Sunday 11 February 2018

Jeremy Bowen on his critics, on being a BBC editor and on his Tamimi report

Here are transcripts of a couple of extracts from a discussion between the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and a former BBC reporter turned media trainer and leadership coach Mike Sergeant.

Through them we learn that he doesn't like criticism, that his job title gives him more latitude to lead the audience 'towards understanding', and that he used his Tamimi report to put across some points he felt the audience needed to hear.


Jeremy Bowen: And your other part of the question was "Sometimes people don't like  what they hear." That happens a lot.
Mike Sergeant: Particularly in the Middle East.
Jeremy Bowen: Particularly in the Middle East, and particularly with the Israeli and the Palestinians. I get a lot of abuse. I mean, I've got a very thick skin now. It doesn't really bother me. But I don't looking at it. I don't like seeing it. So I stay away from Twitter sometimes, if I'm going through a particularly troll-like period.
Mike Sergeant: And you're a target, partly because you're so closely associated with the Middle East but also with the BBC.
Jeremy Bowen: Yeah, absolutely, and in some countries people believe that the BBC is a branch of British foreign policy. Which it isn't, but people believe that. And also I think that sometimes, in terms of what I do, and particularly with the Israeli and the Palestinians, but not just, both sides want to be seen as victims and to have their victimhood acknowledged. They don't want you to be fair. I mean some do, but most people - the kind of people who complain to me - they're not interested in me being fair or impartial, which are the things we're meant to be and which is what I try to be. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the people who send in tweets about, post tweets about, my shortcomings as a reporter, they are the enemies of impartiality. But, you know, we have to put up with that. It's part of the rough and tumble of what we do. And I have, as I say, I have...I don't care about it so much because, you know, I don't...I think you've got to take a deep breath and suck it up sometimes. 
Mike Sergeant: And there will be stories where you have to not exactly express a view but that kind of 'On the one hand this, on the other hand that' isn't enough. 
Jeremy Bowen: I don't do 'on the one hand, on the other hand'. I mean, one of the things about having the word 'Editor' in my BBC title means that really I don't do that. I'm given...We have to stay impartial but I have a little more latitude to take the audience a bit by the hand and take them in what I believe to be the direction towards understanding. And, erm...I mean, for example. Let me give you a, let me give you a, yeah, er, so...I never say...I'd think I'd failed if I was tempted to say 'on the one hand, on the other hand, the truth lies somewhere in between'. No it doesn't. The truth lies, you know, there or there. And you have to say what the truth is and you have to show why you think that. You can't just say, as if you're in the pub or something, 'Well, you know, what this is all about is...'. You have to explain your reasoning. 


Jeremy BowenI did [a human interest story] the other week about a girl, a 16 year old girl - she's 17 now. She's had a birthday - Ahed Tamimi, who slapped an Israeli soldier. And the story was not all that it seemed. She's in jail, awaiting trial. Serious charges. And there's a big controversy, particularly in Israel, about just exactly what she stands for and what they should do with her. Quite a lot of people want her to be kept in jail for quite a long time for doing what she did. But it was also...You see, what I felt about that story - as soon as I saw it, I said we should go and do that, because, to start with, it's a very understandable mini-saga about what happened to this girl, to her family, her mother, who's also in jail with her, her dad, who's sort of a full-time protestor and activist, and...
Mike Sergeant: And the boy.
Jeremy Bowen: And the boy. There's a boy too. There was a cousin who was shot in the face and in his brain by an Israeli soldier with a rubber-coated metal bullet, which happened very soon, just before the girl, Ahed Tamimi, went and walloped this Israeli soldier. And, you know, to be fair to the Israeli soldier, he didn't use inappropriate force or anything like that. He tried to fend her off a bit. But, you know, he was a great big bloke, armed to the teeth, and I think he knew that a small 16 year old was not going to be a real threat to him. But anyway, I could see that there would be ways of telling that story and weaving through it some things that the audience needed to know about the current state of relations in the West Bank between Israeli and Palestinians and the fact that there's been 50 years of occupation.
Mike Sergeant: And it's not reported anything like as much as it was.
Jeremy Bowen: We don't, because...I lived there in the '90s and I've done this story for so long. The thing about it is that it's always the same. The issues, sorry, behind them are always the same. So what I look for is something which will raise it above the everyday to enable us to do a story about it because, sadly, except for moments like that, where I did this piece about the Tamimis, we tend to do things just when everything blows up. And if you go to your viewers and you say, effectively say to them, 'Well, you know that place you may remember from news stories some years ago, that you've heard virtually nothing from since, well guess what? It's caught fire again'.

1 comment:

  1. All that you can really take from that exchange is that Bowen goes to great lengths to justify why he only reports the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from one side. Far from telling people what they don’t want to hear, he is telling his bosses at the BBC exactly what they want to hear.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.