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‘New crackdown’ on Arab journalists at the BBC for alleged anti-Semitism

February 21, 2024 at 12:22 pm

A view of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Headquarters in London, United Kingdom on July 14, 2023 [Raşid Necati Aslım – Anadolu Agency]

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has launched a “new crackdown” on journalists for sharing posts that include facts about the Israeli war on Gaza, MEMO understands.

Journalists are believed to be frustrated as they see this move as a submission to pressure from some pro-Israel groups.

Insider sources who spoke to MEMO on condition of anonymity fearing they could be targeted, confirmed that some Arab journalists have been subjected to a “new crackdown” that includes investigations and disciplinary actions for allegedly anti-Semitic behaviour.

This move came as BBC Director-General, Tim Davie, pledged to fight “any form of anti-Semitism” in the globally renowned news organisation.

Some Arabic service journalists in London and Middle East reporters have been investigated for “posting or sharing posts and tweets that are regarded as anti-Semitic.”

A senior female BBC Arabic journalist said: “Some of our colleagues are being investigated for re-tweeting, reposting or liking posts containing facts about the Israeli army’s operations in Gaza.”

“One of the journalists was questioned on sharing information about the humanitarian impact of the Israeli blockade on Gaza,” she added.

Another was investigated for “sharing the decision of the International Court of Justice on South Africa’s genocide case against Israel”, a source told MEMO.

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BBC policy allows journalists to share any information as long as this information can be published or broadcast by BBC outlets.

The editorial policy allows the BBC journalists to describe the Hamas attack on 7 October as “brutal” and “barbaric”, but editors don’t allow Arabic journalists to call the Israeli military attacks on civilians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank in the same way, a journalist said.

The problem we – all the BBC services including the domestic one- are facing is that anything critical to Israel’s policies or actions is unreasonably judged as anti-Semitic, explained a journalist based in the Middle East.

“We live and work in an intimidating atmosphere. I have never been through this in the BBC since I joined it many years ago,” he added.

Tens of thousands of people march from the Royal Courts of Justice, towards Parliament Square against ‘anti-Semitism’ in London, United Kingdom on November 26, 2023 [Raşid Necati Aslım – Anadolu Agency]

There is also extreme frustration among Arab journalists after the management disciplined Sally Nabil, an Egypt-based reporter, for the second time in a few months for liking a tweet allegedly containing anti-Israel information. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights condemned the BBC’s action against Nabil as a “response to the campaigns of pro-Israel organisations to intimidate Arab journalists and affect their coverage of the Israeli genocidal war on Gaza.”

EIPR, a Cairo-based human rights NGO, criticised the “McCarthyism attack that violates the law and professional and legal standards on Egyptian and Arab journalists.” In a statement, the organisation pledged that she and her partners in the UK will take “all necessary legal actions to secure the rights of Nabil and all the Egyptian and Arab journalists.”

BBC staff in London and the Middle East also raised “deep concerns about the corporation’s anti-Palestinian bias in its coverage of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Insider sources said that very senior editors instructed journalists not to call the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza “occupying forces”.

“They insist on using ‘the Israeli Defence Forces’ instead,” one source said.

Another one said that the staff are wondering why the BBC insists on calling the Russian army in Ukraine occupying forces and not referring to the Israeli army in the same way.

He added that it is acceptable for BBC journalists to take to social media to express sympathy for Ukraine as some correspondents have recently. But, “if you do the same with Palestine, you will be accused of being biased against Israel and of anti-Semitism.”

MEMO was told that senior journalists in the BBC World Service were advised to strictly use only Hamas, the Arabic acronym when they refer to the Islamic Resistance Movement.

“They don’t want the BBC to mention the word ‘resistance’ at all to delegitimise the Palestinian actions against the Israeli aggression in the occupied Gaza and West Bank,” a journalist told us.

They do whatever they can to avoid any reference to the occupation.

“This is clear double standards we are witnessing every day,” he added.

It is understood that the BBC editorial policy considers Gaza, together with the West Bank, occupied territory as the Israeli military controls its land, sea and space.

Since the start of the Israeli war on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, higher managers have encouraged journalists to speak out about their concerns. Sources confirmed that managers hosted “listening sessions” to hear from staff.

However “they have listened and done nothing,” said a Middle East-based journalist who attended one of these sessions.

“It is just lip service. We feel we aren’t accounted for,” another added.

The BBC director-general recently sent an email to all staff saying that “any form of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or racist abuse is abhorrent,” vowing to “always act whenever it occurs.”

Davie stressed: “There can be no place at the BBC for racist abuse of any kind, whether towards our Jewish colleagues or indeed colleagues from any background or belief.”

He then added: “Sadly in recent weeks we have been alerted to some anti-Semitic behaviour by people who worked with us.” He provided no details of what this behaviour constituted.

He praised “different experiences, beliefs and perspectives” in the BBC.

“This is our strength, and the diversity of views is critical to a creative organisation that serves the public.”

Commenting on Davie’s email, an experienced journalist said: “It is clear that we submit to pressure from Israel and its supportive British newspapers.”

“One of our editors always says that we want to avoid any complaints on Israel,” the journalist explained, adding that this approach is “an indication of shocking self-censorship.”

The new crackdown came days after the Daily Telegraph claimed that BBC journalists “have appeared to support anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

The paper quoted “corporation insiders” as saying that “despite frequent official reminders to maintain due impartiality on social media, in reality, senior executives have taken no action when it comes to bias in the context of Israel.”

It also pointed out that Lucy Frazer, the UK culture secretary, said audiences believe the corporation is “not sufficiently” impartial.

Experienced journalists at the corporation said they are “flabbergasted” by the response of the BBC to such pro-Israel intimidation. “The managers want us to believe that Israel is immune. There is an atmosphere of fear in the BBC where anything against Israel is considered anti-Semitic.”

As a matter of policy, the BBC would not comment on individual social media posts or any cases of internal investigation. However, the corporation has always said that any breach of its social media guidance is taken very seriously and appropriate action will be taken wherever necessary.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.