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‘What we did was not journalism, it was activism’: Ex-BBC Arabic staff speaks up

LONDON: The British Broadcasting Corporation is urgently investigating accusations of bias and unprofessional conduct by its Arabic service staff relating to the recent escalation in Gaza, Arab News has been told by a BBC spokesperson.

However, critics of the British public-funded broadcaster have expressed a lack of surprise at the findings of a recent investigative report by the London-based Daily Telegraph, which provided evidence of what some described as “alarming, but not surprising bias” at BBC Arabic.

“The BBC management and the British government itself have been warned several times about the hidden agendas of a big chunk of the Arabic service staff,” one former employee told Arab News.

Speaking on condition of anonymity due to an employment dispute settlement, the former staff member complained of “a culture where one nationality dominated, and favoritism (was shown) for political Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood views.”

The ex-employee said that this workplace culture was one of the reasons that ultimately led to her departure, saying that staff witnessed “years of systematic targeting of particular Arab governments, while justifying extremist views and acts as freedom of expression.”

“What we were doing was not journalism, it was activism,” she said, adding that “there is a difference between challenging those in power, which is the job of a good journalist, and giving a platform to a radical voice or extremist views.”

The Daily Telegraph report, which was published in the British daily on Oct. 21, broke down alleged systematic bias within BBC Arabic through its reporting, as well as its journalists’ social media activity.

The Daily Telegraph reporting on BBC Arabic’s controversy. (Screenshot)

Blatant biases listed by the Telegraph included reporters liking and resharing apparently antisemitic posts in light of the recent escalation in Gaza.

“We are urgently investigating this matter,” a BBC spokesperson told Arab News following the discoveries.

“We take allegations of breaches of our editorial and social media guidelines with the utmost seriousness, and if and when we find breaches, we will act, including taking disciplinary action.”

Apart from recent social media activity, however, critics claim that BBC Arabic has a long history of systematic bias and inaccurate reporting.

A 2021 investigation by the London-based Jewish Chronicle titled, “Shame of BBC Arabic as systematic bias revealed,” highlighted the network’s consistent use of antisemitic and “Hamas-inspired language.”

The findings of the lengthy report revealed that the British broadcaster’s Arabic service had to be corrected 25 times over a two-year period, an average of a correction a month between 2018 and 2021.

Another example of embedded bias is the employment a number of reporters and senior editors who had previously worked at the Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar TV station, which has been banned around the world for being a mouthpiece for a terrorist-designated entity.

The station was also highlighted when it used a map of the Middle East in which Israel was completely erased.

“Controlling the ‘guest list’ has been one of the most popular tactics used by BBC Arabic,” Hani Nasira, a political commentator and expert on ideological movements, told Arab News. “This includes hosting analysts who present extremist viewpoints without hosting an opposing guest to respond or counter them.

“An example of this is BBC Arabic consistently hosting Azzam Tamimi and Anas Altikriti without mentioning their links to political Islam; rather, it introduces them as political analysts expressing an unbiased opinion.”

The BBC is funded by a standard TV license, currently £157.50 ($217.85) a year, paid by all residents in the UK who watch live TV. According to the BBC website, this allows the network to “remain free of advertisements and independent of shareholder and political interest.”

At the time of the findings, Ghanem Nuseibeh, chairman of the UK-based nonprofit organization Muslims Against Antisemitism, told Arab News that “BBC Arabic has been very pro-Islamist in its coverage. In particular, it has been pushing and at times promoting Muslim Brotherhood narratives across the world, but more specifically in countries where the MB are outlawed.”

He added: “This influences the Muslim and Arabic-speaking street, and indirectly legitimates the antisemitic and other extremist discourse that comes out of the MB. The BBC needs to look hard at the great disservice the Arabic channel does to its brand, particularly as a UK-taxpayer organization.”

In April 2020, BBC presenter Rania Al-Attar discussed the dystopian Egyptian sci-fi series “An-Nehaya” (“The End“), in which, without US backing, Israel collapses and its Jewish inhabitants flee the region. She showcased a comment hailing the destruction of the “usurper entity,” and applauded the series “with all my heart.”

A flurry of social media comments celebrating the destruction of Israel was found published on BBC Arabic’s page.

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