Sunday 3 August 2014

Lyse Doucet on 'Feedback'

Following on from Sue's post and as part of Is the BBC biased?'s public service remit, here's a full transcription of this week's Feedback coverage of the BBC's Israel-Gaza coverage. 

The BBC's Lyse Doucet spells out the BBC's position, revealing a good deal about the BBC mindset in the process.

Please see what you make of it.


Roger Bolton: First, the story that continues to dominate our inbox - the BBC's coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict. 

Last week, you may remember, we interviewed Phil Pegum, the producer of Radio 4's The Moral Maze, about what some listeners claimed was the overheated behaviour of some of the panelists in an edition called 'Just War and Gaza'. 

Following that interview we have received many more emails about The Moral Maze and about the BBC's coverage of the conflict in general. 

Many of you think the BBC is biased and is either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli:
Listener 1: Hello, my name is Ailsa McLellan and I'm phoning from Ullapool Wester Ross. I'm so sick of your skewed coverage of the conflict in Palestine. Another U.N. school has been repeatedly shelled, killing children and parents in their sleep, yet the bit of coverage on this incident that you chose to cover in the short section of news at lunchtime was the Israeli spokesperson, Paul Hirschson, maintaining that there were often Hamas bombs hidden in schools. I can hardly listen or watch the BBC at the moment because of the weak line that you take on this overall.
Listener 2: Hello, my name is Daniel Stillit. I live in London. It seems to me that what we have here is one long condemnation of Israel. I absolutely feel that the BBC's credibility is in doubt. I cannot trust it. I cannot rely on it for comprehensive and balanced information.
Roger Bolton: As the Gaza conflict has escalated so the pressure on reporters on the ground has done so as well. Lyse Doucet is the BBC's chief international correspondent. I spoke to her this week shortly after she had returned from Gaza.

Lyse Doucet: Every day is a battle to survive, but most of all for Gazans - the nearly two million Gazans who are now living in the midst of a very, very punishing war. The BBC is fortunate in that we have armoured vehicles. So we have two armoured vehicles which we have to share among our teams. When something happens, for example if a school's been hit, you drive as far as you can, you measure where the fire is coming from - both rocket fire going out into Israel, incoming tank and artillery fire. You can hear it all the time. You have to be constantly making judgements about how far you can go.

Roger Bolton: When you're trying to find out what happened - which is your primary jobs - are there attempts all the time to mislead you?

Lyse Doucet: But 'twas ever thus in a war... 

Roger Bolton (interrupting): So there are?

Lyse Doucet: ...because they say, the great truism about war, the truth is the first casualty. Every journalist now working on either side depends on further statistics - two sources of information: the Gazan Health Ministry...which I think is doing a fairly good job given the circumstances they're working under, gives us the figures of the dead, the injured, which are based on how many bodies come in the morgue, how many people are received at the hospital...and, similarly, the Israeli Defence Forces tell you how many attacks did Israel carry out, how many rockets were fired from Gaza, how many of them were intercepted by their very effective, American-financed Iron Dome system. So they give you all those. 

And I think that, you know, both of them have a high degree of legitimacy. We're often challenged to say, "How come you're taking figures from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry?", but I think, by and large, they are as close as possible to being an accurate reflection.

Roger Bolton: Now, the allegation made by the Israelis and by those who also perceive you as being biased in some way is that you're not pointing out, or not working hard enough to discover, whether Hamas is, in fact, firing rockets from schools, from hospitals - in other words, is embedded in precisely those areas which are targeted. Have you been able to discover whether this is a conscious policy of Hamas?

Lyse Doucet: You know, back to our point about in all wars it's very difficult for security reasons, for propaganda reasons, to get to the full truth. I try to concentrate on what I see. And you can actually see, if you look hard enough, you can see a lot.

For example, there was one day, on a street. We walked passed an entry, an alleyway, into a building, and a man came out and he gestured to some of the young men who were walking on the street...He's sort of saying, 'Go, go, go!'...and we walked passed, not really knowing why he said that, and then immediately a mortar was fired. So we knew he had been firing mortars from inside that building.

There's no doubt that Hamas is firing from...and Islamic Jihad is firing from...inside residential areas. They're firing from open fields. They deny that they're using Palestinians as human shields. Of course, it might depend on what your definition of a 'human shield'. Their defence would be...and the defence of Gazans when you say to them, "Don't you blame Hamas for your fate? They're using your homes"...they say, "Well, where can they go? There's no place for them to go. It's such a densely-populated area that they've no other choice but to fire from in there."

But for, you know, international human rights groups, these are violations of international humanitarian law and both sides have been accused of violating it in this war.

Roger Bolton: Sometimes, do you have to go, "I can't do anything. I've got to go a walk. I've to stay away, or otherwise my anger or my emotions will overcome me"?

Lyse Doucet: I think as a BBC broadcaster my job is to be professional in the same way that a medic's job is to be professional...

Roger Bolton (interrupting): You have to be a human being.

Lyse Doucet: Yes, but you're...In being a human being, I always say our journalism is defined by the question we ask. So we ask, "Why have so many children been hit?", "What was the target in this place?", "Why, in the case of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, why are you firing rockets from residential areas?"   

