June 20, 2007

The BBC Admits an Error - Only It Isn't

We have commented quite a few times on the BBC's incompetent coverage of matters linguistic, and more generally its tendency to report dubious science, and on the fact that the BBC declines to acknowledge errors and even reprints erroneous stories. That might incline one to think that the BBC simply never admits error. One would be wrong.

The BBC admitted an error on June 12th. What was this error? It was the fact that

the reporter in the film broadcast immediately before the England v Israel football match in Football Focus (BBC1, 24 March 2007) had referred to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

There was no error. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Israel identifies Jerusalem as its capital, as do Jews throughout the Diaspora. The Knesset (parliament) sits in Jerusalem. The official residences of the President and the Prime Minister are in Jerusalem. The Supreme Court sits in Jerusalem. The Bank of Israel and various ministries have their headquarters in Jerusalem. The United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital. It is true that Muslims, wishing to claim Jerusalem for themselves, dispute its role as Israel's capital, and that many countries follow their wishes in not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but this is irrelevant to the question of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Whether Jerusalem should be Israel's capital is a controversial political question; whether it is, is a simple matter of fact.

So, what is going on at the BBC? Time and again they screw up their science coverage and refuse to correct it, but when the Muslim Public Affairs Committee complains they "correct" a perfectly accurate broadcast?!

Update: Not surprisingly, lots of readers have reactions to this post. I'm not going to debate those who want to argue about Israel. This isn't the place, and that isn't the point. The rights and wrongs of Middle Eastern politics simply have nothing to do with the factual question of whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. If a country designates a city as its capital and locates its central governmental institutions there, that city is its capital. That is true whether or not you or I like that country's policies or approve of its choice of capital. The choice of capital is not, in international law, up to anyone other than the country itself. While numerous critics of Israel claim that "in international law" Jerusalem is not recognized as the capital of Israel, I have yet to see a single reference to the law, treaty clause, declaration, treatise or other source for the claim that a country's choice of capital is a matter of international law. Quite the contrary, it appears to be settled law that a country's choice of capital is a purely internal matter. Other countries may, as a political gesture, insist on locating their embassies elsewhere, but nothing either in the notion of "capital city" or in international law makes this determinative of the location of the capital.

By the same token, those who do not recognize Israel at all frequently object to the mere mention of Israel and prefer something like "the Zionist Entity". Even if one has some sympathy for their views (which I do not), surely the existence of Israel and the fact that it is called Israel are facts independent of one's political position and it is not objectively an error to refer to Israel.

Some people dispute my statement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on the grounds that the US embassy is in Tel Aviv. I stand by my statement. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 states that: "(1) Each sovereign nation, under international law and custom, may designate its own capital. (2) Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel". The fact that, for political reasons, the Executive branch has not complied with Congress's stated desire to move the US embassy to Jerusalem does not change the fact that the official position of the United States is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

Posted by Bill Poser at June 20, 2007 02:29 PM