The BBC has admitted it was “inadvisable” for its serving Director of Television Danny Cohen to add his name to a letter opposing a cultural boycott of Israel.
Cohen signed the letter in the Guardian in October, along with novelist J.K Rowling and several MPs who are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel. The Chair of Conservative Friends of Israel and the Vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel also put their names to the letter.
Sara Apps, interim Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the views in the letter opposing the boycott were “those of the Israeli state” and called on the BBC to provide reassurance that staff “are impartial and seen to be impartial, in their work at the BBC” .
PSC drew attention to Cohen’s name on the letter in October, and wrote to the Chair of the BBC Trust to complain and to ask for action to be taken against Cohen.
When he added his name to the public letter, Cohen was the BBC’s Director of Television. As the Radio Times reports, this role has been considered “the second most powerful position at the BBC”.
An email from BBC chief complaints adviser Dominic Groves sent in January said: “The BBC agrees that it was inadvisable for him to add his signature given his then seniority within the BBC as director of television.”
However, the BBC said that, while Cohen had been spoken to about the issue, no action had been taken.
Sara Apps said: “By failing to take any action against Cohen, the BBC sent a message to licence fee payers that it only pays lip service to the concept of impartiality when it comes to the subject of Palestine and Israel, and that BBC executives are free to publicly express their views on this subject with no regard for the code of impartiality written into the royal charter.”
Cohen, who left the organisation in November, had been responsible for overseeing the BBC’s four main TV channels, BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four, in addition to BBC iPlayer, and online content for BBC Television. He also oversaw the drama, entertainment, knowledge and comedy genres and BBC Films. Further responsibilities included the BBC Television archive and BBC Productions, Europe’s largest television production group.