BBC admits Mark Thomas filesharing show contained inaccuracies Trust committee partly upholds Feargal Sharkey complaint but rejects claim that programme was 'biased and prejudicial'
26 October 2010
The BBC has admitted that parts of a controversial Culture Show report by comedian and political activist Mark Thomas on filesharing were inaccurate, but denied a complaint by UK Music chief executive Feargal Sharkey that it was "biased and prejudicial".
Thomas's Culture Show report, which aired on the BBC2 show in February this year, examined the digital economy bill which was then going through parliament and its attempt to crack down on illegal downloading.
The comedian, who opposed that part of the bill – which has since become law – said on the show that it enabled film and music industry bodies to cut off people's internet access on the "bare minimum of evidence".
Sharkey, who spoke in favour of the bill on The Culture Show, said in his complaint to the BBC that Thomas's report was "not only grossly misleading and inaccurate, but also misinformed the audience in a bias [sic] and prejudicial manner, thereby contravening the BBC's editorial guidelines relating to accuracy and impartiality". His complaint was part upheld with regard to accuracy and not upheld with regard to impartiality.
Sharkey, who had demanded an on-air retraction and apology, took his complaint to the BBC's highest arbiter, the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee, after his initial concerns were largely rejected by the corporation's management.
The trust committee, in its ruling today, said Thomas's report was an "authored" piece and was "not to be taken as if it were a report by a BBC presenter or reporter".
But it admitted it "might have been better for the introduction to have more clearly indicated that the report was authored".
The ESC said the "section of the report on the likely effects of the new bill had given the audience an inaccurate description of how the process of disconnection would work", adding that in "attempting to paraphrase the legal complexities of the bill the report had not been sufficiently precise and had been inaccurate".
"Use of the word 'criminalise' in the introduction to the report was inaccurate but that this aspect of the complaint had been satisfactorily dealt with by the programme at the earliest opportunity," the committee added.
The report had also "not retained a respect for factual accuracy ... with regard to the implication given that the secretary of state had unfettered discretion to amend the law on copyright without parliamentary scrutiny".
Critics of Thomas's report claimed he had given much more time to opponents of the bill – 8 minutes and 20 seconds out of a total of 10 minutes, according to Sharkey – than its supporters.
But the BBC Trust committee ruled that the programme had not breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.
"While Mark Thomas had expressed strong personal opinions in his links to camera, this was permitted by the guidelines on authored programmes. All the main views, including those that contradicted Mark Thomas's, were reflected," the committee said.
"Bias on a controversial subject had been avoided and ... impartiality had been achieved in a way that was adequate and appropriate to the output," the ESC added.
Mark Thomas: Walking the Wall, touring, review The political comedian walked the West Bank to see what life is like on both sides. The resulting show makes you laugh, shudder and think. Rating: * * * * *
By Dominic Cavendish
17 Jan 2011
One of the most impressive things about Mark Thomas is the way his political comedy knows no borders. He’s completely at home finding gaping holes in domestic policy - as you can currently hear in his entertaining Radio 4 series The Manifesto. Equally, he shows no fear poking his nose into other people’s business hundreds of miles away.
With his latest venture - a self-imposed mission in 2010 to undertake a bout of “extreme rambling”, walking the length of the Israeli West Bank separation barrier - Thomas has pretty much pushed his brand of intrusive and peripatetic comedy to the limit. The aim was to see what life was like on both sides of the “fence”, as some Israelis choose to call it (“It’s not a fence if you can’t get it at B&Q,” Thomas quips).
It’s hard to think of an expedition more likely to end in tears, arrest, or worse. The fact that he has evidently lived to tell the tale and head out on tour is only one part of the hazard survived, though; given the minefield nature of the subject, what he says about what he did is almost as fraught as the journey itself.
Thomas, a youthfully energised 47, claims to have embarked on his trip without the baggage of partisan ire. He was repulsed by the suicide bombings of the second intifada, and so - although compelled to reconsider the plight of the Palestinians by the 2008 Israeli bombardments of Gaza - he understands why the wall was built.
And yet as he retraces his journey, reliving his encounters and experiences en route, it’s clear he’s formed the concrete opinion that the barrier is a bad idea. It doesn’t just cut off the Palestinians, he argues in his epilogue, it ruinously isolates Israel, too.
