The Times’ Editor James Harding has urged the BBC to “learn to apologise” during a candid Jewish Community Centre For London talk.
Harding argued that the BBC “walked into an elephant trap” in allowing an internal report into alleged Palestinian bias in their reporting to go ahead.
Also referencing how Channel Four recently defended a controversial joke by comedian Frankie Boyle, Harding said that these corporations would have an easier time if they “learn to apologise and move on”.
Harding was speaking with former Sunday Express and Sunday Mirror Editor Eve Pollard at the King’s Palace theatre on Monday. The talk between the two prominent Jewish journalists was arranged by the Jewish Community Centre For London.
Harding said of the BBC: “I think that it is not a pro-Israel newsroom – it has taken some management to set a balance.” The so-called ‘Balen Report’ was an internal BBC document designed to check standards of journalistic integrity within the organisation.
Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, people who requested copies of the report were denied by the BBC. In a 2007 article, the Daily Mail alleged that the ensuing court battles cost £200,000 of taxpayer’s money.
In the BBC’s defence, Harding said: “I don’t think its coverage is as aggressively biased as the Jewish community thinks.”
‘Write without prejudice’
Eve Pollard added: “The people who don’t help themselves are the Israelis…[they] revel in negative public opinion in Europe. In agreement, Harding concluded: “They only worry about America.”
Harding spoke about The Times’ own handling of Middle East politics. He stated: “I am pro-Israel” and that in reporting on the Middle East, “I haven’t found it too hard” because “The Times has been pro-Israel for a long time. I try and be as simple as this… write the news without prejudice.”
Harding stressed the need for balanced journalism. “We say we’re pro-Israel but we’re also pro the Palestinian state… the question a journalist should always ask himself is are you making the case before opinion is dressed up as reportage?”
Harding also expressed frustration at “the tendency of some people rightly against anti-Semitism to see it when it isn’t there. My favourite letters read ‘Dear Mr. Harding, I am outraged by the rife anti-Semitism in your paper’ at which point I reply ‘Dear distant relative’.
Over the course of the hour-long talk, Harding and Pollard discussed a wide range of subjects, including national and international politics, the decline of the newspaper and the rise of new media before taking questions from the floor.
Harding’s comments on the BBC were prompted when an audience member asked his opinion on the objectivity of the BBC’s journalism.
By Sam Falle