A couple of weeks ago we reported on the BBC’s “documentary” about Geert Wilders entitled “Geert Wilders: Europe’s Most Dangerous Man?” The movie was a blatant hit-piece by a progressive outfit called Red Rebel Films, which is based in the Netherlands and enjoys partial funding by the state.
The film’s appearance on the BBC as well as the earlier release of an original Dutch version were coterminous with beginning of each of Mr. Wilders’ “hate speech” trials. It strains credulity to suppose that the timing of these events was mere coincidence.
Our British correspondent RezaV wrote a carefully documented letter of complaint to the BBC, and eventually received a reply. Here’s what he says about the Beeb’s response and his own counter-response:
Predictably, I received a bland and standard response to my complaint regarding the BBC’s Geert Wilders documentary that you covered at Gates of Vienna.
Below is the text of their reply. I’ve also pasted the text of my counter-response that explains how the BBC has broken its own rules in broadcasting the programme.
Anyone who has complained about this programme should reply and complain about their standard responses. I strongly believe that with this documentary the BBC really over-stepped the mark. This time, they’ve made some serious mistakes, and if we all take a few minutes to keep the pressure up, I really believe that we can get them to apologise.
Text of the BBC’s reply to me:
Thanks for your feedback regarding ‘Geert Wilders: Europe’s Most Dangerous Man?’ broadcast on 14 February 2011.
We understand some viewers felt the programme showed bias against Mr Wilders.
To give the programme some context: Islamic integration is a controversial topic in Britain and even more in other parts of Europe. 09/11 saw a surge of anti Islamic political movements across in the States and Europe.
This programme looked at the rise of Geert Wilders, whose ideas are changing the Netherlands and are having an impact across Europe and beyond. To try and understand one of Europe’s leading anti Islamists and why parties sharing his views on Islam are getting increasingly powerful, the programme followed Wilders on his Dutch election campaign trail. The programme gave a significant amount of space to the views of a range of Wilders’ supporters in the Netherlands, as well as to Wilders himself. To reflect the extent of feeling on the matter the programme also heard from members of the international anti-Islamic network who support him.
The programme explored the promotion of the belief that Europe is being taken over by Islam and the response of prominent Muslims to that. It also looked into why Mr Wilders’ critics are strongly opposed to his progression in Dutch and European politics.
The programme reflected the fact that there are elements of the Muslim community who espouse violence as well as many others who oppose it and that the Qur’an is open to differing interpretations.
We feel the film is a piece of impartial journalism which explored a wide range of Mr Wilders’ ideological positions, hearing from both sides of an argument of which he is prominently involved in.
We would like to assure you that we’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.
Thanks again for contacting us.
In your Complaint Response you state:
“We feel the film is a piece of impartial journalism which explored a wide range of Mr Wilders’ ideological positions, hearing from both sides of an argument of which he is prominently involved in.”
I understand that “impartial journalism” is an entirely subjective term and I am not surprised that the BBC took a one-sided and particularly hostile stance towards Geert Wilders.
However, even in taking that expected stance, I understand that your own Editorial Guidelines require that you:
6.4.25 When our output makes allegations of wrongdoing, iniquity or incompetence or lays out a strong and damaging critique of an individual or institution the presumption is that those criticised should be given a “right of reply”, that is, given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations.
We must ensure we have a record of any request for a response including dates, times, the name of the person approached and the key elements of the exchange. We should normally describe the allegations in sufficient detail to enable an informed response, and set a fair and appropriate deadline by which to respond.
1. As highlighted in my original letter to you, your programme made some very serious accusations against Mr Wilders. Please provide evidence that the requirements of your Editorial Guideline 6.4.25 were adhered to by providing evidence that you “have a record of any request for a response including dates, times, the name of the person approached and the key elements of the exchange details”?
2. With regard to the various serious and unsubstantiated allegations that you made against Mr Wilders and that I listed in my original letter to you, please provide examples of where in your programme you complied with your Editorial Guidelines 6.4.26 which stipulate that: “Any parts of the response relevant to the allegations broadcast should be reflected fairly and accurately and should normally be broadcast in the same programme, or published at the same time, as the allegation”?
3. Your Editorial Guideline 6.4.27 states: “In very rare circumstances where we propose to broadcast a serious allegation without giving those concerned an opportunity to reply, the proposal must be referred to a senior editorial figure or, for independents, to the commissioning editor. Referral must also be made to Director Editorial Policy and Standards. The allegation must be in the public interest and there must be strong reasons for believing it to be true. Our reasons for deciding to make the information public without requesting a response from the individuals or organisations concerned may include possible interference with witnesses or other legal reasons.
With regard to your Editorial Guidelines:
a. Please confirm that the decision not to provide Mr Wilders an opportunity to reply to allegations made against him on the programme was referred to a senior editorial figure? b. Please confirm that referral was also made to the Director Editorial Policy and Standards? c. Please explain how the various unsubstantiated allegations against Mr Wilders and in particular the allegation that he was a spy for Israel were “in the public interest”? d. In the specific case of your allegations that Mr Wilders was a spy for Israel, please explain your “strong reasons for believing it to be true” as required by your Editorial Guidelines?
4. Section 4 of your Editorial Guidelines states:
“The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy. But we go further than that, applying due impartiality to all subjects.”
Please explain how your programme’s description of Sheikh Kalid Yasin, who was shown preaching Islamic extremism in Channel 4’s Undercover Mosque, as “…an American Muslim teacher extremely popular among young European Muslims, he has embarked on a mission to de radicalise them” whilst at the same time representing that Mr Wilders is “Europe’s Most Dangerous Man” and making the various unsubstantiated allegations against him that I listed in my original letter to you, applied “due impartiality to all subjects”?
I look forward to your response.