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[casi] BBC appoints news censor

With deep sadness I send this from the Telegraph today. pg

BBC appoints man to monitor 'pro-Arab bias'
By Tom Leonard, Media Editor
(Filed: 11/11/2003)

The BBC has appointed a "Middle East policeman" to oversee its coverage of
the region amid mounting allegations of anti-Israeli bias.

Malcolm Balen, a former editor of the Nine O'Clock News, has been recruited
in an attempt to improve the corporation's reporting of the Middle East and
its relationship with the main political players.

Mr Balen, who left the BBC three years ago, will work full-time with the
official title of "senior editorial adviser".

It is the first time the corporation has made such an appointment. Insiders
say it is a signal that senior executives feel that the Middle East is an
area over which the BBC needs to take particular care.
Relations between the corporation and the Israeli government hit a low point
this summer when the latter "withdrew co-operation" in protest at a BBC
documentary about the country's weapons of mass destruction.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, later barred the BBC from his
meeting with the British press during a visit to London.

The BBC has also been the target of Downing Street accusations that it toed
a pro-Baghdad line over the Iraq war and that it influenced the Today
programme's handling of the dossier story that is the subject of the Hutton

A BBC spokesman said: "Malcolm is a hugely experienced senior programme
editor whose appointment will help us on our relations with all parties in
the region."

The decision to appoint Mr Balen was taken jointly by Richard Sambrook, the
director of BBC News, and Mark Byford, the head of the World Service. The
latter's Arabic Service has been singled out by some critics as the most
anti-Israeli source of the corporation's Middle East output.

The BBC denied that the appointment amounted to an admission that it had
"got its coverage wrong" but conceded the corporation was sensitive to
criticism. He said it was "no longer the case" that the Israelis were
refusing to co-operate with BBC journalists.

An accusation frequently levelled against the corporation is that it reports
the Arab-Israeli conflict too much from a Palestinian point of view.

Its reluctance to describe suicide bombers as "terrorists" has proved
particularly controversial, recently prompting the Simon Wiesenthal Centre
to pull out of a BBC series about Nazi genocide.

The corporation faces increasing scrutiny of all areas of its activities
during the run-up to the renewal of its royal charter in 2006.

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