Saturday 17 October 2015

Andrew Roy on 'Newswatch'

This week's Newswatch covered the BBC's reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Samira Ahmed's began:
It's the topic which attracts the most intense controversy and criticism of BBC news output: how the corporation covers conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The past week has seen another upsurge in violence with seven Israelis killed in a spate of near-daily stabbings and at least 30 Palestinians.
A clip of Orla Guerin reporting on one of the grisliest of the attacks on Israelis was then played.

Samira continued:
Whenever the BBC reports on escalations of violence such as this hundreds of viewers do get in touch, often alleging bias in one direction or another.
A couple of examples were read out: one saying that Israel is always shown in a bad light, as the aggressor and that "always you put the Palestinians' point of view first", the other saying the BBC is biased towards Israel, highlighting Israeli deaths from stabbings and shooting and downplaying the deaths of "innocent Palestinians".

This, of course, is classic "complaints from both sides" territory, which the BBC invariably deploys to counter criticisms of bias.

"If both sides are complaining we must be getting it about right", they say, ignoring the possibility that one side may the right (and have plenty of credible evidence) and the other wrong (and have little credible evidence).

Having so framed the discussion, Samira asked:
So how does the BBC attempt to main objectivity and balance in the face of such criticism, and does it succeed?
She then interviewed Andrew Roy, foreign editor of BBC News - a transcription of which now follows.

I'm posting it as Andrew Roy gives a clear statement of the BBC's official policy here. 

Whether the BBC lives up to it and whether there's a lot missing from Mr Roy's account are questions that naturally arise, of course (and to which we know the answers)...

Samira Ahmed: Andrew, this is such a hugely divisive issue. It has been for years. How do you deal with the pressure from both sides?

Andrew Roy: Our reports come under incredibly close scrutiny, minute scrutiny. We're minuted by some organisations about the amount of airtime we give to one side or the other. The tone of our reports, the words we use, everything is looked at in microscopic detail. We're used to that. What we try to do is focus on what's important, which is reporting from the scene with our reporters. with our editors, to try and give context and analysis, to keep it balanced. to keep it objective and independent.

Samira Ahmed: People who've been watching the escalation of violence in the past week might be saying, 'Well, how do I know that the BBC's devoting absolutely impartial coverage to this?' So how would you spell out the approach you've taken?

Andrew Roy: Well, Friday afternoon there were pretty big protests in the area, so we had team on both sides. We had one sequence where we had one reporter on the Israeli side organising a two-way between Tzipi Livni on the Israeli side, Mustapha Bargouti on the Palestinian side and brought in our own reporter from the Palestinian side. So we're live on both sides of the conflict bringing in guests from both sides of the conflict and giving everybody an equal opportunity to put their viewpoint and giving our audience an insight into what was happening on both sides of the conflict. That's the sort of thing we're doing day in and day out on this story, on television, on radio and online.

Samira Ahmed: Obviously viewers don't necessarily watch all the coverage that there is, but some viewers get in touch because they feel they turn on BBC News and they see BBC reporters on the ground, Palestinians throwing stones, expressing their frustrations, and feel that we're seeing clashes mainly from that side.

Andrew Roy: No, that's not the case. If you look at the broad sweep of our coverage we don't report things from one direction or one side in any particular pattern, There is pre-formed BBC idea about how we report this conflict. We don't just say, 'We will always do it that way or we will always do it this way'. So once you look at the spread of our coverage you will see that we're giving both sides equal weight and equal balance in our reports.

Samira Ahmed: Want to ask a question about footage. In recent days with these terrible knife attacks we've sometimes seen mobile phone footage used in breaking news. Is there a danger that the drama of the pictures might take precedence over the reporting of the event in a calm, balanced way?

Andrew Roy: Well, you need to balance, as you describe it, the drama of footage like that with what you're saying in the piece, what you've got around the piece, around those reports, around that video. so that you're not giving extreme weight to one thing just because of the happenstance of the images and where they've come from. So we try to make sure the reports have a context around them that helps the audience get over that, that we're not just doing things for high impact around particular images that might have come in.

Samira Ahmed: The attacks that we've been seeing in the past few days, particularly...there have been stabbings. It feels very different to the kind of violence that might have been reported over the last decade. Is that true from the BBC's point of view?

Andrew Roy: This does feel like a new style of conflict. In the past there have been very large protests and that's been the focus for uprisings and conflicts from both sides. This seems to be based around individuals. We're trying as much as we can to explain this new style of conflict to our audiences, to look at what might be behind it, what might be sustaining it, to look at responses to it and things like that.

Samira Ahmed: One of the big dilemmas, of course, is when you decide to report the specifics of the news incident that's just happened and how far can you contextualise it in the history of the region - which, of course, takes up a lot more time on a news report, doesn't it?

Andrew Roy: And we're constrained by time. You know, there's a 60-second report on the radio, it's very difficult to sum up decades of conflict in there. We try to do it as often as we can/ We also refer our audience to other areas of the BBC where we have that historical context, to help them understand....

Samira Ahmed: What, the website?

Andrew Roy: offer them longer analysis that some of our other correspondents are filing there to put the conflict into its perspective. But we can't always get it in every single report. simply because there isn't the airtime to do that.


  1. Thus avoiding the real issues of bias: translating "Jew" as "Israeli" on the advice of their Palestinian handlers, denying that the Palestinians put weapons in schools and launch rockets from hospitals, the "It All Started When Israel Hit Back" editorial policy, and, of course, the Al Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount conundrum. Focusing here on the body count and on-the-ground reporting of physical conflict allows the BBC to keep the discussion within the realm of subjectivity and perception, when the larger problem is one of factual accuracy and the agenda behind the reporting.

  2. The BBC has been proven to be utterly inaccurate and partial at every turn.

    It is little wonder their tame navel gazing sop does all in its power to look like they are conceding anything other than they get it about right.


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