Is the BBC biased? The Corporation and the coverage of the 2006 Israeli—Hezbollah war
by Ivor Gaber, University of Bedfordshire, UK; Emily Seymour, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK; and Lisa Thomas, University of Bedfordshire, UK.
In the light of the findings of the BBC's 2006 impartiality review of their coverage of the Arab—Israeli conflict, and the fact that most of the accusations of bias against the BBC continue to come from pro-Israel lobbyists, this research sought to investigate whether their claims of anti-Israel bias during the BBC's reporting of the 2006 Israeli— Hezbollah war could be validated.
Using ITV News as a control group, these claims were measured against the BBC's revised editorial guidelines for covering the Middle East. The article demonstrates that, whilst certain aspects of the coverage were problematic, BBC journalists broadly adhered to the Governors' revised editorial guidelines, and covered the conflict more or less impartially — if there was any bias it was towards, rather than against, Israel. ITV News coverage was more problematic but still achieved a significant degree of impartiality.
So, why isn't the BBC report being released? -
Caroline Bassett, head of litigation at Forsters LLP, the London firm, acted for her colleague Steven Sugar in his attempt under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to have the 2004 Balen Report on possible bias in the BBC’s Middle East coverage published.
In the first case under the Act to reach the House of Lords, it ruled by a 3:2 majority that the material was not exempt from the Act and that the Information Tribunal had jurisdiction to decide if it should be disclosed. The BBC is appealing.
It's being appealed?
What does Sugar say?
Steven Sugar, 59, consultant commercial lawyer at London firm Forsters...brought the first case under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) to reach the House of Lords, with the Lords ruling in favour of his right to appeal to the Information Tribunal.
The BBC had refused Sugar’s request to disclose an internal report on alleged anti-Israeli bias in its Middle East coverage on the grounds that the report was commissioned for the ‘purposes of journalism’.
Sugar pursued the case through the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal, which ruled that the journalism exemption did not apply. The BBC rejected the ruling, arguing that the Information Tribunal did not have the jurisdiction to hear an individual’s appeal. The High Court agreed, but the Lords came down three to two on Sugar’s side.
Thoughts on the case: ‘This case is about making the BBC accountable for its journalism. The House of Lords has now decided to reinstate the decision of the Information Tribunal that the report is covered by the Freedom of Information Act.
‘The BBC argued that the Information Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear my appeal to it, but would have had jurisdiction to hear an appeal to it from the BBC. This would have created an obvious unfairness.’
Anything else we and the academics should know? This:-
The Law Lords held by a 3-2 majority that a case brought by London lawyer Steven Sugar under the Freedom of Information Act was wrongly blocked by legal rulings at earlier hearings.
The BBC is understood to have spent £200,000 on the case which has been through the Information Tribunal, the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
It now returns to the High Court for further argument.
Mr Sugar insists that a 20,000-word report by BBC executive Malcolm Balen should be published as part of a debate about alleged anti-Israeli bias.
The BBC contends that, under the Freedom of Information Act, it is exempt from disclosing information held for the purposes of 'journalism, art or literature'.
...'The Balen report remains of great public interest. It has recently been claimed that the report concluded that its Middle-East coverage had been biased against Israel and that the BBC decision not to broadcast the charity aid appeal for Gaza was influenced by this.'
...A BBC spokesman said the Law Lords had merely clarified the law around the jurisdiction of the Information Tribunal and it was now a matter for the High Court.
Over the years BBC bosses have faced repeated claims that their reporting of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been skewed.
One particularly controversial incident came when Middle East correspondent Barbara Plett revealed she had cried as Yasser Arafat was close to death.
In 2004 the Israeli government wrote to the BBC accusing reporter Orla Guerin of anti-Semitism and identifying with Palestinian terror groups.
Maybe there'll be another academic article.
I am going to try to obtain the full text of the article to understand the parameters of measuring media bias.
My organization, Israel's Media Watch, (English site here) which focuses in the main on the local media, awarded a research prize last year to Dr. Avrham Gur for his work on media bias in which he built a model for properly measuring media bias:
Measuring bias in media commentary requires analysis of parameters that media professionals directly control. Professionals include editors, producers and moderators. In the broadcast media they select interviewees and participants for the talk shows and panel discussions, and allocate time, in minutes, to each. Thus, in order to detect bias it is necessary to identify the political beliefs of the participants and to measure the time, in minutes, allocated to each.
The first step in the proposed methodology is to classify commentators into two main blocs: Ideological/political and neutral/centrist.
Neutral commentators don’t subscribe to any political platform, while centrist commentators present views of the political center. In the US for example, those would be expressed by “independent” voters. The political map in many liberal democracies includes centrist parties. Currently, for example, “Kadima” is a centrist party in Israel located between the Left and the Right. In the following pages neutral/centrist commentators will be referred to as non-political.
The second step is to classify the political commentators into rival camps, such as liberal and conservative or Left and Right. Several techniques are employed to identify the commentators’ political affiliations. The first group includes known members of political parties, movements and organizations. The second includes individuals known to regularly represent a particular political viewpoint. The third group includes occasional contributors whose affiliations are identified by the
broadcast media in introductory announcements made by presenters and moderators. The fourth group includes individuals who clearly do not subscribe to any specific school and therefore are reassigned to the non-political bloc. The fifth group includes commentators whose affiliation is unclear. A list of these individuals is presented for identification to a panel of three highly knowledgeable experts on the political system. Reliable identification requires full agreement among the three experts. Those who could not be politically identified are reassigned to the non-political category.
In the proposed methodology, bias in the broadcast media is measured through two variables:
Affiliation and time. The variables are under media control. The procedure which applies to commentators selected to appear in the broadcast media; and the professionals control the amount of time each person receives. In the next sections, commentators in the broadcast media are referred to as “participants”. Raw data for the analysis may include all news broadcasts. However, if the volume is too heavy, researchers may select valid samples of broadcasts. If the research period stretches for a long time (years), the valid sample is two full months per year , selected randomly.
The new formula suggested here, to measure bias in media commentary, includes four components: Political Ratio, Access Ratio, Balance Ratio and Bias Ratio.
Political Ratio (PR) refers to the ratio between the numbers of political vs. non-political participants, and between the time in minutes allocated to political blocs vs. nonpolitical blocs. It is reasonable to demand that the number of political blocs in the two parameters should be at least 65%.
Access Ratio (AR) refers to the ratio between the number of participants from one political bloc vs. the number of participants representing the rival bloc.
Balance Ratio (BR) refers to the ratio in minutes allocated to participants representing rival blocs.
Bias Ratio (BIR) refers to an amalgamation of the AR and the BR in percentages.
Balance exists when the BIR between the political blocs is 1. For the purposes of this work however, balance would exist if the BIR runs between 0.9 and 1.1. Any result beyond this range would indicate bias.