How an Uncorrected Inaccuracy Became BBC Conventional Wisdom

At the end of December 2015 the BBC World Service radio programme ran an item about what it inaccurately portrayed as a “book ban” in Israel. The item dealt with a controversy over a decision by Israeli educators to not include in their curriculum proposal a controversial book by Dorit Rabinyan, ‘Gader Haya.’

As was noted here at the time

“Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ was published in Israel six months ago and subsequently the book has not been “banned” as she also later claims in this interview and no-one – including high school students – is ‘barred’ from reading it. Rabinyan’s freedom of speech and artistic freedom have clearly neither been “harmed” nor “threatened” by the fact that a pedagogic committee of the kind also found in other countriesdecided that – like countless other books – hers would not be included in the curriculum.”

Subsequent BBC World Service programmes about the same topic similarly inaccurately described Dorit Rabinyan’s book as having been banned or barred.

“Israel bars an Arab-Jewish love story written by Dorit Rabinyan from schools”

“A banned book and a Facebook video highlight the taboo of love between Jews and Arabs in Israel.”

Nearly two months on, that malaise has now spread to BBC Radio 4. The February 22 edition of that station’s culture show ‘ Front Row ‘ included an interview (from 19:51 here) with the Israeli author AB Yehoshua about his book ‘The Extra’ which has been translated into English.

During the discussion of the book, presenter Samira Ahmed steered the conversation in a clearly political direction (from around 27:03).
“You said before we started this interview that you didn’t want to get sucked into talking about politics [laughs] but inevitably, partly because of your status now – you know, you’re a very great figure in Israeli culture and in literature in particular – you’ve spoken out against the fact that recently the culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’. And of course you’d written a book – ‘The Lover’ – which had such a relationship. Are you concerned about the way politics is trying to shape culture in Israel now?”

As we see, the BBC’s failure to correct the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book had been ‘banned’ when it first arose has not only resulted in its transformation into “the fact” in the mind of Samira Ahmed but – in true Chinese whispers fashion – the lie has now been embroidered to include Israel’s “culture minister” who actually had nothing to do with the story whatsoever.

This is just one small example of how the BBC’s failure to live up to the standards of accuracy laid down in its constitutional documents leads to false information about Israel becoming conventional wisdom in the minds of BBC journalists and members of the British public alike.
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