Campaigners are taking the BBC to a tribunal in a bid to find out why the corporation insists on promoting Jerusalem as an ‘Israeli city’.
An appeal was lodged in the UK last week with the First-Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) by Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and Friends of Al Aqsa (FOA).
The two organisations are attempting to force the release of BBC documents which would reveal how the BBC Trust reached a decision in 2013 that BBC journalists are justified in referring to the whole of Jerusalem as Israeli.
In reality, East Jerusalem is recognised by the UN as Palestinian territory, which is under Israeli military occupation. International law recognises Israeli de facto control over West Jerusalem only.
The case is due to be heard by the Tribunal in the autumn.
PSC Director, Sarah Colborne, said: “As part of Israel’s attempts to secure the whole of Jerusalem for itself, with or without a negotiated settlement, the Israeli government pushes the line that Jerusalem, in its entirety, is an Israeli city.
“This is not the case, and Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem is not recognised under international law or by the international community. However, Israel’s claim does seem to be recognised by the BBC. The BBC Trust has ruled that BBC journalists can promote the Israeli narrative on the status of Jerusalem and still fall within the BBC’s rules on accuracy and impartiality.
“It’s in the public interest to know why the taxpayer-funded BBC is willing to sacrifice accuracy in its reporting in order to present Israeli propaganda as fact, and this is why PSC and FOA are bringing this case to a tribunal.”
In May 2013, the BBC Trust issued a ruling that it was not inaccurate or biased to refer to the whole of Jerusalem as an Israeli city.*
The Trust’s ruling was based on the opinion of its Senior Editorial Strategy Advisor, Leanne Buckle, who ‘considered that Israel had de facto control over the entire city in a political, administrative and military sense. She also noted that Jerusalem was administered as a single entity by the Jerusalem municipal authority which made no distinction between East and West.’
PSC and FOA submitted a Freedom of Information request asking the BBC for all documents relating to the Trust’s decision.
The request was rejected, and the two organisations took the case to a higher level, to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
The ICO also turned down the request on the basis that information held by the BBC for the purposes of journalism is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and does not have to be released.
Last week, the two organisations lodged an appeal against the ICO’s decision with the First-Tier Tribunal, on the grounds that the BBC is knowingly misleading the public when it refers to the whole of Jerusalem as being an Israeli city, and that therefore this cannot be classified as journalism. As a result, information around it should be subject to the FoI Act.
*BBC Trust ruling: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/appeals/esc_bulletins/2013/apr_may.pdf (see page 109)
(Media release sent on 30 June 2014)