It’s easy to forget that your BBC licence fee does not only fund content that you and your family consumes. In addition to the output aimed at domestic audiences, your annual payment of £157.50 funds a host of foreign language services aimed at projecting British impartiality and soft power overseas. The largest of these is BBC Arabic. Launched as a radio station in 1938, it was the first of the BBC’s non-English experiments, and the most successful. Today encompassing television, radio and online, the channel reaches more than 40 million people every week.
That’s both an influential audience and a shedload of British money. So it should come as a cause for concern – if not necessarily surprise – that a Jewish Chronicle investigation has uncovered evidence of shameful and systematic bias at the channel.
The idea for the investigation came after a conversation with an Australian-born Israeli called Arnold Roth, 69, whose teenage daughter Malki was one of 15 people killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in 2001. The female terrorist who masterminded the attack, Ahlam Tamimi, was released from jail in a prisoner exchange in 2011 and went to live in Jordan, where she became a celebrated media personality.
Last year, BBC Arabic broadcast a fawning interview with the convicted terrorist. Incensed, Roth complained and won an apology from Jamie Angus, head of the World Service. Roth suspected, however, that this was not an aberration but a symptom of a rotten culture at the heart of the licence-fee-funded Arabic channel.
The investigation appears to confirm this view. In one key finding, it emerged that while BBC English reported on 34 fatal terror attacks on Israeli civilians between 2015 and 2020, the Arabic service covered just 25 of these, seriously downplaying Palestinian violence.
One effect of this, of course, is that Arab-speaking audiences are groomed to react with magnified outrage when Israel mounts a military response, having been blinded to the provocations that caused it.