Whether or not you agree with that conclusion, the captivating success of Thomas’s travelogue is that he doesn’t keep hammering on at the same blunt point. Instead he allows us to accompany him, with the aid of a large map as backdrop, through the divided landscape, eyes open to its complexity and sometimes grim, sometimes saving absurdity.
A veteran story-teller, with a cockney swagger about his delivery, he knows when to up the gag-count, when to let the reality of what he’s recounting sink in, and when to deliver a fillip to the imagination with a well-turned phrase.
We get contrasting vignettes of life on both sides, in the Jewish settlements and in the checkpoint holding-pens. He describes what it’s like to be under fire from Israeli tear-gas and to be pelted by rocks thrown by Palestinian youths. He impersonates hardened zealots and melancholic moderates. Sometimes he admires those he feels he should despise, sometimes he critiques his own motives.
He does as much as you could expect from any individual faced with all that intractable difficulty, in two hours. He makes you laugh, makes you shudder, makes you angry, makes you think. He doesn’t come up with a solution, of course, but then who could?
My travels: Mark Thomas on walking Israel's West Bank barrier Comedian Mark Thomas found his idea of rambling along the Israeli barrier in the West Bank even more fraught than it sounds
The dubious honour of being the first person to walk the length of Israel's barrier in the West Bank, to the best of my knowledge, belongs to, well, me. Admittedly it's not a hotly contested title. Israel's massive barrier covered in watchtowers, wire and soldiers is hardly a hiking trail but it will become one eventually. That is the fate of military follies, from the Great Wall of China to Hadrian's Wall: they are destined to a future of tea shops and tour guides. I suppose I wanted to ramble this one before it goes mainstream and ends up covered with daytrippers wearing T-shirts saying: "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to Gaza."
There were other reasons for wanting to do the walk (primarily devilment and curiosity), but essentially I wanted to do for rambling what Hunter S Thompson did for journalism. Gonzo Rambling is what I was after (though without recourse to soaking the Kendal Mint Cake in acid) and where Thompson relied on drink and drugs for inspiration, I would rely on my natural talent for ineptitude.
The barrier, when completed, will career across about 723kms of land, winding in and out of the West Bank, moving from the fertile farmland of the Jordan Valley in the north-east, striking out west to the village of Zebuba then dropping down to Ramallah and East Jerusalem and on to the hills and crops south of Hebron.
I would be walking sections on both sides of the barrier. The area is heavily militarised and not a place to wander around in with your trousers stuffed into your socks clutching a copy of the Real Ale Pub Guide. In preparation, I met a host of people from Palestinian community leaders to media fixers to see if the walk was feasible. My favourite response came from an Israeli human rights lawyer who said: "There is nothing in law that stops you attempting your walk, but you should take my card."
On the first walk two Palestinians accompany me, Fadhi (a community organiser in the Jordan Valley and a debonair chap with corduroy jacket) and Jakob (a wiry farmer with a shock of grey hair whose trousers are held up with string). As we walk under a brilliant winter sky of clear blue along the fields of ploughed red-brown earth, we could be mistaken for a West Bank version of Last of the Summer Wine.
It soon becomes apparent that my desire to walk directly alongside the barrier is entirely impractical and possibly suicidal. The barrier is patrolled by the Israeli army 24 hours a day and within 10 minutes an armoured car arrives, stops alongside and blasts a loud squawking siren at us.
"We must move away from the wall," says Jakob, who fortunately speaks fluent siren.
A buffer zone exists on the Palestinian side of the barrier and the degree to which it varies in size, and the rigor with which it is enforced, depends on the mood of the soldiers. "You can not walk this near the fence, you must walk 300m away from it," says a soldier who detained me on the second walk.
"But that's ridiculous," I exclaim, pointing at the crops all around us. "That would mean that farmers can't work here."
"OK then," says the soldier, "150m."
I appear to have bartered over the buffer zone and haggled the soldier down.
On another occasion, as I walk next to the barrier, a soldier hears my accent and shouts, "You're from London! I used to live in Golders Green," then bellows, "ARSENAL!" as he waves us onward.
