A critical letter from Tim Llewellyn to Richard Sambrook, managing editor of BBC News and Current Affairs:
There are (inter alia) two things about recent BBC coverage of the Road Map’s difficulties that really bother me. I have written to you and the Today Programme (you were otherwise engaged, not surprisingly; Roger Hermiston answered, fully but in my view unsatisfactorily) and it should be on the file.
One major and misleading mistake continually made in the BBC output on all channels is the common explanation of the breakdown of the June 29-August 21 cease-fire. The thrust is that it happened only or primarily as a result of the August 21 suicide bomb in Jerusalem.
The facts are these: in the 52-day period of the Road Map cease-fire, 27 Palestinians were killed of whom I think three were targeted assassinations by Israel.
After two suicide bombs in reprisal for the Israeli assassinations, in which two Israelis were killed, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said the cease-fire was still operational, as far as they were concerned. They saw these as limited operations in response to continued Israeli attacks against Palestinians, both suspected terrorist leaders and ordinary citizens in civilian centres (in fact Israel’s attacks in the Territories had not ceased during the cease-fire).
After yet another major targeted assassination, on August 19, the Palestinian Islamists replied with their Jerusalem bomb, on the 21st. This is the incident that has stuck in the mind of editors and producers, both because of its scale and because so many Israelis died.
From then on, across the output, James Cox for example, Today, wherever I turned, no serious attempt was made to describe the lead-up to the breakdown and the sequence of events.
It is understandable and correct that such a massive disaster as the Jerusalem suicide bomb catches news editors’ and producers’ attentions, in news terms. But surely it is important in such a sensitive crisis to be more than careful about the chronology and cause and effect. This is not to argue right and/or wrong on either side in the struggle but to hold the BBC to its duty to record these cycles and their pattern fairly.
My other point is that the BBC continues to use Dennis Ross with the label “former Middle East emissary or envoy for President Clinton.” This indeed he was, but this does not make him a saint of disinterest. Dennis Ross was a leading activist for AIPAC before he was hired by the State Department, but (as I wrote to Roger Hermiston) is more pertinently now a hired hand in a pro-Israeli and AIPAC-backed think tank in Washington, the Washington Institute for Near-East Studies. Many of its board members are leading Neo-Cons like Wolfowitz and Jeanne Kirkpatrick.
Now this is fine. Every dog must have his day. His view is an expert one. But it comes with a swing, and you might tell your current affairs producers to make it clear that people like Dennis Ross have agendas. Hermiston said he could not detect any bias in the Ross interview he carried---but surely that is not the point. Or maybe it is the point.