Middle East editor defends his reporting on Israel after BBC Trust finds him guilty of inaccuracies.
By Maggie Brown
Jeremy Bowen has attacked the BBC Trust ruling that found him guilty of inaccuracies in a report about Israel last year.
The BBC’s Middle East editor, speaking at the University of Westminster, where he was presented with the Charles Wheeler award for an outstanding contribution to broadcast journalism, said: “As Middle East editor for the BBC, I’m under pressure from lobbyists. I am recognised by my peers as also being able to stick to my guns.
“Last year the BBC Trust, wrongly in my view, found me guilty of some inaccuracies, because of [complaints from] a campaign group in the USA, and in this country, who are the enemies of impartiality. They got through to the BBC Trust. I was found guilty.”
He said that the process of being attacked from all sides continued relentlessly. He said that following a recent piece, on the Israeli raid on the aid convoy sailing to Gaza, he had received an email from John Pilger saying: “I was a weasel, a disgrace to journalism – because I was trying to report impartially.
“On the other hand, I had a very nasty email from someone in north London, who said I was rabidly antisemitic, and people I loved would soon kill me. I am encouraged by irritating everyone.”
Bowen, who has worked for the BBC for 26 years and was advised by Wheeler to stick with reporting rather than moving to presenting, said the state of journalism at the BBC was “not great”.
“The BBC is in a very introspective time in its development. There is a loss of confidence,” he said. To laughter, he added: “We have to do strange things, compulsory training courses,” a reference to the editorial standards course overseen by the BBC’s College of Journalism, which all programme-makers had to undertake after a series of lapses.
Bowen said, however, that there was fantastic talent at all levels within the organisation, and proper news coverage was as important as ever.
“I am glad to be part of the mainstream media. Charles Wheeler knew that telling the truth can mean putting a few people’s noses out of joint.”
The trust’s censure last year centred on two Bowen stories, a January 2008 report for Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent to describe the history of the Israeli settlement Har Homa, near Jerusalem, in the 1960s; and a 2007 BBC website story, How 1967 defined the Middle East, about the legacy of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The BBC trustee who oversaw the process, Richard Tait, steps down this summer, one of nine out of 12 trustees whose appointments expire this year.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.