My job is to be the story teller, to tell other people's stories, and I need to have composure to do that. And I've wrestled with this issue about taking sides and how far we can go a lot, because, in my career, I've often been reporting on areas where there are two sides, three sides, and all sides. 

I believe it is fine within my mandate as a public service broadcaster to be on the side of the people, to be on the side of children. It's wrong. It's wrong to target the civilians.

We're talking about international human rights laws. There are laws, there are rules, even in war.

Roger Bolton: How difficult is it to face the sort of accusations of bias that we get to Feedback, which you must get as well? Both sides saying, "You're clearly biased. You're clearly deliberately giving one side of the story"?

Lyse Doucet: I have to say it pains a lot of us. Most of the correspondence producers who've been working on this latest story have been going back and forth to the Middle East, to this particular region, for decades. And I can sit here and put my hand on my heart to say, "Our conscience is clear", that we do make an effort to try to cover all sides of the story. 

But we also understand that people feel passionately about these stories. There are, of course, the lobby groups whose job it is to keep pushing and putting pressure on us - lobby groups on both sides - but there are also the people who just care a lot about this story. And so if they see something on air...see something, hear something on the radio or something online...they vent their anger against us, because they see us as somehow not telling the real story.

And I have own experience has been with most of these people who, for example, contact me on Twitter and say, "You are this" or "You are that", that I respond and say, "Thank you very much. I'm sorry you have that impression. We are trying". Nine times out of ten they come back and say, "Thank you". Some people just want to be recognised, that they want us to know that they believe we're doing it wrong. 

And two decades ago, what we would say to the criticism is, "Don't judge us by one report. Please judge us by the length and breadth and depth of our reports over a period of time". And now what we're saying is, "Don't judge us by one tweet."

And sometimes they make legitimate points. I'll say, "Actually, they have a point. I must..." And I say, "Thank you. I should look more closely at that. You're right, that is something.." So it's very useful as well.

So all I'd say to your listeners is...and maybe they won't believe me...but I can speak for myself and all my colleagues...We are trying, and we will keep trying to tell a very difficult story.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is one of the easiest places to work in the world because there are so many spokespersons and so much information, but it is also the hardest place to work in the world because people care so deeply about it. 


  1. This attitude is what makes the BBC both so dangerous and so impossible to fix. They think they're doing it right, and are convinced that their moral compass tells them so. As they've all been around the block a few times, they know all the right noises to make to sound professional and give the appearance of gravitas. Sickening.

  2. I just heard one of the most shamelessly slanted reports from Lyse Doucet in Gaza. It was a propagandist attempt to portray the youth in Gaza as harmless victims of the oppression of everyone in the world other than their own government. They even staged a birthday celebration, singing the birthday song in English, as if to portray them as participants in western culture who are merely trying to enjoy their innocent youth, rather than, at best, passive pawns, if not active participants in a radically hostile theocratic government.

    Her extended residence in Pakistan and understandably friendly relationships with the neighborhood victims of the Islamist conflicts has imbued her with what seems to be a sense of mission in championing relief for these abused populations. By portraying the cause of the Gaza population's plight as the Israeli imposed embargo however, all she does is deny and ignore the root cause of their problem rather than address its solution.

    In her interview when, at the end, she offered an Israeli official a perfunctory rebuttal to accusations that Israel's restrictions on building materials were unjust cruelty, she literally ignored his statements that the Hamas government routinely diverted construction supplies for military purposes, with no reply to his pointed facts other than to further harangue him with accusations. She gave no acknowledgment in the story of the reality of Hamas' intrusions on supplies, as evidenced by the sprawling network of tunnels that were discovered in their last battle with Israel, and also dismissed the same embargo imposed by Egypt, as irrelevant.

    As the Israeli interviewee suggested, there seems to be a fear of speaking out against Hamas among the citizens of Gaza, so it remains convenient to blame the symptom of Israel's response rather than the disease of Hamas' aggression as the cause of their ordeal. It is obvious that, under the current Hamas regime, the removal of the embargo would simply result in renewed supplies for an immediate attack on Israel, and an amplified and prolonged battle, in which Hamas would again use citizens as shields, and cause yet further decimation of their city.

    Indulging the subjects of her sympathies with the delusion that they can blame Israel for their problems rather than urging them to restore a more rational government, similar to the one that presided over the initial period of peace, just after Israel optimistically relinquished control of Gaza, is a disservice to them.

    It's inaccurate to call the bias that's so evident in her story as anti-semitic, which is also what the press incorrectly names the Muslim hostilities against Jews that are erupting in Europe. Arabs are in fact Semites too. This kind of bias, which has to either be called anti-Israeli, or maybe anti-Jewish, has never made any sense. It seems to be part of the agenda of every evil organization in recorded history, but at a minimum, its the byproduct of fractured logic, (such as the Jews killed Christ, but if it matters, the Romans did), or inane propaganda, (such as Jews eat babies), consumed by the thoughtless. While most of the Jews in my community don't seem especially religious, the main Jewish experience I have is through the huge contributions I recognize they've made to the science and entertainment that I consume almost every day. The thought of reducing the security of the land that has been partitioned to protect that culture, which is part of the foundation of Western civilization, to indulge need for members of a, not-universally, but pervasively anti-social and often savage culture, to find a scapegoat for their problems, is horribly misguided, and should not be advocated by anyone representing factual news.


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