The BBC “reports” on Iran

I have just listened to a report on the BBC Radio 4 programme The World At One, “discussing” the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan today. This is what I wrote:

I wish to complain about the coverage of Roshan assassination. I think it’s extraordinary that the only coverage that WATO provided of this murder of a civilian should be with a representative (Danny Yatom, ex-chief of Mossad) of the security establishment that very likely killed him. Is it now normal practice for the BBC to cover all murders by means of an extensive interview with the murderer, “questioning” him with gentle prompts from time to time to help him explore his self-justification? Or is this only to be reserved for murders committed by our prospective allies in a forthcoming pre-emptive war?

I regret missing out the word “dishonest” to describe Yatom’s justification of this crime (which I should also have described as “terrorism”, in line with the common use of this term to describe political assassinations of people we don’t like).

There is an Israeli/Palestinian relevance to this issue that goes beyond Israel’s probable involvement. I’ll explain it in a further post later.

Update (13th January)
The BBC (in the person of Mark Madden from the complaints department) have replied to my complaint as follows:

Thank you for contacting us about ‘The World at One’ broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 11 January.

I understand you feel coverage of the recent assassination of an Iranian scientist was biased as the only interviewee was a spokesman for Mossad, who you feel were responsible.

Impartiality is the cornerstone of all our news and current affairs output and we ensure all our correspondents and production teams are aware of this to help us deliver fair and balanced coverage for all the stories we report. Mr. Yatom retired from Mossad many years ago, indeed he left the job in protest at an assassination policy and does not support such actions. The perpetrators of this assassination have not been identified.

It is not always possible or practical to reflect all the different opinions on a subject within individual programmes. Editors are charged to ensure that over a reasonable period they reflect the range of significant views, opinions and trends in their subject area. The BBC does not seek to denigrate any view, nor to promote any view. It seeks rather to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of the audience. Among other evidence, audience research indicates widespread confidence in the impartiality of the BBC’s reporting.

Aside from the standard dissembling over the alleged involvement of Mossad (if this wasn’t taken for granted, why interview Yatom at such length about this particular incident?), and about balance (Mr. Madden obviously hasn’t been reading the Glasgow University Media Group’s quantitative evaluation of their “balance”) this reply contains such an extraordinarily bold lie (or total misunderstanding) as to totally discredit anything else in it. The idea that Yatom resigned in protest at an assassination policy is surreal in its inaccuracy: he was forced to resign as the result of the spectacular failure of a 1997 assassination attempt which he himself planned and oversaw. The climax of this fiasco was his public flight to Jordan carrying the antidote for the poison that his own agents had administered! The intended victim was Khaled Mashaal, now chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau.

As for the idea that Danny Yatom does not support assassinations, we have a relatively recent update of his opinions from this 2010 interview with Al Jazeera:

Al Jazeera: So Mossad carries out extra-judicial assassinations?
Yatom: The way I will refer to it is that whoever deals with terror should not enjoy any immunity.

Is Mark Madden’s reply an indicator of the BBC’s grasp of history and personality in the Middle East? If so, I want my licence fee back!

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2 Responses to The BBC “reports” on Iran

  1. The BBC reply looked almost reasonable to me, until I read your dissection of it. Yes, you should complain about their response to your complaint! — P

  2. admin says:

    I have complained about the response:

    I am complaining about the response to a previous complaint: CAS-1240356-VZVFC3

    The response is completely inaccurate on its crucial points. It is therefore not a satisfactory response to my original complaint. In addition, I’m very concerned that the BBC should reply in such misleading terms.

    The response says that “Mr. Yatom … left the job [head of Mossad] in protest at an assassination policy and does not support such actions.” This could not be more wrong. He was forced to resign when an assassination attempt *that he oversaw* went disastrously and publicly wrong. This is a matter of public record.

    As for his supposed opposition to assassination, in a 2010 interview with Al Jazeera, currently accessible online, Mr Yatom said, in reply to a question of whether Mossad carries out extra-judicial assassinations: “The way I will refer to it is that whoever deals with terror should not enjoy any immunity.”

    The reply meets my contention that the BBC should not give favourable interviews to assassins or their controllers with the objection that the assassins have not been identified. This is true; but what other supposition could the BBC have had in mind when they decided to interview a spokesman for the Israeli security establishment about the murder of an Iranian scientist?

    Last and least, I will accept the BBC’s protestations of overall impartiality when I hear sympathetic ten-minute interviews with representatives of the Iranian government on the World at One.

    Fortunately for both me and the BBC, I ran out of space on their complaint form at this point.

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