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BBC Middle East editor criticised

BBC Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen
Jeremy Bowen's article looked at the legacy of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War

The body which oversees the BBC on behalf of its audiences has criticised an article by the BBC's Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen.

The BBC Trust said a piece in 2007 for the News website on the 1967 war broke the corporation's rules on accuracy.

It also upheld two complaints, one partially, that the article breached impartiality guidelines.

In reply, BBC News said Jeremy Bowen had been exercising his professional judgement on history.

The Trust also took issue with a suggestion by Jeremy Bowen in a piece on Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent that the Har Homa settlement was considered illegal by the United States.

The committee found that he should have sourced his comment, or stated that it was what officials felt privately but couldn't say.

At the same time, the Trust accepted that he had been informed of the American position by an authoritative source, whom he wished to protect.

Other Interpretations

The website article, headlined How 1967 defined the Middle East, was part of the coverage of the 40th anniversary of the Middle East war.

The Trust's editorial standards committee found that the article failed to reflect that there were other interpretations of the causes and effects of the war.

The committee also said the language used by Jeremy Bowen in the article had in three instances not been sufficiently clear and precise to meet the corporation's standards on accuracy.

It upheld a complaint that the phrase "the Israeli generals... had been training to finish the unfinished business of Israel's independence war of 1948 for most of their careers" was inaccurate.

The committee said the phrase had not been specific enough and should have made reference to the capture of East Jerusalem.

The committee also said a reference to Zionism's "innate instinct to push out the frontier" should have been qualified to make it precise and clear.

The article's suggestion that the settlement of land occupied by Israel in 1967 was in defiance of 'everyone's interpretation of international law except its own' was also criticised as not being clear enough.

The committee noted that Jeremy Bowen had said that, in the context of the piece, "everyone" referred to states and international organisations, not to individual academics.

BBC News said that Jeremy Bowen was simply exercising his professional judgement on history, that there was no consensus view of history and that it was self evident that there are others who have a different analysis.

The BBC also stated that an independent inquiry in 2006 had found little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias in BBC reporting of Israel and the Palestinians and that there was evidence of a commitment to be fair, accurate and impartial.

Full details of the BBC Trust's findings are posted here.


Correction 7 May 2009: This article was amended to make clear that the BBC Trust findings on impartiality referred to two separate complaints, one of which was upheld wholly and the other partially.



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