Saturday, July 22, 2006

BBC and Kim Howells

Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells was interviewed from Beirut on Radio 4's Today this morning. He followed moonbat MP Clare Short, who had just given one of her stuck-record analyses of international relations (anti-American, anti-British, anti-Israeli). While Howells made some criticisms of Israeli tactics, he reserved his harshest comments for those who are attacking Israel. He began with this response to Short:
"She’s saying in effect that it’s all right for a terrorist group to kidnap and murder some Israeli soldiers as long as they don’t murder and kidnap too many, I suppose. Look, a nation has got a right to defend itself against this kind of action... If people were lobbing bombs into London presumably we wouldn’t be allowed to retaliate under Clare Short’s kind of analysis... What is a fair way to respond, that’s what I’d like to know. If rockets are fired with high explosives into the middle of cities, targeted precisely at civilians, what is proportional?... If we say there must be a ceasefire immediately that makes us feel very good, it makes people like Clare Short feel very good, and the Independent and the Guardian feel very good. It does nothing for the people of south Lebanon or for the people of Israel."
In response to further questions from the interviewer he said:
The original issue is that by security resolution 1559 the Lebanese government was supposed to disarm Hezbollah, get the militias out of that area and stop them having the ability to escalate this conflict whenever they want to. That’s precisely what they’ve done - they’ve murdered, they’ve kidnapped, and now suddenly you’re telling me they’ve got the world on their side - I don’t think that’s true.
And how has the BBC portrayed Howells’ views? Like this:



There's no mention of Howells’ opinions on Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, or resolution 1559.

Ed at Biased BBC noticed a similarly selective take on the Archbishop of Canterbury's views.

Update.The criticisms of Israel attributed to Kim Howells came from a TV interview with Jeremy Bowen in which the minister expressed some doubts concerning Israel's handling of the crisis. It was these concerns, rather than his firm denunciations of Hezbollah, which the BBC chose to headline. That said, judging by this exchange Howells probably deserves to be misrepresented:
Bowen: Isn’t there a risk here that people in the Arab world will take away the message that there’s one law for Israel and one law for them, as far as the West is concerned?

Howells: Well I hope they’re not. I can imagine the way this stuff gets reported, not by your good self but by a lot of television stations...
Idiot.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Clematis Fraud said...

Yep. Seen. Heard.

That is a deliberate misrepresentation of Howells' comments. The hatchet-job done of Rowan Williams was pretty sneaky too.

The BBC's decision to advertise meeting-points for today's anti-Israel marches (and face it, when banners say "Stop Palestinian Genocide" and "Destroy Terrorist Israel", such a march can hardly be dubbed 'pro-Lebanon', can it?) shows real balance, ja?

6:52 pm  
Blogger Prodicus said...

The link to BBC.... escalation... etc.
does not work.

12:13 am  
Anonymous Matthew said...

The S.Telegraph's hyped up the same bit of Howell's interview as well. Their hatred of New Labour knows no bounds.

9:28 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

With the greatest of respect, your methodology in trying to prove bias made me laugh.

Your case is pretty weak, if not non-existent.

10:21 pm  
Blogger DFH said...

Alex.

Here’s what Howells said in a BBC interview in Israel on Sunday:

Interviewer: I just want to be clear about what you’re saying because in your first answer you said the Israeli air strikes were precise but yesterday you said they were not surgical. So when you’re talking about Hezbollah fighters hiding amongst civilians are you saying the Israelis should be allowed to attack them there or that they must not attack them in that sort of eventuality?

Howells: Well, it’s a decision the Israelis have got to make. They’ve got to try to balance up what this looks like to the world against the military advantage, if you like, that they’re going to gain by hitting those Hezbollah targets, and we know those targets are scattered amongst civilian populations. That’s the aim of Hezbollah - it wants the world to believe that Israel is just slaughtering innocent people. It wants to turn public opinion, and uses every means of doing so, against the Israelis. Now the Israelis have to weigh that up and it’s not an easy task. It’s very easy for us to call for proportionality and restraint but if you’re in Haifa and there are missiles coming over that are killing your relatives - this is murder on the streets here, and Israelis feel extraordinarily strongly about it and you can understand that but still these are very delicate political decisions that have to be made and we’ve called for restraint and we’ll continue to do that but we understand the need for Israel and Israelis to defend themselves against these murderous attacks.



I don't see those views reflected in a BBC online report such as this:

Howells backs Israel attacks

Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells today backed Israel’s right to defend itself against the “murderous attacks” of Hezbollah.
Mr Howells also condemned Hezbollah for endangering Lebanese civilians by launching missiles from heavily populated areas. “It wants to turn public opinion, and uses every means of doing so, against the Israelis", he said.
The minister went on to say that calls for “proportionality and restraint” were too simplistic.



That would be just as reflective of Howells' opinions as the BBC's online interpretation of the Bowen interview. Instead, the BBC has once again carefully picked the elements of Howells' latest interview it wishes to emphasise in this item:

He told the BBC that during meetings with Israeli officials he had repeated his criticisms that too many civilians were dying as Israel's military tried to wipe out Hezbollah.
But they had replied: "What other way have we got of doing it?", he said.
Mr Howells said Hezbollah must be defeated by political and diplomatic means but calling for a ceasefire was not enough.
"The Russians, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Egyptians - they've all got to condemn what's going on as well as Britain and the United States," he said.
While visiting Beirut on Saturday, the minister had said the deaths of "so many children" in Lebanon meant the strikes had not been surgical.
"It's very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they're chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."



Howells’ support for Israel's right to defend itself is ignored and instead we get a repeat of the Saturday interview (with Jeremy Bowen, not the Today programme - they couldn’t extract enough Israel-bashing quotes out of the Today interview so it’s worthless). One more thing about the Bowen interview - Howells did actually qualify his comments on Israel:

Bowen: Do you think that what Israel is doing is proportionate to the threat that they face?

