The scale of the BBC’s failings on the Israel-Hamas war now constitutes a genuine crisis for our national broadcaster. To lose the widespread support of one of Britain’s minority communities in such a profound way is a significant stain on the BBC’s reputation and its role as our national broadcaster.
The latest revelations, that presenters on the BBC’s Asian Network have been posting incendiary, deeply offensive and anti-Israel material online since Oct 7 is both shocking in its own right and symptomatic of the wider failures that are now engulfing the BBC.
Since the Hamas terrorist attacks, BBC presenters whose salaries are paid with licence fees and who have large online followings have accused Israel of genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes – and have encouraged people to attend marches at which anti-Semitism has been on open display.
Of the many toxic posts that have come to light, one sticks in my mind as particularly disturbing. On Oct 7, Noreen Khan tweeted a disputed graphic showing the relative territories governed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the past decades.
Ms Khan chose to post this on the day of the pogrom in Israel.
As families were being burnt alive in their homes, women raped and children kidnapped, Khan felt that this was not a moment for sympathy for Jewish suffering, but an opportunity for a BBC employee to use her platform to make an anti-Israel statement. In doing so she came perilously close to attempting to justify horrific acts of terrorism still taking place at that very time.
To make matters worse, the issue is not simply one of individual BBC employees expressing bias and hate towards Israel, but rather of widespread senior management failure.
Ms Khan’s tweet remained on her social media page for anyone to come across. This is despite BBC management, including Lorna Clarke, the BBC’s director of music, being warned on more than one occasion by a concerned listener about the content being posted by BBC Asian Network presenters. Ms Khan and her fellow presenters clearly felt no pressure to delete their social media posts and BBC managers did not do anything effective to stop them.
This means that senior management is either complicit in anti-Israel bias at the BBC or has lost control of their own staff and the content they produce. Whichever is the case it leaves the BBC’s reputation for impartiality in tatters.
The BBC’s Asian Network is far from alone in discrediting the corporation since Oct 7. To take two recent examples, Caroline Hawley, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, has repeatedly tweeted unbalanced, seemingly unverified claims from Gaza, while Jeremy Bowen, the international editor of BBC News, has admitted his coverage of the explosion at Al-Ahli hospital was “wrong” but that he “doesn’t regret one thing”. You could not find a better example of institutional arrogance than Mr Bowen’s review of his own reporting.
Meanwhile, the BBC’s Arabic service has produced different versions of its output, the Arab language version of a story omitting significant details about the terrorist organisation Hamas. It makes one wonder how much of BBC Arabic’s reporting in recent weeks is similarly biased and anti-Israel. A translation study of the bureau’s Arabic-language output since Oct 7 would be instructive.
Given these almost daily examples of anti-Israel bias, it must be extremely tough at the moment for Jewish people working at the BBC. Their distress would doubtless have been intensified by the BBC’s highest-paid presenter, Gary Lineker, choosing to retweet material accusing Israel of genocide. In Mr Lineker’s case, it is notable that his concern for humanity did not extend to speaking out on Oct 7 when Jews were being barbarically massacred on a scale not seen since the Holocaust.
Duty of care
Yet again, what is even more striking is the failure of BBC management to do anything about it. It appears that no action is being taken against Mr Lineker. In light of this – and the toxic content being pumped out by BBC Asian Network presenters – it is clear that the latest social media guidelines issued by the director-general of the BBC just weeks ago are not fit for purpose.
The BBC must ask itself whether it is failing in its duty of care towards its Jewish employees. Is it possible for them to feel like they are working in a safe and neutral environment when BBC management fails them so badly? An investigation into anti-Semitism within the BBC is now necessary, alongside a further review of its social media guidelines and the need for an independent assessment of the corporation’s Israel output.
This all amounts to a profound system failure at our national broadcaster that impacts both the BBC’s credibility and the safety and welfare of Britain’s Jewish community. The BBC is contributing to an atmosphere in the UK in which many Jewish people do not feel safe.
The stain on the BBC’s reputation will be hard to repair. Sadly, it appears that the BBC’s management are either unwilling or unable to really get to grips with the scale of the problem that they face.