Monday, May 23, 2011

BBC Spends Big Money Defending Israel-Palestine Coverage


A shoddy complaints procedure drives up legal fees

Critics of the BBC are a persistent bunch. A freedom of information request by The Guardian’s MediaGuardian, found that the broadcaster spent more than $1.1 million between 2007 and 2011 on lawyers working to defend its journalism. The issue central to the high price tag of legal fees is the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lord Chris Patten, who recently assumed the role of chairman of the BBC Trust, hopes to avoid further legal expenditure in a time of austerity for the broadcaster by improving the complaints process. As it currently stands, lodging a complaint with the BBC is a congested, complex process, criticized for lacking transparency. One barrister who placed a complaint over an Israel-related issue said the BBC’s process is constructed in a way that makes it extremely difficult for complaints to succeed.

The BBC is facing a 20 percent budget cut over the next four years, and unpredictable shots to the budget, like expensive external legal advice hired specifically to handle complaints about Israel coverage, are a seemingly easy way to trim the fat. One of the priciest cases thus far has been that of the broadcaster’s non-disclosure of the 2004 Balen report on its Middle East coverage. The House of Lords has ruled that the report will not be made public, but the four-year fight to try and change that has cost the BBC approximately $360,000.

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