Saturday 11 January 2014

Sarah Montague: "Misleading" over Israel

Talking about Today, here's an update on a story from last November. But first the story so far...

Hadar at BBC Watch highlighted a Today interview between Sarah Montague and Baroness Warsi concerning the persecution of Christians, during which Sarah Montague asked this question:
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 took that to falsely imply that Israel is one of those countries which persecutes Christians. 

As I wrote at the time, "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. "

Today's assistant editor Dominic Groves responded to complaints by saying that 
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.
I thought that was "a panicky attempt" to spin away Sarah Montague's insinuation against Israel, "a linguistic dodge":  
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?
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. 
Well, lo and below, Hadar now informs us that her reader's complaint, taken further, has been upheld by the BBC's Head of Editorial Complaints. He writes:
While I take Dominic Groves’ point that the intention was to cite Israel as an example of a country with a functioning government, rather than a country which persecutes Christians, it seems to me that bracketing it with Pakistan and Iraq, in the context of an item arising from Baroness Warsi’s warning that Christians in some parts of the world face extinction because of violence against them, nevertheless tended to give the impression that Christians in Israel were suffering violence comparable to what had been experienced in the other countries named, and that this impression, however inadvertent, was misleading. 
I’m therefore proposing to uphold your complaint.  
As Hadar notes, "It of course remains to be seen how the BBC will deal with the issue of informing the ‘Today’ programme’s millions of listeners of that breach of Editorial Guidelines on accuracy and correcting the mistaken impression created by Sarah Montague."

This, again, shows that complaining to the BBC can pay off, if you persist with it. The BBC isn't always able simply to shrug off valid criticism if the complainant stands his or her ground, and if that ground is firm.

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