Media,  Middle East

Impartiality and the BBC

I am no fan of Melanie Phillips. So it was with some trepidation I followed the links from her blog about the Arab Media Media watch organisation, which described a recent dinner they held:

Some 200 guests gathered at Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel on 21 March 2009 to attend Arab Media Watch’s fifth annual fundraising dinner, and to mark its ninth anniversary. Among the guests were almost three-dozen senior journalists from the BBC, Al Jazeera English, Financial Times, Reuters, Daily Mail, Independent, Asharq Al Awsat, Al Quds Al Arabi, Al Hayat and others.
Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, was unable to speak at the dinner due to illness, but he wrote a statement of support that Nashashibi read out. “I’d like briefly to pay tribute to the work of AMW,” the statement began.

“For anyone in the British media writing about the Middle East or the wider Arab world, AMW – very ably run by Sharif Nashashibi – has become a force to be reckoned with. It has served notice that inaccuracy, misrepresentation, half-truths and prejudice are simply not acceptable – and has done much to monitor and combat them.”

Black continued: “AMW has played an especially important role on Iraq and Palestine. Its work on the Gaza war was both combative and effective. Its letters to editors, op-ed articles and complaints about biased or misleading coverage have become part of the landscape.”

A number of comments by attendees is also posted. Here are the comments from the BBC employees:

“I enjoyed the programme and the company of your nice guests.” – BBC

“Thank you very much for the invitation. I wish you all the success you deserve.” – BBC

“It was a lovely evening. We both enjoyed ourselves and it was great company.” – Al Jazeera English / BBC

“Thank you very much for the invitation. I really enjoyed the annual dinner. It was refreshing. It was, as before, perfectly organised…” – BBC

“Thank you for hosting a wonderful dinner. Everyone at our table had a very enjoyable evening. I was particularly impressed by the auction items.” – BBC

“Thank you so much for your generous invitation…The event was wonderful and the presentation was flawless…Best wishes for continued success…” – BBC

I was opposed to the BBC decision not to broadcast the Gaza DEC for several reasons, but did not feel its broadcast would necessarily impinge on their journalistic bias. I am much less sanguine about the attendance of BBC staff at this event, and the clear regard that the BBC staff have for this lobby group.

Can the BBC allow their staff to attend such events (by any lobby organisation) and still argue they are impartial?