to denounce Ed and the Age based on evidence. (Rather like a Media-Watch style expose, - but pro-Israel for a change.) I would imagine a number of people could help prepare brief presentations for the meeting. A clear 'take-home message should be made by one or more top community figures as a summary statement to all and to the invited media. A follow-up letter and document, based on the meeting could be sent to the Age and other media, as well as local and national government representatives. (Note: In the case of the BBC, the Jewish community can 'demand' fair action from a public braodcaster. Not so easy with 'Al-Age', but it is worth trying to openly shame them.) If a public meeting is not practical, then at least it might be good to have a private meeting with community leaders and ensure that they are willing to speak openly to support this, i.e. UNFIED ACTION BY THE JEWISH COMMUNTY AND LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED.

Posted by MT on 2007-02-05 03:26:01 GMT

Much of the work MT mentions was done with The Age Newspaper Study in Nov 2003 (which can be seen in special reports on, concluding severe bias from the said "paper". Recently (six months) I have been reading daily and find it to be remarkably fair! I believe that scope now exists to repeat a similar (perhaps shorter study) now. One comparing The Age, the Australian, and I would bet that The Age would be demonstrably the worst (by a country mile) as far as journalistic standards are concerned. Any takers?

Posted by Paul Rozental on 2007-02-05 02:27:49 GMT

I refer you to Blank Pages of the Age which does a good job on O'Loughlin and others like Terry Lane.

Posted on 2007-02-04 21:37:04 GMT

This has so many parallels with the ABC here and The Age, esp. Ed O'L (although the Age is privately owned and not required by law to be fair to Israel as if it were publically-funded media, which isn't fair either). I like the idea of the Jewish community and its leaders loudly and complaining of such bias. Can we not do so more vocally here. Also, why not hold a large meeting to discuss the work of Ed O'L and strongly condemn him by all, including community leaders, and invite all media to attend. A number of people could help prepare and present evidence from aricles to show the bias of Ed O'L, and the dossier could be sent to the Age. Perhaps the Australian and HeraldSun at least may write up something and help put pressure on the Age. Finally, why not round up funds in the Jewish community to place a large paid advert expressing the community's anger and frustration with Ed O'L. We have been too quiet for too long.

Posted by MT on 2007-02-03 23:03:59 GMT