Wednesday 4 November 2015


Let’s take a closer look at Feedback’s way of dealing with listener’s letters. Feedback’s raison d’etre is to give the listener a voice and Roger Bolton speaks on behalf of the listener, playing Devil’s advocate where necessary.

Craig’s piece included this transcript of one of Roger Bolton’s questions during a remarkably gentle interview with Kevin Connolly:

“I mean, for example, William Parry has been particularly critical of a Today interview that John Humphrys did with you. I think John's first question was, "Yet another attack on Israelis", talking about the knifing (sic) and so on. And that listener felt the very way that was framed, mentioning Israelis first, concentrating on what was happening to them, in a relatively short interview inevitably skewed the coverage. What do you think of that criticism?”

He refers to the complainant as “that listener” and gives us his name. William Parry. Our friend Mr. Google says Mr. Parry happens to be not just any old listener. He’s the author of an artfully compiled book of images of Israel’s separation barrier aimed at people who campaign against Israel, using slogans like: “Tear down that wall” and “Free, free Palestine – from the river to the sea.” Etcetera.

The book must have a certain appeal, because it’s been endorsed by Ghada Karmi, Ken Loach and Roger Waters.  But why would the Feedback team bother to find that out, (even though the BBC itself had formerly promoted the book) and, more to the point, would it trouble them if they did?

One might try substituting the name of a high profile anti-Israel campaigner or antisemitic political figure to test whether Feedback would read out the complaint and describe the complainant as ‘a listener’.
“I mean, for example, “OmarBarghouti” has written in. He has been particularly critical of a Today interview that John Humphrys did with you.” 
 “A listener, Mr. Adolf Hitler has contacted us. That listener  thought the way that was framed, mentioning the Israelis first, concentrating on what was happening to them inevitably skewed the coverage. Etcetera.

Would that dent the audience’s belief that the complaint was in any way valid? Would it be seen to represent a significant tranche of public opinion?

Would you not ask yourself this: If the BBC happens to be reporting “yet another knife attack on Israelis” should not the BBC report that first? Use it as a headline, even?
  • If it was a fact.
  • If it happened.

Should the BBC not  tell us ‘what is happening to Israelis, or “them”, even when the “them” in question are Israelis? The complainant seems to think that’s wrong. He thinks it skews the reporting. In his eyes reporting something first, i.e., prioritising it chronologically in a report automatically skews the report in favour of the subject.

Having heard you posit that theory, I might pocket it and save it for a rainy day. Thanks for bringing it up by the way Roger, it might come in handy as evidence; it may harm your defence if you fail to mention it later, when questioned. etc.

I say that because, as we all know, straightforward chronology doesn’t normally influence the BBC’s reporting when it comes to violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Not at all. In fact the opposite is the case. The BBC customarily ignores chronology or ‘as it happened’ reporting– notably in their reporting of the spate of stabbings and driving cars into Israelis by Palestinians. The BBC habitually starts by informing listeners of the death or the condition of the Palestinian instigator of any given incident. This pattern of ‘front-loading’, which also applies to headlines, occurs so frequently that it has a name. ‘First last’ reporting.

Might not this “inevitably” skew anything much?

It’s ironic that a rare deviation from this pattern causes that “listener” so much stress that he decides to pen a complaint, send it off to Feedback, and enjoy Roger Bolton reading it out on air.
“No,” he says, “we mustn’t frame our reporting in a manner that concentrates on what is happening (to Israelis) We demand that it is always framed in a manner that concentrates on what is happening to the Palestinians.”

Don’t misunderstand this complaint. Don’t file it under the category: ‘causing offence by mentioning Israel in a non-derogatory fashion’ or ‘allowing Mark Regev’s face to appear on the news because I can’t stand the sight of it’. Many of us see this attitude ‘we must silence the Israelis at all costs’  (an extreme version of BDS) – as hysterical. It’s partly a pathological fear of an imaginary, creeping ‘normalisation’ of the BBC’s relations with Israel. Oh the horror! But I don’t believe it’s even that.

