Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl has written an angry letter to the BBC Director General calling for him to take disciplinary action against his out-going news director Fran Unsworth over allegations she made “highly inappropriate comments” about the communal organisation in a meeting last week.
The Board had met with director general Tim Davie and Unsworth to discuss the on-going row over the BBC’s reporting of the antisemitic incident involving a group of Jewish passengers celebrating Chanukah on a bus in Oxford Street last November.
In a letter seen by Jewish News, the Board president protests the she and other members of the communal organisation at the meeting ‘were extremely taken aback by the comments made by Fran Unsworth during the meeting; her false accusation that we had accused the BBC of ‘antisemitism’ was offensive and damaging; we noted with regret that you did not contradict her.”
Van der Zyl the writes of Unsworth, who departs the BBC at the end of this month: “Her follow-up, citing the actions of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, was astonishing.
“The Board of Deputies had absolutely nothing to do with this list, produced by an American-based organisation, and has not promoted it in any way. We are not collectively responsible for this action.
“To cite this as evidence that we had accused the BBC of antisemitism suggests that Ms Unsworth also paints completely different groups with the same brush.
“At the very best, this is completely at odds with her claims of the need for accuracy from the BBC. At the worst, this was a not very subtle way of saying that ‘you lot are all the same’. I would like to know what action you are going to take to discipline Ms Unsworth for her highly inappropriate comments.
“The ECU representative, invited by the BBC, was in the meeting and witnessed these comments by Ms Unsworth first-hand.”
Elsewhere in the letter Van der Zyl calls for the BBC to “reimburse” the Board for the costs of paying for an independent report into a video that circulated on social media of the Chanukah bus incident on November 29th – after the BBC reported on December than “slurs against Muslims’ could be heard being made passengers on the bus.
The president writes:”I would also like to reiterate the point made by our organisation’s chief executive regarding reimbursement of the Board’s costs. The Board of Deputies expended a significant amount of money to commission independent reports which throw the BBC’s actions concerning this process into significant doubt.
“We are a charity; this should not have been something which we felt forced to do. We believe that the BBC should strongly consider, if the ECU report comes back upholding our complaint, reimbursing us for the direct costs involved in these efforts.”
The letter also says the Board are “very surprised to learn that you were unaware if the Hebrew speakers at the BBC who were originally consulted as to the content of the video in question had not been asked to consider our reports in advance of our meeting.”
The BBC had previously claimed their reporting of the Chanukah bus incident, and the reference to Hebrew slurs, was justified as they had consulted with Hebrew speakers.
The letter from the Board president added:”I cannot stress enough the urgency of bringing this issue to a swift conclusion.
“This is for the benefit of the victims of the antisemitic bus attack, who have had to suffer significant damage to their reputations since the BBC reporting on the matter, and for the benefit of the Corporation’s relationship with the British Jewish community.
“This incident has led to a major breach of trust between our community and the BBC, and we sincerely hope that the Corporation will swiftly reach the correct conclusion regarding this matter.”
Commenting on the letter, the Board President said:”The meeting we had with the BBC was unsatisfactory. We did not receive a clear answer from the Corporation with regard to their reporting of the antisemitic incident on Oxford Street.
“If the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit report, due to be released this week, does not unequivocally make it clear that the Corporation made a serious mistake in its reporting, we will have no choice but to take this to Ofcom.”
The BBC declined to comment on Tuesday evening, but a spokesperson told Jewish News it would be responding to the Board’s letter.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.