Howells: Well they don’t look proportionate to me but then I’m not Israeli and I’m not living in Haifa and having rockets coming down on top of my head or having the people who are supposed to be guarding my border murdered or kidnapped.



Of course the BBC neglected to mention this in its later reports. The headline they wanted was "Minister condemns Israel" and that’s what they ran with, and the rest of the MSM followed the BBC’s lead. Did any news outlets pick up on the above comments from the Bowen interview? No, they simply regurgitated the black and white interpretation given to them by the BBC; that’s lazy journalism, but at least I’m not forced to pay for it. If I don't pay for the BBC's propaganda I could go to prison.

Over the past two days the Beeb has played down the (admittedly confusing) nuances of Howells’ views, choosing instead to highlight any perceived anti-Israeli comments. The only online mention I can find to contradict this comes in the sixteenth paragraph of yesterday's story about plans for an international border force. Following another selective reminder of what Howells said to Bowen on Saturday we get this:

In an interview with the BBC Mr Howells said Britain recognised Israel's need to defend itself, described Hezbollah as a "terrorist" group and criticised it for hiding missiles and fighters in civilian areas.

And that’s it. Given that the BBC was the catalyst for the "Howells condemns Israel" story, is it too much to ask that they give a bit more prominence to these other statements?

Clearly it is.

Laugh all you want Alex, but you're wrong.

2:10 am  
Blogger Alex said...

DFH, thanks for responding to my points.

You might have guessed that I don't agree.

Ask yourself this: is it any wonder that the line that EVERY news organisation took over Howells' comments was that he had condemned Israeli methods when he was the first government minister to say so? Was it any wonder that these comments were given more prominence than the offical government line when every media and commons appearance by any minister involved in foreign affairs has seen the same line about legitimate self-defence being used? Ask yourself which is more news-worthy: a statement that had been used many many times over in the last week, or something new that potentially signified a change in government policy? The reason every news outlet ran the story is because is was new.

And as far as I'm aware, Kim Howells made the comments in response to a question from Jeremy Bowen yes, but at a press conference where many other organisations were present. These other organisations weren't repeating what the BBC said - they were reporting the Minister's comments directly. The similarity in how it was reported across the media spectrum suggests that the BBC got it right on this one.

Two more things: firstly, taking individual reports from Beirut and trying to assert bias in the BBC won't achieve what you want it to achieve for a very good reason - individual reports from one side of a conflict are necessarily biased. That's why the BBC have many correspondents covering both sides of the conflict. The balance of reporting thus far hasn't struck me as biased either way.

Secondly: I'm personally of the opinion that all those people out there who criticise the BBC of bias don't want an impartial BBC at all; they want a BBC that presents a viewpoint consistent with their own beliefs only. The fact that so many people from all across the political and social spectrum accuse the BBC of bias suggests to me that in fact it is doing a pretty good job. Systemic bias in an organisation such as the BBC is difficult to prove - and the suggestion that employees of the organisation go to work each day with the purposeful intention of distorting fact is just ludicrous.

And I stand by my claim: to assert bias in the BBC you cannot compare BBC output with BBC output.

3:15 am  
Blogger DFH said...

Alex.

Here's the quote the BBC’s own online report took from the Bowen interview:

"I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. And it's very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used. You know, if they're chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."

Here’s the Observer:

Speaking to a BBC reporter before travelling on for talks in Israel, where he will also visit missile-hit areas of Haifa and meet his Israeli opposite-number, Howell said: 'The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes. If they are chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation.'
He added: 'I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon.'


Exactly the same quotes, citing the BBC.

The Telegraph:

"I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon," he told the BBC.
"The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes.
"And it's very very difficult I think to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used.
"You know, if they're chasing Hizbollah, then go for Hizbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."


Same quotes from the BBC. The Telegraph at least refers to the Today interview in which Howells dismissed Clare Short’s views, as does the Press Association. The BBC quotes Clare Short, but not Howells' response to her.

All the reports I have looked at which refer to Howell’s comments to Bowen only use the quotes highlighted by the BBC.

UPI, ITN/Channel 4 (same), AP-AFP-Naharnet, Reuters.

Not one mentions how Howells qualified his views. If the BBC online report had included this - "…but then I’m not Israeli and I’m not living in Haifa and having rockets coming down on top of my head or having the people who are supposed to be guarding my border murdered or kidnapped" - then the tone of the article would have been somewhat different, more nuanced. The BBC chose to ignore the shades of grey in Howell’s comments. The lazy journalists of other organisations appear to have followed the BBC's lead.

You say "The similarity in how it was reported across the media spectrum suggests that the BBC got it right on this one." I would suggest that the similarity is due to most news organisations sourcing their own articles from BBC online. (Reuters may have used a first-hand report as it refers to more than one reporter being present, but any attempts to claim that the BBC isn't biased because its reports are similar to those of al-Reuters won’t be taken seriously my me. )

"individual reports from one side of a conflict are necessarily biased. That's why the BBC have many correspondents covering both sides of the conflict." Here you’re defending the BBC against accusations of bias by saying all the BBC's conflict journalism is biased. I’m sure the BBC wouldn’t wish to see themselves portrayed that way.

"the suggestion that employees of the organisation go to work each day with the purposeful intention of distorting fact is just ludicrous." It may not always be done with purposeful intent, but it happens.

"to assert bias in the BBC you cannot compare BBC output with BBC output" Quite clearly you can. For example - there were two Howells' interviews on the BBC, but just one was deemed worthy of further reference. The Telegraph and the Press Association saw fit to quote both - why not the BBC itself?

11:54 am  

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