BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Trial by radio

Adrian Brown | 14:21 UK time, Friday, 1 September 2006

Putting Israel on trial for war crimes is not something one does lightly. But that's what The World Tonight decided to do last week. Not Israel alone, mind you. Hezbollah was in the dock too - both of them for allegedly committing war crimes during the recent Lebanon conflict. And I should clarify, we were simply hosting the trial.

The World TonightThis was not the BBC putting either side on trial. We left that to Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch whose organisation had recently released a detailed report accusing both sides of committing war crimes. Defending Israel was Daniel Reisner, a former legal advisor to the Israeli army. International Law Professor John Quigley took the Hezbollah brief. Friday's presenter Paul Moss was judge. Our listeners were the jury. (You can hear the debate here.)

To keep order in court we allowed Roth two minutes to make the case against each defendant who then had two minutes each to offer a defence against the "charges". Roth then cross-examined both defendants.

To end we gave each of the participants a final say. It was a fascinating contest which thanks to Ken Roth's surgical cross examination really cut to the core issues of what is, and is not, legally permissible in times of war.

A stunt or useful contribution to the BBC's coverage of the conflict? Judging by the torrent of e-mails we received, I'd say this was a resounding success. Here's a typical response:

"Thank-you for the concise and objective debate to-night on the war in Lebanon. It was refreshing to see both points argued sensibly and logically. In my opinion, both sides are guilty of war crimes."

Using the device of the court hearing opened up the debate in ways that a straightforward interview wouldn't. Thanks also to the time constraints imposed there was real drama as Roth's prosecution demolished in large parts both defendants' cases.

And the verdict? The jury is still out as the e-mails continue to come in, though there are currently marginally more who think Israel is guilty than Hezbollah. Our listeners' final verdict will be announced on tonight's programme.

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