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BBC Journalists Excluded From Press Conference After Bias Allegations (CNS-CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE) By Mike Wendling London 07/15/03) Source: http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=\ForeignBureaus\archive\200307\FOR20030715f.html
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London (CNSNews.com) - BBC journalists were excluded from a news conference held by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and British premier Tony Blair on Tuesday amid allegations of bias in the BBC´s reporting on Israel.
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The rift between Israel and the British Broadcasting Corporation began when BBC World aired Israel´s Secret Weapon, a documentary examining the country´s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
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The film also alleged that the Israeli army uses chemical weapons against Palestinians.
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The Israeli government says it will no longer provide official spokesmen to be interviewed on the BBC and will not cooperate in issuing press cards to BBC journalists.
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Daniel Seaman, director of Israel´s Government Press Office, said the government will no longer extend services that are based on "goodwill."
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In a statement issued Tuesday, the BBC said: "These actions will not prevent us continuing to cover events in Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Middle East region with due professionalism and impartiality.
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"The BBC rejects absolutely any charge of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic bias in any specific programme or in its news coverage generally," the statement read. "We hope the government of Israel will reconsider its actions and work towards restoring the appropriate relationship with the BBC."
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The BBC was also defended by the International Federation of Journalists, which called the Israeli actions a challenge to free speech that "sends out a dangerous message in a region where press freedom is under pressure."
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"Governments that claim to be democratic cannot pick and choose media coverage to suit themselves," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White.
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"Independent and critical journalism is the price of democracy and by sending a message that undermines press freedom the Israeli prime minister adds to problems already being experienced by many journalists and independent media in the Middle East," White said.
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The group, which represents about 500,000 members in more than 100 countries, urged Sharon to meet with all news organizations "without any discrimination."
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"The price of democracy is transparency and public scrutiny," White said. "When Israel turns its face against these basic principles it makes the job of democratic transformation in the Middle East harder not easier."
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Questions raised
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In addition to the Israeli government, at least two pro-Israel media watchdog organizations have raised questions about the fairness of the BBC´s reporting.
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A report by the Massachusetts-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) charged that the BBC "whitewashed Palestinian terrorist figures" in reports on its website.
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Despite complaints about the reports, CAMERA said, the BBC never revised the material.
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Allegations of bias have also been made by BBCWatch.com, an organization set up by British lawyer Trevor Asserson.
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A December 2002 report by BBCWatch.com surveying domestic and international radio and television broadcasts as well as the BBC´s website found "numerous significant breaches" of the organization´s code of impartiality.
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"These breaches included an inaccurate and one-sided profile of Yasser Arafat; unjustified discrimination in the use of language; omissions of material events, facts and viewpoints; misleading use of pictures; and the improper inclusion of journalists´ personal comments hostile to Israel and the Israeli government," the report stated.
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The group went further in a report released last month comparing the BBC´s treatment of the Iraq war with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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"Coalition troops are described in warm and glowing terms, with sympathy being evoked both for them as individuals and also for their military predicament," the report said. "By contrast Israeli troops are painted as faceless ruthless and brutal killers with no or little understanding shown for their actions."
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BBCWatch.com also condemned the corporation´s reluctance to use the words "terror" and "terrorist" in reference to Palestinian suicide bombings.
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"The BBC has a practice of describing suicide attacks as terrorism in almost every situation in the world except where the victim is an Israeli," the report said. "We consider that the way in which the BBC refrains from labelling as ´terrorist´ certain groups attacking Israelis is discriminatory, inaccurate and impartial."
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"The use of the word ´terror´ is one of the most blatant discriminations against Israel by the BBC," Asserson said.
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While he said he wasn´t sure that the Israeli refusal to speak to the BBC was the right way to handle the situation, Asserson said he was "very sympathetic to the frustrations expressed by the Israeli government."
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"There appears to me to be a clear, visible dislike of Israel" expressed in the BBC´s coverage, he said.
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Asserson said his researchers, while all in favor of the continuing existence of the state of Israel, have a wide range of views on Israeli government policies.
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"We´re approaching (BBC coverage) as a legal question," he said. \b
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The BBC´s domestic operations are funded by a tax on television viewers. It operates under a Royal Charter that requires its services to "contain comprehensive, authoritative and impartial coverage of news and current affairs in the United Kingdom and throughout the world."
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BBC World Service news, which is mostly separate from domestic broadcast services, reaches 150 million people each week, according to corporation figures.
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The corporation has also been in trouble recently with the British government.
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Reports on Iraq weapons dossiers citing anonymous intelligence sources angered Blair´s administration, and the corporation and Blair´s communications chief traded angry statements over charges that Downing Street exaggerated Saddam Hussein´s weapons capability.
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In a separate dispute, the corporation came under fire Tuesday when it released its annual report showing a $120 million debt.
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Speaking during a parliamentary committee meeting, Labor MP Chris Bryant compared the financial report to one issued by Enron.
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But BBC Director General Greg Dyke demanded an apology, saying there was no evidence of financial impropriety and that the corporation´s debt had been predicted three years ago, when it began to expand its digital services.
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Bryant later apologized for implying any wrongdoing on behalf of BBC executives but attacked the report for being "fundamentally complacent" and lacking in self-criticism. (copyright 1998-2003 Cybercast News Service. 07/15/03)
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