BBC boss Tim Davie grilled by Tory MPs amid row over Middle East coverage

BBC director-general Tim Davie has addressed Tory MPs amid a row about the corporation’s coverage of the conflict in the Middle East.

He arrived in Parliament for a grilling by the Conservative 1922 Committee, which the corporation said had been arranged in July as part of regular discussions with parliamentarians.

A BBC spokesman said Mr Davie would have “tackled head-on some of the criticisms that he will undoubtedly have had in the room” and stressed “why the institution matters”.

One MP present said there had been “disagreement with the DG about Hamas being a terrorist organisation and the ability to say so” at the talks, held behind closed doors.

The corporation does not call Hamas “terrorists” without attributing the word to others using it.

However, it has moved away from labelling the group “militants” and is instead describing it as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the UK Government and others.

“We think that that phrase (militants) is less useful in the context we’re in now than it was before, and we will always look at what we do and how we do it,” the spokesman said.

“Nothing is set in stone, but the principle of ascribing terminology to those that are using is an important one for us.”

Tory Natalie Elphicke was among MPs to question Mr Davie on the BBC’s coverage of small boat crossings, to which he responded that a review had been commissioned, it is understood.

The BBC is launching assessments of its migration output and its editorial guidelines, but these are part of standard procedure and had been planned before the 1922 Committee meeting, the BBC spokesman added.

“Every four to five years, as a matter of course we look at our editorial guidelines. That’s next due to happen next year,” he said.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke (Michael Drummond/PA)

Last week, the corporation said an on-air correspondent had been “wrong to speculate” in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of a hospital in Gaza City.

The BBC also said the “correspondent was giving instant analysis on the ground from Jerusalem in what was a confusing and difficult story” and “did not at any point report that it was an Israeli strike”.

The spokesman said journalists are reporting under “extremely difficult circumstances” and are “acutely aware” of their obligation to be impartial.

Many Tory MPs and Israeli President Isaac Herzog have been angered by the corporation’s decision not to call Hamas “terrorists”.

The BBC spokesman said: “The BBC’s position is that when we use the word, we ascribe it to whoever’s characterised them in that way. So we make clear that the Government has said that about Hamas. That’s what we do.

“The reason why the BBC doesn’t make the judgment is that it’s not for us as a news organisation to ascribe any organisation as anything.

“We are impartial… it’s not about being neutral, it’s about being able to report in the UK, in Gaza, in the Middle East, whereas if the BBC is seen to be an arm of the UK Government, that makes our journalism very difficult and it impacts the way it’s perceived and trusted.”