After Bashir, time for BBC to come clean on bias. Release Balen report

For a breath-taking 17 years – yes 17 – the BBC has been sitting on the Balen Report, refusing to publish it, refusing to let British taxpayers read its conclusions.

As British taxpayers not only indirectly funded the report and fund – or at least underwrite – the BBC’s activities, this length obfuscation and cover-up seems not just especially egregious but quite rude to British taxpayers, too.

I think we can be fairly confident that the BBC believed that after 17 whole years, the Balen Report had been forgotten. In fact, I think we can be fairly confident that that the BBC had hoped the report had been forgotten. And it probably would have been. If not by MEMRI, BICOM and CAA, then by many defenders of Israel.

I had certainly forgotten about it. In my blog of February 2021 about the task facing the new BBC chairman Richard Sharp in fighting anti-Israel bias and the link between the BBC’s biased coverage and the rise in antizionism and antisemitism, I included not a whisper about the Balen Report.

But then along came Lord Dyson’s report on the Martin Bashir affair with its findings of a cover-up and other Machiavellian machinations at the BBC instantly reminding us about the cover-up and Machiavellian machinations pertaining to the long-ago Balen Report.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Balen Report, it was compiled in 2004 –seventeen years ago – by Malcolm Balen, a one-time executive editor at BBC News, an author and, according to Wikipedia still a “senior editorial adviser to the BBC.” The report was commissioned by the then BBC Director of News, Richard Sambrook following persistent complaints from the Israeli government and the public alleging anti-Israel bias in news reports. After examining thousands of hours of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Balen produced a 20,000-word document.

However, despite a lengthy legal wrangle led by lawyer Steven Sugar, and a petition created by Stephen Hoffman, the report has never been made public. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, its findings have never even leaked. But then, as some key people remained on the pay-roll, that may not be entirely surprising.

The report may, of course, have found bias at BBC News in favour of Israel. But frankly, I doubt that. For fully 30-years, those of us who care for honesty in media – as well as those who care about Israel – have watched as BBC News has slipped deeper and deeper into serving as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian news agency WAFA by reproducing Palestinian press releases; by slavishly adhering to the Palestinian line on almost any clash; by failing to provide vital context and by consistently presenting information in ways which inflate Israeli culpability and minimises – or often entirely obscures – Palestinian provocation. Obviously, that’s not a definitive list, but should provide a flavour of BBC bias. And, to be honest, a flavour of similar bias by other news outlets, but as we are discussing Balen, we’ll stick with the BBC’s role in helping to demonise Israel.

On the other hand, the Palestinians may have something to complain about. I can see that the BBC may occasionally fail to portray Israel unequivocally as the villain; that perhaps in order to maintain the appearance of impartiality (if for no other reason than to keep the pesky, over-sensitive Jews off its back) the BBC may be forced to include some piece of information that does not completely fit the anti-Israel narrative, or is forced to provide context that might justify or explain a particular Israeli action and therefore fails to totally exonerate Palestinians. They cannot complain, however, at how unerringly the BBC (and other UK news outlet) observe the Palestinian restrictions on press, by never taking its cameras to Gaza’s vast and glossy shopping mall, or to its swanky villas, as that definitely does not fit the narrative.

Let me repeat what I said in my earlier blog: I do not believe there is an anti-Israel agenda across the BBC. There is in my view a spectrum of attitudes to Israel running from disinterestedly neutral, via mild disapproval to active hostility. You may wonder why, given that quite a few Jews work for the BBC, the spectrum does not start at “actively supportive.” But, as I have previously observed, the idea of finding an openly Israel-supporting Jewish broadcaster at the BBC is as likely as being served a pork chop at a strictly-Orthodox wedding.  Jewish broadcasters at the BBC – indeed all broadcasters at the BBC – are not only steeped in the Left-leaning, liberal culture but recognise it could be career suicide to openly express support for Israel. Ironically, this is at least partly due to the BBC having colluded in making Israel the bogey-man of the Left despite Israel’s credentials as a liberal (small ‘l’) democracy and an open, free society governed by the rule of law. (I won’t even begin to address the exquisite irony of the BBC having helped to demonise Israel to the LGBT community when Israel is the only country in the entire region where members of that community can live openly without fear of persecution, imprisonment or even death.)

As far as the BBC’s non-news departments are concerned, I agree with David Mitchell who, as guest presenter on last Friday’s Have I Got News For You, had a little rant about BBC News. It related to Lord Dyson and the Martin Bashir cover-up, but it could as easily apply to Balen and anti-Israel bias. The BBC was not loved for its news, he said, but for the “dramas, comedies and documentaries it has produced for decades.” I would add that the BBC can also be justifiably proud of its Jewish programmes.

But as for BBC News, I would go further than David Mitchell and say the BBC is actively disliked for its news output – except perhaps by a coterie of smug left-liberal elitists and their bien pensant hangers on.

Noting that “in their desperate attempt to make  news watchable,” news editors “stoop to tabloid tactics.” This, Mitchell regretted, would give the government an excuse to “cheerfully get rid of” the BBC.”

While I would genuinely deem it tragic if the corporation was got rid of, I would argue that the demolition is long-overdue of an arrogant, self-satisfied, venal BBC News department that has replicated an Arab narrative and pandered to a Palestinian propaganda organisation which has undoubtedly helped to fuel antisemitism in the UK.

As much as I hope that Balen and three decades of anti-Israel bias do not bring down the whole BBC, I do believe it is time to let us see the Balen Report and judge for ourselves the level of bias.

So, come on new D-G Tim Davie, new chairman Richard Sharp and Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, release the report and let us judge whether – as many senior BBC editors claim – bias lies in the eye of the beholder, or whether the taxpayer-funded BBC News has helped feed a climate of Jew-hate and Israel-hate that merits its destruction.

About the Author
Jan Shure held senior editorial roles at the Jewish Chronicle for three decades. and previously served as deputy editor of the Jewish Observer. She is an author and freelance writer and wrote regularly for the Huffington Post until 2018. In 2012 she took a break from journalism to be a web entrepreneur.
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