As I am detained for the third time in the first week it begins to dawn on me that rambling a military zone might prove problematic. More than that, the concept of my ramble does not cross the cultural divide easily: one Palestinian translator arrives for hiking in a blazer and slip-on shoes, another fails to turn up because it is raining. As for sleeping arrangements, there are barns, garages and people's floors, on which I lie exhausted, awake and wracked with doubt that I can complete the walk. This is Gonzo Rambling, and I have had enough of it.
In that first week I arrive in Jenin and on the edge of a narrow road decked with pictures of martyrs in bullet belts find the Freedom Theatre. A theatre in the refugee camp. The very concept would keep Richard Littlejohn in columns for a month, with japes of mime workshops for suicide bombers and relaxation classes for terrorists. But, bizarrely, he would have been uncommonly near the mark.
The theatre runs a drama course for young people in the refugee camp. They are far from standard Russell Group students. In a rehearsal studio students sit in quiet concentration, scribbling on large pieces of paper spread out across the floor.
"They are drawing their inner buffoon," explains the teacher. I smile and inwardly curse that "circus skills" have spread across this planet quicker than plague. But I chat to the students and a lad of about 18, quite unprompted, says: "You know, before I came here, one of my life options was to be a suicide bomber. To lay down your life for your community is an honour, right? But now I know art is my weapon."
It is the most extraordinary sentence I have heard. The room is full of stories like this. One student used to be a gang leader. One young woman had leaflets issued about her accusing her of being a slut for attending the theatre. Her family walked her through the camp to ensure she got to the drama course.
The charismatic theatre director is Juliano Mer-Khamis, half-Jewish and half-Palestinian, and a well-known Israeli actor. He cuts a dramatic figure and doesn't so much chat as proclaim. "The next intafada will be non-violent!" he declares when we sit to talk. "And here we are training the generation who will lead it. Palestinians who are critically engaged!"
As if to prove a point, the student's first show was an adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm. Such an obvious critique of the Palestinian National Authority saw Jenin's conservatives driven up the wall, and fortunately there was one nearby for them to do just that. But in the middle of a refugee camp, this theatre seems to show a possible future for Palestine.
"So why are you here?" says Juliano at the end of the visit.
"I am trying to walk the length of the barrier. Rambling." I begin my usual and now defensive attempt to explain my ramble. "It is an English approach to … " but before I can finish Juliano interrupts me. "We had the same idea! I wanted to do a film of walking the length of the wall." He calls out to one of the theatre staff, "He's walking the wall ... yes, filming it!" Turning, he shakes his head playfully: "Well, you did it first, so that's that idea gone. Where are you staying tonight?"
"I don't know yet."
"Stay here, we have a guest flat for visiting theatre companies, stay here for a few days."
So at the height of my uncertainty about the walk, a flat above a theatre in a refugee camp became home. Each morning I would grab some tea with the students and set off. Each evening I would return covered in mud and Juliano would ask: "How did it go? A good day?"
Over the next few days, bolstered by having a base in a theatre environment and being surrounded by people who understood the walk, I managed to get my bearings.
The ramble went through the rural areas of Tura al-Gharbiya past the industrial city of Tulkarem and south through the countryside to Ramallah. And it lost none of the impromptu challenges. I still managed to fall off a mountain, find myself in the middle of a settlers' demonstration, get tear-gassed – which every visitor to the West Bank seems to go through, in fact it was a relief to get it over with as it would have been embarrassing to return home without that badge – and all of this as I crossed the most beautiful hills.
Would I recommend walking in the West Bank as a tourist activity? Cautiously, yes. There are a few travel guides – such as Green Olive Tours – who can organise walks with ex-Israeli soldiers and ex-Palestinian guerillas who offer real insight into the conflict and the barrier, and you get to walk through breathtaking scenery. It sounds obvious, but listen to the advice on offer from people in the area.
I wish I could urge you to visit Juliano in Jenin, but he was assassinated in front of the Freedom Theatre by a Palestinian gunman on 4 April.
You cannot post new topics in this forum You cannot reply to topics in this forum You cannot edit your posts in this forum You cannot delete your posts in this forum You cannot vote in polls in this forum You can attach files in this forum You can download files in this forum