The Shmooze

A Widow's Ongoing Quest To Expose BBC’s ‘Anti-Israel Bias’

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Fiona Paveley is not letting her late husband Steven Sugar rest in peace, and she thinks that is exactly what he would have wanted her to do. In fact, she believes that he — and she — will ultimately rest easier if she does not give up the legal battle against the BBC that Sugar was waging while he was alive.

For six years, Sugar, an attorney, fought to have the BBC publish the contents of a 20,000-word internal report about its news coverage of the Middle East, which he was sure was full of information pointing to an anti-Israel bias within the organization.

Sugar died from cancer in January at the age of 61 after losing his bid to have the report disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act at the Informational Tribunal, High Court, and Court of Appeal levels. His wife is taking the case to the Supreme Court.

The BBC has spent more than $440,000 to keep the contents of the report, written in 2004 by BBC journalist Malcolm Balen at the request of the company’s news director, from going public. It fears that a decision against its position on this report could lead to a slippery slope of more demands for disclosures, and more cost to the BBC to fight such demands.

The BBC maintains that the report, which it claims was written for the journalistic purpose of internal critique and improvement, does not fall within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Sugar — and now Paveley (a 48-year-old clinical psychologist) — believe that the BBC, a publically funded corporation, should be more transparent about its business.

Paveley told the Telegraph, that she and her husband perceived many instances of impartial reporting on the part of the BBC, including by former Middle East correspondent Orla Guerin, whom the Israeli government accused of anti-Semitism. Another reporter cried on air in covering a dying Yasser Arafat’s departure from the West Bank in 2004. She also cited inaccuracies and an anti-Israel bias on the part of the current Middle East editor in two recent new reports.

The BBC is going to great lengths not to air its dirty laundry in public, claiming that by keeping it private, it can best work on improving the quality of its news reporting. Paveley, taking up the cause of her late husband, thinks the BBC can only clean up its Middle East reporting act by letting it all hang out.

The Supreme Court is hearing this case because it thinks it is could be precedent-setting. A court spokesman said, “This is an interesting case which the Justices have decided raises an issue of general public importance. It will effectively establish the test for what constitutes a document held for journalistic purposes.”


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