EXCLUSIVE: The BBC director general has held “listening meetings” with staff as the British broadcaster seeks to address internal unrest over perceived bias in its coverage of the Israel-Gaza war.
Several BBC insiders said Tim Davie and other senior managers have sat down with employees in recent weeks, giving them the space to air concerns about the corporation’s output since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023.
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Deadline can reveal that one such meeting took place on January 12, when around two dozen employees, including senior presenters, challenged Davie with allegations that the BBC was being biased against Palestinians.
Similar meetings have taken place with workers who feel the BBC’s output has been unfavorable to Israel. The Daily Telegraph reported last week that at least 22 Jewish staff members have submitted formal complaints about antisemitism and the social media activity of presenter Gary Lineker, who recently reposted (and later deleted) a call for Israel to be banned from sporting events.
Those familiar with the January 12 discussion said staffers raised a series of concerns, including about “dehumanizing” language being used to describe those killed in Gaza and the BBC missing stories being reported by other networks, including Channel 4 News and Al Jazeera. At least one employee said they were considering quitting the BBC over their experiences in recent months, according to sources.
“Some people were talking about how they’re having a crisis in their career because they’ve never known the BBC to be so skewed in one direction,” said an insider.
Tim Davie Reveals Security Threat
One person said Davie, who was flanked by the BBC’s chief people officer Uzair Qadeer, largely kept his counsel during the meeting. Another said they were surprised by Davie’s candor.
Davie revealed to the group that he required security after posters appeared around London personally attacking the director general over the BBC’s coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict. On safety advice, Davie was temporarily forced to take a private car to work when he usually commutes by tube.
Separately, a source said Davie acknowledged that the pro-Israeli lobby was more organized than Palestinian supporters in its dealings with the BBC.
Davie is also said to have mentioned the parity in audience complaints the BBC has received about its reporting on the conflict. Deadline understands that the BBC has had around 8,000 complaints since October 7, with concern split almost 50-50 between those claiming its reporting has been biased against Israel and those saying it had been unfavorable to Palestinians.
The BBC has admitted to mistakes in its output. In October, the broadcaster apologized after the BBC News channel described people taking part in marches in support of Palestine as backing Hamas. Earlier this month, the BBC said sorry for reporting an unverified Hamas claim about the Israeli army carrying out “summary executions” of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
The BBC’s coverage of the Middle East crisis has come under significant political scrutiny, with British culture secretary Lucy Frazer intervening last week to question the broadcaster’s impartiality after it speculated that Israel bombed a Gaza City hospital. She said it was an example of audiences losing trust in the BBC’s neutrality.
Jewish industry figures, including former BBC television boss Danny Cohen, have been deeply critical of the corporation. Cohen wrote in The Telegraph last week that a pattern of mistakes was evidence of “institutional bias” and, in some cases, “racism against Jews.”
Employees who accuse the BBC of bias against Palestinians have argued that the corporation displays its leanings in more subtle ways. Colleagues have shared a recent analysis of 4,600 online BBC News stories and live blogs. Visualized by Mona Chalabi, a Pulitzer-winning data journalist, the study concluded that the BBC had displayed a “disproportionate bias towards Israeli deaths rather than Palestinian ones.” It also argued that Palestinians were “dehumanized” as dead bodies, while Israelis were documented as fathers, mothers, daughters, or sons.
There is also growing concern about a potential conflict of interest for Robbie Gibb, a BBC board member who also owns The Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper whose editor accused the broadcaster of having a distrust of Israel that is “bordering on pathological.” Some have questioned if there would be more controversy if a BBC board member had links to a Muslim publication that had similarly attacked the corporation.
One person who attended the January 12 meeting had a more philosophical view, saying they did not see a chasm between employees with differing opinions about the BBC’s output. “There have been mistakes made and things can be done better, but I think most of the time I’m surrounded by people who are genuinely trying to do as good a job as possible,” the insider said.
The BBC declined to comment on specific discussions with employees. A spokesperson said senior managers “meet with a range of staff and groups on a wide variety of issues.”
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