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BICOM Daily Briefing November 12 2003

Last updated: 2003-11-12

The Guardian's online edition reports that the BBC has appointed an “editorial advisor” to oversee Middle East coverage, in a move which appears to address ongoing concerns about anti-Israel bias in the Corporation’s coverage. The Times reports on the questions surrounding the Hizbollah prisoner swap deal, with a Maariv editorial questioning if it will be implemented in its current form. Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post report that the Israeli government will allow the new Abu Ala government a “period of grace”, despite misgivings regarding control of security forces. Reuters reports on new developments in the Remedia baby milk formula story, which continues to dominate the domestic Israeli agenda.

Quotes of the Day

BBC appoints “senior editorial advisor” for Middle East coverage

BBC Spokesperson (11/11): "We aim that [Malcolm Balen’s] appointment will help us to build relationships with all parties in the region. It's obviously a difficult, sensitive area for all broadcasters to work from. Having the dedicated attention of a senior editorial figure will benefit BBC News in reporting the complexities of the situation there. It's a mark of our continued commitment to reporting from that region."

Malcom Balen (11/11): "It's right and proper that our audiences feel passionate about the BBC's Middle East coverage. It's too important not to care. So the toughest challenge, I think, is to persuade viewers and listeners that I am fair-minded about the points they may want to raise."

Behind the News

BBC appointment may point to renewal of relationships with Israel

The BBC has created a new senior editorial post to advise on its Middle East coverage. Malcolm Balen, a former editor of the BBC's Nine O'Clock News, has been appointed "senior editorial adviser" based in London but working closely with the corporation's Middle East bureau in Jerusalem. This is the first time the BBC has made such an appointment. According to The Guardian, the decision to create the post was taken by the BBC head of news, Richard Sambrook, and World Service chief Mark Byford, who is in charge of the corporation's Arabic service. A BBC spokeswoman denied Balen's appointment was in recognition of accusations of bias, but admitted the post had been created because of the "sensitive" nature of Middle Eastern affairs. The BBC spokeswoman said Balen was someone with a "huge amount of experience in editing and working in BBC News".

The appointment may signal the end of an Israeli government decision to freeze relations with the BBC. The policy dates from April 2003, following the broadcast of a controversial documentary about Israel’s nuclear project. Since then, the BBC has not been able to interview official Israeli spokespeople. During prime minister Ariel Sharon’s recent visit to London, he refused to meet with BBC representatives.

In related news, the Acting Director of the Israeli Government Press Office, Daniel Seaman, is to leave his job, following controversy over the issue of press credentials. In rules issued – and retracted – this week, details of applicants were to be passed to the Shin Bet for security vetting, a move which angered local and international journalists.  

Israel to give new Abu Ala government a 'grace period' to fight terror

Israel intends to give Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) - whose cabinet members are due to take office Wednesday - a "grace period" in which to get ready to fight terror, Haaretz reports. This means that as long as there are no attacks on Israelis, the army will refrain from all military operations in the territories except those aimed at foiling imminent attacks (‘ticking bombs’) - even though it does not consider a cease-fire with the terrorist organisations to be a permanent solution, government sources said.  

Israel also intends to open talks with Abu Ala's new government, even though Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat will retain control of the PA security services, the sources said. They added that Israel is interested in demonstrating some sort of diplomatic progress. Although Israel is willing to give Abu Ala time to get organised, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is sticking to his insistence that the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure be a precondition for progressing to the second stage of the road map, which calls for establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Israel will, however, abandon one of its other preconditions: Arafat's ouster from control of the security forces.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also spoke about negotiating with Israel, saying that once the new Palestinian government gets a vote of confidence, the focus will be on reviving the peace process with Israel. Erekat, who is slated to be a cabinet minister in the new Palestinian government, said, “This government will focus on maintaining the rule of law and ending chaos.”

Comment and Opinion 

Zeev Schiff (Haaretz, 12/11): “Hezbollah taught us a lesson. It managed to get Israelis quarreling with each other over the prisoner affair. Add to that the threats that it would kidnap more people, how it opened fire at Israel Defense Forces positions on the Hermon and then its people crossed the fence and planted land mines that could have caused a great many casualties near Ma'ayan Baruch. A terror organization with only a few hundred fighters provoked Israel the way no Arab country dares, and Israel remains silent.” 

Amir Rappaport (Maariv, 12/11): “Those who have prepared festive “welcome home” signs for Elhanan Tenenbaum will have to wait. The road to implementing the prisoner exchange deal with Hizbollah is going to be very long. The situation is so complicated that it is possible that the deal, in its current form, will not take place at all. The main reason is that this is a very problematic deal for Israel. It’s enough to compare the jubilation with which the deal is reported in Lebanon to the problems which kept the cabinet busy for hours on Sunday, until they stuck their hands up and with a heavy heart voted “for”. When this difference is so enormous, it’s clear that this is a deal with which both sides cannot be equally satisfied.”


Israel Briefing supplied by BICOM