Covering the Middle East
The World Tonight has been covering the crisis in the Middle East, along with the rest of the media, in recent days. And as usual when we cover this story, we get a lot of audience comment on our coverage - a lot of it critical. Here are two examples from the past week:
- • "Does the fact that the missiles fired by Palestinians into Israel are "primitive" (as you allege) make those acts more or less grave? Does the fact that Sderot is the home town of the Israeli defence minister make it more or less appropriate that Israel defend herself. Or are these bits of spin just part of the BBC's stance against Israel?"
- • "I felt your report in the World Tonight this evening on events in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon was completely unbalanced. Yes you had an Oxford based academic criticise Israeli policy but your interviewer did not challenge any representatives of the Israeli government in their interviews about violation of Geneva conventions and international law. Why do you not hold them to any account? If you can’t do a serious interview don’t give them airtime."
The curious thing is that they were both written to us in response to the same item (hear it here). There is an old adage in journalism that if you're getting complaints from both sides in a polarised debate such as that over the Middle East conflict, you must be doing something right. But in case you think we take a flippant attitude, we take complaints more seriously than this adage may suggest.
The BBC Governors recently commissioned an independent report into the BBC's coverage of the Middle East which concluded there was no intentional bias, although we could give more context to events - which is why we are now telling listeners and viewers about the BBC News website in-depth background site, as well as taking other measures to improve our coverage, such as appointing a West Bank correspondent.
But even before this report we have always spent a lot of time carefully considering how we cover this story and the language we use. Central to our journalistic ethos is our duty to report and analyse all sides to a story, so our audience can make sense of what is going on the world.
Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight