The Jewish community is being “misled” over a so-called “parliamentary investigation” announced by a group of peers into the BBC and its reporting of issues around Jews and Israel.
The Jewish Chronicle last week claimed a “victory” for its campaign by confirming the launch of a “probe” into the broadcaster, which was being led by Lord Ian Austin.
It revealed a panel, chaired by Lord Carlile and including Tory peer Baroness Eaton, Labour peer Lord Triesman, Baroness Deech, with Austin acting as secretary, would gather evidence, publish a report and present its findings to the BBC next year.
The inquiry aims to capitalise on genuine concerns among many in the community over the BBC’s reporting in recent years of issues such as the 2021 Chanukah bus incident in Oxford Street, over which the BBC was severely criticised by Ofcom.
Reporting of Israel and the Middle East, particularly on the BBC’s Arabic channel, has also sparked anger.
A parliamentary inquiry can only be set up by standing committee, or led by a select committee. People will be misled into believing this is something more than it is.
But Jewish News has learned there is now rising concerns among legal experts and communal representatives, as well as Jewish BBC employees themselves, about the way the so-called inquiry, set up by the participants themselves, is being presented.
Three members of the six-member inquiry panel have previously been linked with the JC’s long-running campaign against the BBC, leading to fears that serious conflict of interest concerns could be raised by those asked to participate in any evidence gathering or questioning sessions.
Legal experts this week also cast grave doubts on the probe even achieving what it claimed it was set up to do, with some expressing fears it is part of a long-running politicised campaign to pit the Jewish community against the BBC.
Former Downing Street spin doctor Sir Robbie Gibb led the consortium that took over the JC in 2020 and joined the BBC as a board member in 2021, having previously worked there as a journalist. He claims to have no involvement in editorial decisions made by the JC.
An analysis of the newspaper’s petition, launched to support its anti-BBC campaign, also revealed a concerning number of messages from signatories making unsubstantiated, and often inflammatory claims against the broadcaster.
One campaign supporter recent wrote that the BBC “is overtly anti-white and consciously pro-black people.” Another, among the petition’s 10,000 backers, accused the BBC of preparing the way for another Holocaust. While another signatory attacked Jewish BBC staff, pouring scorn on the fact some may work on Shabbat.
Those who are pursuing an agenda, as this campaign appears to be, must not fall into the trap of becoming part of the political campaign led by groups on the right
One Jewish BBC employee, who spoke to Jewish News in confidence, admitted they were “sickened” by some of the comments allowed to remain on the JC’s petition since it was started earlier this year.
The employee, who has worked with the broadcaster for over a decade, added: “It’s somewhat ironic to learn that for as long as I have worked here, I have been employed by an organisation that people who don’t work here are branding ‘institutionally antisemitic’ on a petition.”
Jerry Lewis, a former senior BBC World Service press officer and a former Board of Deputies Vice President said:”There are issues to be discussed about the BBC, but this is certainly not the way to go about it. For a start, an official parliamentary inquiry can only be set up under standing orders, or by a select committee. People will be misled into believing this is something more than it is.”
Meanwhile, another senior BBC source with experience of working with the Jewish community, suggested there were “pockets” of concern within the organisation, but said dialogue was the best way to achieve change. “The Jewish community needs the BBC,” they added. “It’s not Press TV or Al Jazeera – it’s a million miles away from those organisations.
“Senior management, including Tim Davie, stood four square with the makers of the BBC Panorama episode that tackled antisemitism in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn. An anti-Jewish organisation does not do that.”
Lewis, a UK correspondent to Israeli radio station KAN, added: “Those who are pursuing an agenda, as this campaign appears to be, must not fall into the trap of becoming part of the political campaign led by groups on the right to demonise some of the excellent reporting and services provided by the BBC, including superb coverage of Holocaust issues and of antisemitism.
“It’s disingenuous, and I fear this inquiry may have been set objectives and asked to do a report fulfilling those objectives, rather than looking at the real issues.”
There is no basis to suppose that the result of the probe will result in either legislation or action at the BBC itself.
It is understood that concerns about the nature of the parliamentary probe were raised at a meeting of the Board of Deputies defence division last Monday.
Leading KC Simon Myerson warned: “There is no basis to suppose that the result of the probe will result in either legislation or action at the BBC itself. The importance of a parliamentary probe of this kind is that its conclusion should compel respect.
“That will be down to the people selected to conduct, whatever hearing or inquiry is envisaged, the amount of work done by those who present the material, the cooperation of potential parties and witnesses, and the fairness, or otherwise of the proceedings and the conclusions.
“Good reports arise from the evidence. Bad reports reach the conclusions everyone could predict in advance. Good reports might make a difference. Bad reports might attract the admiration of the already convinced, but achieve nothing.
“In my view, in order to ensure that the eventual product does compel respect, any committee should ensure that any proposition argued before it is represented by hearing both sides of any argument.”
Jewish News understands that Lord Austin wrote to BBC director general Tim Davie last week to alert him to the launch of the probe. It is understood the letter was sent to the JC ahead of its arrival at the BBC.
In response Davie wrote to the former Labour MP saying he wished to learn “more details of what is proposed and I think that it’s best to see this before I comment on how the BBC may be able to contribute.”
At the time of publication Lord Austin had yet to set out the terms of reference for the inquiry to commence.
Article correction at 3.50pm: Three members of the six-member inquiry panel have previously been linked with the JC’s long-running campaign against the BBC – not “all members”, as earlier reported.
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