»The difference between the BBC and other private concerns, however, is that in the BBC’s case its only shareholder is the British government: it prospers or fails by its licence fee, which is fixed by the government. The more generous the government is to the BBC the more unwilling is the BBC to cross that government in any significant way. Why rock a comfortable boat? It is also true that the more one owns the more one loathes to lose it. This was not true of the BBC of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Since the advent as director general of John Birt, (8) the Blair government has smiled on the BBC. We thus have what might be termed a Blairite tendency at the BBC, an unwillingness to cross New Labour on matters close to its heart; and the Middle East has been at the very centre — outside Europe — of Tony Blair’s foreign policy concern.
The Blair vision of the Middle East — that the Americans have all the answers, but need a little gentle coaxing from Whitehall, that the Israelis are victims of terror, and “terror” is our main universal enemy, that the Palestinians are their own worst enemies and must do what they are told — will have been sensed at the BBC and passed on down the line.
It is no secret that Blair is very close to Israel. His old crony and party financier, Lord Levy, has been rewarded with the post of special adviser on Middle East matters. Lord Levy is a peer who has close contacts with Israel and a multi-million pound villa near Tel Aviv — his son Daniel Levy worked in the office of Israel’s former Justice Minister, Yossi Beilin. The first stress in any New Labour comment on the Palestine-Israel crisis is always on Israeli security or on “terror”, that easy bęte noir of the modern politician (the BBC has uncritically accepted “The War on Terror” as a phrase with meaning).«
»Eager to help in this insidious process, squatting there in the gardens of Kensington, is the Israeli embassy, emanating influence and full of tricks, with many powerful friends and supporters. The first bloody month of the Second Intifada took the Israelis by storm. Their responses were crude and ill-thought-out. They received a highly critical international press after Ariel Sharon stormed on to the Haram al-Sharif, the Palestinians erupted and the Israelis started their killing spree. The Israeli machine recovered quickly, and immediately turned its attention to the BBC. One experienced reporter in the field told me how producers from The Today Programme would ring the office in Jerusalem with story ideas launched by the Israeli embassy; how the Israeli version of events was so often received as the prevailing wisdom in London; how Israel successfully amended the very language of reporting the crisis.
For a short while on BBC news, “occupied” territories became “disputed”. We heard much of Palestinian “claims” of occupation rather than of the 33-year-long fact of it. Illegal Jewish settlements near Jerusalem became “neighbourhoods”. Palestinians are killed (it happens); but Palestinians kill Israelis (that is deliberate); dead Israelis have a name and identity, dead Arabs are — just, well, dead Arabs. When Palestinians die their bereaved vent “rage” at apparently riotous funerals; Israeli survivors express shock. The list goes on. The news-speak of the crisis was adjusted to favour the Israeli side.«