Twenty years waiting for the BBC to be held to account

BBC logo (Jewish News)
BBC logo (Jewish News)

It’s almost 2024. As most JN readers know, the new year will mark 20 years since the BBC commissioned a report to review its coverage of Israel following persistent allegations of anti-Israel bias.

Could it also mark roughly 20 years since the BBC began gaslighting its audience – you know gaslighting: making a person – or in this case, millions of people – believe something was one thing, while it was actually something else.

Only the Balen Report can tell us that. But as most JN readers also know the Balen Report has been hidden from public view for 20 years. Compiled by the then director of BBC News, Malcolm Balen, who examined “thousands of hours” of the BBC’s Israel coverage at a period when some of the BBC’s Middle-East reporters were considered by most decent, fair-minded people to be overtly anti-Israel, the 20,000-word “Balen Report” has been kept under wraps ever since. And that’s despite petitions, requests under the Freedom of Information Act and lengthy legal wrangles, spearheaded by solicitor Steven Sugar who died in 2022 and costing an estimated £400,000 of tax-payer money (excluding costs for the BBC’s in-house legal staff).

Why are we Jews so obsessed with this little report and have been wanting to view its conclusions for 20 years? Well, because we see biased media coverage as merely a modern addition to a lethal armoury of deception that includes libels, lies, bearing false witness, etc.

And not only do we understand better than most the fatal consequences of these and how effortlessly anti-Israelism would elide into Jew-hate but we think it will reveal the “chain of causation” – as they say in crime-fighting circles – between biased reporting and antisemitism.

We think it could reveal how biased coverage has subtly but inexorably demonised Israel and turned it for many people – including some Jews – into a “pariah” state.

And if Balen is the “smoking gun” in anti-Israelism, we will also receive confirmation that biased coverage is responsible for that 900 percent spike in anti-Jewish hate crime, as well the speed and  alacrity with which  bien pensant found  “justification” for Hamas’s Oct 7 massacre when 1,300 Israelis, including women, children, babies and seniors, were cold-bloodedly, brutally slain, butchered  raped, burned alive and abducted.

While I decline to describe the broadcaster as anti-Jewish , I do accuse it of gaslighting its audience. I accuse it of blindness, denial  and of sleep-walking into the promotion of Jew-hate

And if that rise in antisemitism is, indeed, the consequence of three decades of biased BBC coverage, then the BBC must be held to account for the it has done –to Jews worldwide.

While the BBC can rightly point to a profusion of programmes that are profoundly philo-semitic (as well as to hundreds of Jews working for it), that cannot absolve the BBC of guilt in rising antisemitism which I – and many others – see as a direct consequence of its Israel coverage during the period reviewed by Balen and in the subsequent two decades.

So while I decline to describe the broadcaster as anti-Jewish , I do accuse it of gaslighting its audience. I accuse it of blindness, denial  and of sleep-walking into the promotion of Jew-hate through decades of biased coverage that amplified threats and dangers to Palestinians and heightened Palestinian victimhood while at the same time ignoring, minimising or glossing over threats and dangers to Israel.

We frequently saw news reports that ignored context and important background or structured and headlined reports in ways which exponentially increased negative perceptions of Israel, and we saw endless numbers of claims by Palestinian spin-doctors and known propagandists reported as if the allegations were verified fact or from non-biased sources.

And because viewers and listeners are too often ignorant of documented history and/or fail to think critically (i.e. don’t ask “who benefits” in this region/conflict?) those 30 years of media bias – nudged along by the echo-chamber which endlessly replicates the lies– have altered perception and subverted reality.

A nation seeking to live in peace within its borders has been made to appear as a “coloniser;”  a nation which has returned territories acquired in wars launched to annihilate it, is portrayed as an aggressor and an imperialist; a democratic, liberal, open society has been traduced and made to appear as “racist” and an “apartheid state.” Meanwhile in recent decades, murderous Palestinians terrorism has been largely portrayed as “justifiable,” “understandable” and somehow “excusable.”

Other media – notably The Guardian –  have, of course, contributed to the anti-Israelism that is now so endemic but if the Balen Report can enlighten us about the degree of BBC complicity in this regard – albeit during only a specific period though I think we can assume it continued  – then we, as Jews currently suffering the fall-out from that activity, should be able to see it and hold the BBC to account.

Even now, 20 years later – because there’s a precedent.

In 2021, the Dyson Investigation revealed the BBC’s misconduct over the Panorama interview with the late Diana Princess of Wales, that had been known about and covered up since 1995. Then, finally, after 26 years the misconduct and the cover-up were revealed. The Spencer family and Princess Diana’s sons learned the truth.

If the Balen Report reveals that the BBC was complicit in promoting anti-Israelism which led to a rise in antisemitism, it seems to me that is unarguably more important than a single BBC journalist fraudulently obtaining a career-defining interview with a global superstar.

If the Spencer family and Princess Diana’s sons needed to hold the BBC to account over that Panorama interview, how much more important is it for us to hold it to account for its role in anti-Israelism and in rising antisemitism?


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.