Friday 17 March 2017

Interviewing as an art form

I’m not sure if the BBC deliberately assigns anything to do with the Middle East to Mishal Husain, and if so, whether it’s despite or because of her infamous “Homemade contraptions / How many Israelis” interview. 
(I know Sarah Montague sometimes tackles this topic too.) 

How many Israelis have died?

It’s obvious that very few people in the mainstream media are experts on the Israeli / Palestinian situation, but it’s quite clear that they take a view on it nevertheless. 
“I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” is a much mocked sentiment made about the naive by the intelligentsia, but it sums up the media’s approach to the Israeli /Palestinian conflict

The folks in the BBC’s complaints department aren’t the sharpest tools, but if they have one thing going for them, it’s self-confidence and the benefit of standard customer-services training. That’s two things, sorry. 
They’ve undoubtedly learned to express concern for the complainant’s feelings and regret for any offence caused before launching off on a painstaking explanation as to why the complaint was misguided. 

We wrote about the interview in question here, but I hid it in one of my ‘multiple topic’ contributions, perhaps to the detriment of its due exposure.

Let’s remind ourselves.
“Although the BBC mentioned it on their website, (in the above running order) Mishal Husain didn’t make much of the fact that Zoabi is an Israeli Arab and an MP in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. She certainly didn’t tell listeners that Zoabi is opposed to the ‘two state solution’ (she wants a one-state (Arab) solution) and that she opposes Israel being recognised as a Jewish state. Despite the fact that as an MP she is hugely benefiting from its democratic system, she is ideologically opposed to Israel’s existence. How mad is that?[…]Haneen Zoabi was given plenty of space to express herself without let or hindrance. “What will happen if Trump moves the embassy to Jerusalem? Mishal asked hopefully. “Will it be a red line?” 

Mishal did interrupt a particularly long rant to ask Zoabi what she thought about settlements being “not the only issue”,  and citied other issues, which (she said)  ‘Israel sees’ as additional ‘obstacles to peace’, namely: The status of Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s security.  

Issues effortlessly glossed over by Mishal, but hugely complex, contentious and nearly always misrepresented. 

“650 units is ‘a crime against humanity’ “ said Zoabi, “It’s a war crime”.
"If you want peace, you want justice, and you must make Israel accountable to its crime” she opined. Another lengthy rant unchallenged, including the customary Palestinian rewriting of history and imaginative interpretations of various wrongdoings of the state that so generously provides her with the opportunity to spread anti-Israel propaganda to those that hunger for such a thing, Palestinian intransigence, rejectionism, incitement, violence and visceral hatred of Jews didn't get a look-in.

“In short, Haneen Zoabi was given a completely unfettered platform from which to spout her predictably one-sided propaganda (in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as victims and Arab belligerence and Palestinian terrorism are erased) in an obviously more sympathetic environment than was evident in the previous day’s interview. 

The fact that Mishal Husain failed to challenge even one of Zoabi’s many falsehoods means that the BBC cannot possibly claim that this interview was intended to meet its public purpose remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.”

BBCWatch submitted a complaint about the interview, specifically stating that a number of Zoabi’s falsehoods remained unchallenged.

After the obligatory apology for the delay in ‘coming back’ and ‘understanding’ your hurt feelings, they proceed with the business of dismissing the complaint. 

  • First, a reminder of the aim of the interview. It was primarily about Donald Trump (thus sidelining any inaccuracies and falsehoods to a position of secondary importance, or as incidental.)
  • “The interviewee spoke quickly and passionately”  “In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest….”  Interrupting passionate and fast-speaking Israeli spokespersons never seems to present much of a problem though.
  • “A contrasting view,” should the listeners be in need of one, was provided the previous day, so “Listeners can judge for the different arguments for themselves.”

It wasn’t a case of different arguments though, was it? It was a stream of falsehoods, which the BBC did not challenge or rectify.  
“Interviewing is an art form rather than a simple science,” is a patronising defence for the artists of the BBC complaints department to bring in, when surely facts are considerably more of a science than an art form. 

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