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Letter to a New BBC Middle East Correspondent

June 11, 2013 6:39 am 12 comments

An El Al plane at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. Photo: Raimond Spekking.


We do not yet know your name or when you will be arriving in Jerusalem but that does not matter. The minute you step off the plane at airport in Tel Aviv, you will encounter a junction and the path you choose then will determine what you achieve during your time here.

You have no doubt taken the mandatory Middle East module at the BBC College of Journalism and so – equipped with the “correct” terminology – you could on the one hand elect to take the route which will lead you to turn out more of the same genre of reports which generations of your predecessors have produced. That is the easy option: the narrative was already set long ago and all you have to do is to shoehorn new stories into the existing mould. Whilst there is definitely no shortage of news in this part of the world, you will be able to navigate your three or so years here with relative ease if you stick to the path which has been very well-trodden by those before you.

The question is; did you become a journalist in order to turn out pro forma articles which have in fact already been dictated by somebody else and challenge neither your own preconceived perceptions nor those of your audiences?  Or did you choose your career because you wanted to tell the stories which no-one else is telling? Did you aspire to challenge accepted notions and to peel back the layers of misconception by bringing your audiences a view they have likely never seen? If that is the case, you have come to the right place, but you must take the second, more uncomfortable route which demands much more effort on your part.

Indeed, that route requires that you first of all forget what you think you know and make a conscious effort to avoid imposing your own cultural interpretations on what you see. If you can, it would be beneficial to learn at least the basics of Hebrew and Arabic because language is of course a window into culture as well as a means of communication. Most important though is to listen – and not only to the English speakers in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or the conveniently provided English language press releases from the plethora of political NGOs just waiting to make your life easier – and get their own message amplified.

Get out of the main population centres and go and explore the other Israel which does not interest most foreign correspondents. Listen to the Israelis originally from Casablanca, Cochin or Sanaa in Yeruham, Ofakim and Hatzor HaGlilit. Hear the Druze dentist from Rameh, the Circassian nurse from Kfar Kama and her colleague the Bedouin GP from Shibli. Listen to the Likud-voting Muslim business owner from Daburiya and the married gay man from the Galilee Arab village who lives a double life which only his Jewish boss knows about. Hear the “air-raid shelter generation” kibbutzniks who spent their childhoods under the shadow of constant Syrian attacks from the Golan – and then built their own homes on the sites of those enemy bunkers after 1967. Talk to the Holocaust survivor who made the Negev desert bloom but whose grandchildren live under the pall of terrorist missiles from Gaza and the man born in a British detention camp in Cyprus to German Holocaust survivor parents turned back by the Mandate authorities.  Meet the lady expelled from Hebron as a baby in 1929, the seventh generation Jerusalemite expelled from the Old City in 1948 and the evacuees from Yamit and Gush Katif. Listen to the parents trying to hold their lives together after their daughter was murdered by a terrorist suicide bomber for no other reason than the fact that she was an Israeli on a bus.

Be curious; there are thousands of stories here at every turn – but most of them will not fit into the familiar narrative you know and in order to tell them, you will have to be different and, to no small extent, brave. And if that sounds like too much of a challenge and you just want to pass your time here as uncontroversially and easily as possible whilst waiting for the next rung on the career ladder, then at least please bear in mind that you are not just any journalist – you are a BBC journalist. Hence, unlike your colleagues in the bar at the American Colony Hotel, you are committed to reporting accurately and impartially.

As the filter through which BBC produced content on the Middle East will pass in these coming years, you have the power to shape the perceptions and attitudes of audiences of the world’s biggest media organisation. That is a heavy responsibility and one which – if mishandled – can have very serious consequences. Libels such as the “massacre” in Jenin over a decade ago still abound on the internet (where whatever you too write and report will remain on permanent view), in no small part thanks to some of those who did your job before you.

Like them, you too will move on to a different assignment in a relatively short period of time, but the people affected by what you report and how you present it will remain here.  What is perhaps only a passing story for a journalist already looking for the next one is someone else’s life.

This region is saturated with journalists writing nearly identical reports which conform to an unquestioned political narrative and news consumers have no use for yet more of the same.  What they do need however is objective, factual, innovative reporting from people curious enough to look behind the clichés and the obvious. That is a big challenge. Whether you decide to take it on or not will depend upon the route you choose to take.

Good luck!


  • Mark Bernadiner

    Britain’s Bloody History (brief)
    Colonization of America: almost entire native population (between 17 and 25 mln.) has been exterminated, the rest were put in concentration camps RESERVATIONS;
    Colonization of Australia: almost entire native population has been exterminated;
    Colonization of New Zeeland: almost entire native population has been exterminated;
    Africa: slavery and murder of native population;
    India: hundred thousands killed;
    China: hundred thousands killed;
    Israel: stealing over 76% of Israel territory and creation of illegal palestinian arab state of Jordan; help and support of Holocaust of thousands of Jews in 1920-40s; current support for islamofascism, elimination of the State of Israel and extermination of Jews, distributing fraudulent, fake and false information and reports on Israel and Jews;
    Europe: signing 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler that led to WWII and death of 55+ mln. people around the world; supporting Holocaust, sinking and sending back to Germany ships with Jewish refugees trying to escape Hitler’s death chambers.
    Still occupies Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
    In revenge to the German blitz on London, the British wiped out the entire city of Dresden, burning to death more German civilians (about 100, 000) including children than the number of people killed in Hiroshima.
    1944: when the R.A.F. tried to bomb the Gestapo Headquarters in Copenhagen, some of the bombs missed their target and fell on a Danish children’s hospital, killing 83 little children.
    2011: Providing support to extremists in Libya, killing civilians, including children, destroying civilian infrastructure under false slogan of “no-fly zone”
    The list can go on and on and on, but the above is enough to conclude that Britain is not a legitimate entity, but a career-criminal gang of genetic thieves, murderers, liars and islamofascist whores. Britain has no legitimate right to exist on the Earth and must be eliminated.

