The BBC Director-General has refused to ban prominent Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan from the airwaves after complaints from pro-Israel organisations and figures.
Zionist organisations such as the Jewish Chronicle, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council had demanded the removal of Atwan (who is a regular guest on the BBC) from BBC screens because of his alleged support for “terrorism.”
But in a letter, the BBC’s Tim Davie said: “We do not ban contributors, for good reason, but nor do we give them ‘a BBC platform’ as your letter suggests. We question them, and when they hold or express controversial views we should always aim to challenge them. This is not the provision of a platform – it is part of an independent editorial process that helps us to meet our obligations of due impartiality.
“The alternative, I am afraid, would lead us down a dangerous path, which is one that would allow others to decide, however fine their motives, and in whatever area of coverage, who is and who is not ‘a fit and proper person’ to appear on our output.
“As our editorial guidelines state, this means we will sometimes include in our output people whose views may cause serious offence to many in our audiences, but where we do so the potential for offence must be weighed against the public interest.
“Such judgments should be made carefully. In this case, Abdel Bari Atwan appeared on Dateline London primarily to give his view on Saudi Arabia’s dealings with Donald Trump, but it was also important to cover the attack on Sir Salman Rushdie.
“Mr Atwan reflected the views of many in the Muslim world who view ‘The Satanic Verses’ as blasphemous and this is a key aspect of the story.”
Mr Davie’s response came after the pro-Israeli groups and individuals wrote to the BBC last month saying Mr Atwan is not a “right and proper person” to be given a BBC platform, and “it is shocking that the corporation continues to invite him to appear on its flagship programmes, despite your being well aware of his history and the concerns about it.”
Signatories included Bob Blackman MP, the Board of Jewish Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Community Security Trust, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the National Jewish Assembly, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Douglas Murray.
The letter added: “Our alarm was heightened this month, when the BBC invited the controversial commentator Abdel Bari Atwan onto its Dateline London programme, during which he appeared to express sympathy for the man who attacked Salman Rushdie in New York. Baroness Deech wrote to you in this regard last week.
“On the very same day as Mr Atwan expressed these views unchallenged on air, he wrote an online article in which he wrote: ‘I support [Mahmoud Abbas’s] refusal to apologise for the killing of 11 Israeli participants at the 1974 (sic) Munich Olympics, and his use of the term ‘holocausts’ to describe the many massacres to which Palestinians have been subjected by Israeli forces.’
“This rhetoric is characteristic of Mr Atwan, who has in the past praised terrorists as ‘martyrs’ and their attacks as ‘miracles.'”
Abdel Bari Atwan is one of the most prominent journalists in the Arab world and reaches millions through his social media platforms and TV appearances in both Arabic and English.
He is the editor-in-chief of the news website Raialyoum and is a staunch defender of the Palestinian cause and a fierce critic of Israel.