OFCOM rejects complaint on BBC bias regarding refugees

More people than ever are complaining about BBC bias. But even the body charged with regulating Britain’s broadcasters, OFCOM, has rejected complaints that BBC reporting is one-sided when it discusses Middle Eastern refugees.

Jewish refugees from Iraq arriving in Israel in 1951 (Photo: Fritz Schlesinger)

The body charged with regulating the BBC and other British media, OFCOM, has just produced a damning report. In total, 11% of adults had cause to complain about the BBC in the last year. This is the highest level among broadcasters (6% for ITV, 4% for Channel 4), but lower compared with other industries (21% for online retailers, 15% for energy companies). Complaints tend to relate to bias (39%) and misleading/dishonest content (26%). Our research suggests the BBC is more than twice as likely to attract complaints about these issues compared to the other public service broadcasters.

When it comes to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, however,  OFCOM itself still does not see the imbalance in BBC reporting. It  has rejected a complaint that the same conflict produced two sets of refugees – Jewish as well as Arab – at around the same time. OFCOM has failed to see the relevance of acknowledging Jewish refugees when the BBC mentions Palestinian refugees.

The complainant cited a specific report by Paul Adams, a BBC news reporter. OFCOM replied:

“Regarding your complaint that Paul Adams’ report failed to reflect the Jewish perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict we  took into account that the focus of the report was on the withdrawal of funding for United Nations Relief and Works Agency work with Palestinian refugees, and the Trump administration’s policy towards the Palestinians; and, the factual explanation about how the Palestinian refugee situation arose did not attribute any blame to either side of the dispute. In these circumstances Ofcom did not consider there was a requirement for the article to address historic forced Jewish emigration from Arab lands, and that there were no substantive grounds for OFCOM to accept the complaint.

We appreciate our decision will be disappointing to you, but we hope the above is useful to you in explaining our approach in this case.”

Our complainant argues that Paul Adams should have given the context to the question of UNWRA’s funding. The agency UNWRA was set up to assist BOTH Arab and Jewish refugees. After 1952 Israel told UNWRA it was assuming full responsibility for the Jewish refugees and did not require any further UNWRA involvement. A Marshall Plan for refugees was set up in the early 50s. American aid was to have been split evenly between Israel and the Arab states, with each side receiving $50 million to build infrastructure to absorb refugees. The money to resettle the Arab refugees was handed over to the UN, and the Americans gave Arab countries another $53 million for “technical cooperation”. In effect, the Arab side received double the money given to Israel even though Israel took in more refugees, including Jews from Arab countries. Israel solved its refugee problem, while the Arab side had no intention of doing so.

On two occasions the UN determined that Jews fleeing Egypt and North Africa were bona fide refugees. In 1957 it gave a $30,000 grant to help resettle Egyptian-Jewish refugees. The grant was converted into a loan and paid back when the UN feared protests from the Muslim bloc. In 1967 the UNHCR recognised Jews fleeing Libya as refugees under its remit. (Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Report of the UNREF Executive Committee, Fourth Session – Geneva 29 January to 4 February, 1957 and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Document No. 7/2/3/Libya.)

UNSC Resolution 242 refers to “a just settlement of the refugee problem” without specifying the “Arab” or “Palestinian” refugee problem. Some countries today, namely the US and Canada,  have also recognised the Jewish refugee issue.

In 2019 in a debate at Westminster MPs called for official recognition of 870,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Theresa Villiers, MP, who called the debate, pointed out that a disproportionate amount of airtime was devoted to the Palestinian refugees. It is not necessary to attribute blame to either side, just state that there were two sets of refugees, as it would have done when the BBC covers the India-Pakistan conflict.

OFCOM must therefore consider that the  BBC website article ought to mention historic forced Jewish emigration from Arab lands as per the historic record, and that there are substantive grounds for Ofcom to accept the complaint.

Our complainant is determined to pursue OFCOM until he gets a satisfactory answer.






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