I think the complainant is demanding that implied 'justification' is attached to all reports of murderous activities by Palestinian Arabs, and thinks every report should include a list of their grievances and so on.
He wants it embedded in the BBC’s armoury of ‘background and context’ in the same way that the notoriously misleading 'death tally' is appended to most of the BBC’s articles concerning the Israeli/Palestinian situation. It serves to remind readers that the BBC regards Israel’s defensive actions against Hamas as disproportionate.

Anti-Israel campaigners and activists try to justify Palestinian violence by giving it context and background. They cite unsubstantiated rumours about al-Aksa, the occupation, the settlements, oppression, frustration, no-hope and so on, as the ‘root cause’ of the violence. Journalists throughout the UK media, including the BBC, seem to find this understandable.

Let’s just suppose, for one moment, that these factors were, in isolation, the ‘root cause’. So what would that mean? Would that justify the actions of every violent offender who lashes out with a knife or mows people down with his vehicle if he feels he’s been handed a raw deal in life?
Or is it exclusively applicable to Palestinians who are caught trying to hack people to shreds.

But if you’re going to appease the likes of William Parry and demand that Palestinian violence is rationalised and excused every time it’s reported, then you can’t be selective. You can’t pick n mix your root causes. You can’t ignore the incitement from the Palestinian leadership that has played a major role in whipping it up. But more than that. You can’t ignore the real root cause.

Roger Bolton and Kevin Connolly may well genuinely think that this long list of manufactured excuses are behind the current wave of violence because neither of them care to know that the Muslim Arabs’ hatred of Jews dates far back beyond the existence of the Jewish State. That is the root cause.

“Free, free Palestine!” simply means free of Jews “from the river to the sea”.  What could be more clear?

The oldest hatred. A hatred that is detrimental to everyone involved, especially the Palestinian people.

Roger Bolton reading out that ‘listener’s letter’ as if he was a typical listener and representative of public opinion, might have been down to pure gullibility. It reminds me of the time George Galloway was duped into reading out, passionately, on air, an enthusiastic message from one “Hugh Janus”. Oh how we laughed.

But to misquote BobMonkhouse, “We’re not laughing now.”


  1. Thanks Sue

    But . I don't think any one has any understanding of how effective incitement can be in causing hatred and violence. These films illustrate eg and /or

    1. True, but the principle of free speech has to take precedence in my view. We need to be careful not to broaden out the definition of incitement so it can be used against rational peaceful people.

      The best way to counter incitement to hatred and violence is to have a strong system of education and a strong free speech culture that means any ideologies that promote hatred and violence can be pulled apart. We don't have that in the UK at the present.

    2. The problem is that once rational peaceful people have been incited they are imbued with hate. It has to be prevented before it has taken root !! The concept of freedom of speech is taken too far eg when the BBC's Malcolm Balen wrote to me that Jenny Tonge's views "had to be tested in a democracy" . (Jenny Tonge had justified the Palestinian Arabs murdering Jews by homicide bombing and radio 4 BBC Today programme sponsored a trip to Israel for her ) BUT there can be NO justification for murder to solve problems and there should be no freedom of speech to promote this idea. The BBC also promoted a rap artist's CD giving him air time to make his anarchist views acceptable see There are other examples. freedom of speech sounds good in principle but when it is used as an excuse to promote views that support terrorists and anarchy than it is a danger to society. .

    3. I don't agree. During the time of lethal IRA terrorism in London my friend's father had Irish rebel songs on albums in his home, inciting violence against the British (as no doubt did many thousands of recent immigrants from Ireland to mainland UK). I don't accept your view that it would have been a good idea to go and confiscate those records and subject the father to legal penalties.

  2. As Evan Davis might put it:

    "Leaving aside the rather primary colours he uses to put his point across, do you entirely deny Adolf's central point that there is some justice in what the Grand Mufti says?"


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