Israel 'shocked' at BBC reporter award

From the archive (legacy material)

HERB KEINON | The Jerusalem Post | 21 April 2005

Israeli officials expressed dismay this week that BBC reporter Orla Guerin, who has come under sharp attack for what some perceive as an anti-Israeli bias in her coverage, will receive an MBE honor from the British government for “outstanding service to broadcasting.”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky, who last year wrote a formal letter of complaint to the BBC over Guerin’s coverage, said it is a pity that a lack of anti-Semitism was not a criterion for the award.
If it were a criterion, he said, Guerin would not be receiving the honor. The MBE stands for Member of the British Empire, one of a number of honors issued each year by the Queen.
“It is very sad that something as important as anti-Semitism is not taken into consideration when issuing this award, especially in Britain where the incidents of anti-Semitism are on the rise,” Sharansky said.
Guerin, when contacted Wednesday, would not speak without receiving permission from her home office in London. A phone query to the BBC offices in London, followed – as requested – by an e-mail with a short description of the line of questioning, did not yield a response from either the BBC or Guerin.
According to the Sunday Times, the 38-year-old Guerin will be presented the award by Baroness Symons, the minister of state for the Middle East in the British Foreign Office. According to this report, Guerin – who has spent 10 years reporting from war-torn countries – was to receive the honor last year, but the ceremony was postponed so she could report from Ramallah on Yasser Arafat’s funeral.
In addition to Jerusalem, she has also reported from Kosovo, Grozny, Moscow and the Basque country.
One Israeli official, who responded to the news by saying he was “shocked,” said Guerin is among the most anti-Israeli journalists reporting from Israel today.
According to this official, granting her an award fits into a pattern that began in 2003 when the United Kingdom’s Political Cartoon Society awarded Dave Brown of the Independent its “cartoon of the year” award for a cartoon he drew depicting a naked Ariel Sharon biting off the bloodied head of a Palestinian child.
“It seems if you are anti-Israel, you will get an award,” the official said.
Last year, in response to one of Guerin’s dispatches about Israel’s capture of a mentally challenged 16-year-old would-be suicide bomber, Sharansky wrote the BBC that it employs a “gross double standard to the Jewish state” that smacks of anti-Semitism.
Sharansky protested that Guerin, in her report, portrayed the event as “Israel’s cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes.” He said this “reveals a deep-seated bias against Israel. Only a total identification with the goals and methods of the Palestinian terror groups would drive a reporter to paint Israel in such an unflattering light instead of placing the focus on the bomber and the organization that recruited him.”
The report, he said, “has not only set a new standard for biased journalism, it has also raised concerns that it was tainted by anti-Semitism.”
In his letter, Sharansky quoted Guerin as describing to viewers how the IDF “paraded the child in front of the international media,” then “produced” the child for reporters, “posed” him a second time for the cameras, and then “rushed him back into a jeep.”
Likewise, the Evening Standard, which interviewed Guerin in 2003, wrote that she “questioned Israel’s claim to be a democracy, compared its press freedom with Zimbabwe’s and accused its officials of paranoia.”
During that interview, Guerin – referring to a period that year when Israel refused to cooperate with the BBC – said “I can’t imagine any other government thinking like that – Zimbabwe is the comparison. I’m absolutely stunned that they think it’s appropriate.”
“Israel talks regularly – at this point, in my view, with less justification – about being the only democracy in the Middle East,” she said. “But how can you still be a democracy and try to harass the press? This is not how a democracy behaves.”