Saturday 16 November 2013

"Or perhaps Israel"

Hadar at BBC Watch has posted a full transcript of yesterday's Today interview between Sarah Montague and Baroness Warsi. 

The subject up for discussion was the persecution of Christians.

One of the questions put by Sarah Montague during the course of that interview has provoked a good deal of adverse criticism:
“But are you saying – can I just ask – countries like Pakistan that you refer to, or perhaps Israel or even Iraq where there is a functioning government – is it just down to the politicians in those countries to speak out and this problem could be solved?” 
Many listeners heard that as implying that Israel is one of those countries which persecutes Christians. 

That's the way I heard it too; and, indeed, by bracketing Pakistan, Israel and Iraq together in that way - especially when most Radio 4 listeners are aware that Christians most definitely are being persecuted in two of those countries (Pakistan and Iraq) - it's surely inevitable that such a connection would arise in the listener's mind. 

Given that (as many are pointing out) Israel is the only country in the region with a growing, safe Christian population, that implication is a wholly unwarranted one. Many find it deeply offensive too, and lots of complaints have been fired off to the BBC about it already. 

But what if everyone is misunderstanding what Sarah Montague was actually asking? That's what the Today programme is saying in response. 

BBC Watch has posted a reply to one of its readers sent by Dominic Groves, Assistant Editor of Today:
"Thank you for your email. Sarah Montague cited Israel not as an example of a country which persecutes Christians but of a country where there is a functioning Government. She did this in the context of asking what responsibility politicians should bear for promoting harmony between those of different faiths.
There is evidence of an outflow of Christians from the Middle East caused in part by the unresolved dispute between Israel and the Palestinians but more widely by social, economic and political concerns. But Sarah’s question did not seek to apportion blame onto one single country or group of countries. It is clearly a more complicated issue than that.
I hope this helps answer your concerns."
Hadar rejects his first point for precisely the reason I outlined above, saying that Sarah Montague was "clearly implying to listeners that similar problems of persecution of Christians exist in all three of the countries she named". She then rebuts his second point.  

My take on the first part of Mr Groves's response is that he seems to have been engaging in a panicky attempt to spin away Sarah's insinuation. 

Yes, she did say "where there is a functioning government", but I took that as referring specifically to Iraq ("or even Iraq where there is a functioning government"). 

After all, if she was merely linking Pakistan, Israel and Iraq together as countries with functioning government that need to speak out about the persecution of Christians, why would she have used "perhaps" in front of Israel ("or perhaps Israel"), as there's absolutely no "perhaps" about it when it comes to Israel having a functioning government?

No, Dominic Groves is clutching at straws, trying a linguistic dodge. 

It's clear what Sarah Montague meant. She meant that the governments of Pakistan, Israel and Iraq need to act to stop the persecution of Christians and, by implication, specifically the persecution of Christians in their own countries. 

Egypt has a functioning government, and a serious problem with the persecution of Christians? Why wasn't that mentioned? Why include Israel, where there's no persecution of Christians? 

Maybe, the deputy editor of Today should just have admitted that Sarah Montague got it wrong.

It's unlikely, however, that he would ever have admitted that she appears to have betrayed a deep bias against Israel with that question. 


  1. These disgraceful remarks of Montague made me complain-for the first time ever-to the BBC. I intend to make as much trouble for them as I can...High Hopes as they say.
    I reckon they`l;l be paying for this one as a slow`s as lazy and offensive a tie-in to Islamic shilling as I can recall.
    Christians are being killed and persecuted in every damned country around that area except for one-Israel. So for her to impugn them as Christian-bashing bigots(as opposed to vulnerable Muslims in cultural struggles to defeat whitey and his empire) is typical flatpack reflex thinking that the BBC needs to be cleansed of. I`m sick of it.

    1. Good luck with that Chris.
      I've been reading your comments on this at B-BBC and BBC Watch, so I know how strongly you feel about it.
      It will be interesting so see if the reply you receive from the BBC will be the same disingenuous boiler-plate response from Dominic Groves.
      At least two people have been sent that so far, as far as I can see.
      It's not washing with anyone though, as it's so blatantly disingenuous, and then goes on to add insult to injury by alleging that the Israel-Palestinians dispute is one of the root causes of the growing persecution, instead of the reality that the main cause is the growing intolerance of Christian minorities by Muslim majorities in country after country.


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