04 May 2006

BBC - calling a spade a spade?

I will be not going over the top saying that, like many others who spent their youth behind the Iron Curtain during the worst years of the cold war, I am used to think of BBC as a beacon of sanity and moderation.

During that time, when Voice of America and the various Soviet media outlets were competing in hailing their own "biggest in the world" (what is aptly called in US "dick wavin'"), be it a biggest missile or a biggest turkey, BBC tried (and succeeded) to provide a balanced and informed commentary. Not that there weren't occasional foul-ups. There were some, but in general BBC has done a sterling job.

These days BBC is being the focus of a well-orchestrated campaign of complaints by both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sides of the conflict. And the endless stream of complaints has caused BBC to become a subject to an independent panel. Which panel was commissioned by the BBC Governors to "assess the impartiality of BBC news and current afairs coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with particular regard to accuracy, fairness, context, balance and bias."

Not that I have expected much of that panel. Where it comes to the know-how of sweeping under the rug, Brits could teach the rest of the world without changing their stride. Again, not that I, personally, have had any serious problems with the said coverage (see why later).

But the panel report succeeded to surprise me at least once. See item 3 in the list of proposed remedies:

3. We say that the BBC should get the language right. We think they should call terrorist acts
"terrorism" because that term is clear and well understood. Equally, on this and other sensitive points of language, once they have decided the best answer they should ensure it is adopted consistently;

Does it mean that BBC will start calling a spade a spade? I am not at all sure, the recommendations of the panel are not automatically enforced, as far as I understand. In any case, it will be interesting.

Now about my coolness towards BBC coverage. The explanation is easily found in the panel report:

1.4 Audience research from Opinion Leader Research, commissioned by the Panel, shows that
the impartiality requirements are widely supported. It also suggests that, beyond those who
take a keen interest in the conflict from either perspective, the generality of viewers and
listeners are less than convinced by its importance to them, feel ignorant about it and have little sympathy with the protagonists. They want the BBC to be impartial and believe that it is.

See now? BBC is catering to a market that could care less about the subject. In fact, the "quality control" of the I/P conflict coverage by BBC is done by two comparatively small and opposed groups of BBC "clients". Unlike the quality control of BBC coverage of, say, UK football... Whoever expects flawless coverage of the said conflict under these conditions, is going to keep waiting for a while. So chill out, folks.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com