    Mark Bernadiner, Ph.D.

  • Letter to a New BBC Middle East Correspondent | Jewish & Israel News

  • As if BBC journalists care about anything other than promotion, which means toeing the line…

  • The BBC Israel coverage is like trying to find something good about the Jews when reporting from Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. It was the Jews are always to blame.

    Numerous BBC correspondents reported from Israel and they lack honesty, integrity and professionalisim. On one occasionI made them make several takes on their report whe they said “West BanK” and I corrected them to Judea and Samaira. The BBC man was livid. Afterwards I told him off for instructing the person he was filming when it really was not his business to – his reply – “I am only doing my job” – so I guess his job description was to denigrate Jews especially those who live in the heartland of Eretz Yisrael!

  • shelly leibowitz

    I said the same thing to Paula Slier of South Africa when she went to work for RT (Russia State TV) in Ramallah. I asked her to get in touch with my daughter in Beersheva to show her the Good things re Israel, I was told her job was to critise. So these “journalists” only see things thro critical eyes; good or bad situations !

  • Great suggestions!
    I would add: get to learn a bit about the recent history of the region, especially the legal rights of the Jewish people to the Land, as they have been enshrined in international law since 1920.

  • I am a journalist and my daughter worked at the BBC for 20 years as a Broadcast Journalist and only recently left. In my day, journalists at the BBC were real journalists, i.e. they were objective. Starting in the 1970s. the BBC has been infiltrated by Jew-haters such as Tim Llewellyn (former Beirut correspondent) who is an honoured guest and a multitude of Arabs, including Syrians, who blatantly display the flags of their countries on their desks, twinned with other Jew-haters. The Journalists Union is riddled with Jew-haters (oh, sorry, anti-Zionists, the new euphemism). Perhaps the most horrific thing I heard lately was the “Newsday” programme on the BBC World Service on Israel’s election day when the only commentary on the elections was from some Palestinian hate-monger called Sari Rantisi!

  • Steve Quaywest

    I opened your article with interest. However, for the moment, I haven’t read past paragraph one. The absence of a verb at the end of the first sentence does not give a good first impression. I’m sure what you have to say will be well said, and something that the swollen-headed BBC neeeds to hear; but forgetting a key verb in the opening sentence doesn’t put you off to a great start. Maybe I’m just over-sensitive, being a teacher of English to non-native scientific writers, but the message here, to me as much as to anyone, is: re-read before hitting the Send button… And now I’ll read your no doubt excellent article.

    • I don’t follow your third sentence. When I went to school, the word “does” was a verb. Is that no longer the case?

      This is the first sentence: “We do not yet know your name or when you will be arriving in Jerusalem but that does not matter.”

      I’m not an English major, but it was always a subject I did well in. Have the rules changed since the 1980s?

  • The canons of journalism require fairness and sound social science, which are also required by modern human-rights methodologies. Fairness and sound social science are certainly owed to all individuals and groups. However, there is a sense in which an historically-victimized population is owed a supper-added measure of fairness and sound social science. This flows from how modern human-rights methodologies regularly treat historically-victimized populations which are normally owed: first, a sincere apology; second, significant reparation; and third, extra vigilance — lest established patterns of victimization be repeated against that same victim. This is the conceptual background that invites exercise of some caution when speaking, for example, about Black Americans. Would we want to report thoughtlessly about Black Americans in a way that creates a presumption of discrimination? So, what about our approach to reporting on the topic of Jews? It would certainly be hard to find a people that has suffered as much as the Jewish people and for a period of close to 2,000 years! Thus, consistent with modern human-rights methodologies, our new BBC journalist should be specially careful in reporting on Jews, the Jewish People and Israel. Is he or she willing to drift back into the well-known discriminatory patterns of his or her ancestors? If so, that would be in clear violation of the spirit of modern human-rights methodologies. So, a BBC reporter comes afresh to Israel which is “the” Jewish State, i.e. the political expression of the self-determination of the Jewish people in a part of its aboriginal homeland. More than 75% of Israel’s population is made up by Jews. Today, Israel is the home of the world’s single largest Jewish community. Seems that there is an obvious and inextricable relationship between the matter of Israel and that of Jews. Accordingly, our new BBC reporter had best give serious thought to the challenge of modern human-rights methodologies and how best to offer reporting that really respects requirements of non-discrimination, fairness and sound social science.

  • LOL! The BBC?!?!

    The BBC does not hire “journalists”, never did and never will. There are no journalists! What we have in the world, are propagandists for “various” interests vying to program people to take their time and money. All controlled by the SAME gov mafia. Enjoy their theater and Hegelian dialectic, because that is all that there is. If you don’t like their theater and their murderous thieving and don’t wish to support it, you should turn it off. Walk away from it.

  • Jo-Ann Morris

    As you know most journalist are about sensationalism and not the facts. I cannot imagine anyone visiting Israel and not falling in love with the people, the traditions, the smells in the shuk and wonderful history. Please let us know what this person says. Thanks!!!

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