Israel accuses BBC over Vanunu special

Vanunu greets investigative reporter Peter Hounam on his release

Relations between the BBC and the Israeli government took a turn for the worse last week after an official at the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the broadcaster of bypassing rules on interviewing nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.

Gideon Meir, deputy director for media and public affairs at the Israeli ministry, wrote to acting BBC directorgeneral Mark Byford. He claims that in showing the BBC Two This World special, the broadcaster had been “directly and knowingly involved in an interview with Mordechai Vanunu in potential violation of Israeli law”.

Meir’s letter, copied to BBC chairman Michael Grade, the BBC’s senior editorial adviser on the Middle East Malcolm Balen, and BBC Jerusalem bureau chief Andrew Steele, also said the interview “was planned and conducted in a clandestine manner, with the express intent of bypassing the law as well as the security restrictions imposed on Mr Vanunu by the Israeli authorities”.

He also accused the BBC of paying Vanunu and renting an apartment for him after his release from prison last month, and its Jerusalem bureau of colluding to get the film out of Israel.

Because the authorities have banned Vanunu from speaking to foreigners, Israeli journalist Yael Lotan conducted the interview.

The BBC acknowledged receipt of Meir’s letter this week and insisted it included “serious factual inaccuracies”.

It maintained independent production company Magnetic North and its director and producer Chris Mitchell secured the interview. “It was conducted by an Israeli journalist and crew and therefore no restriction placed on Mr Vanunu was broken,” a spokesman said.

“Mordechai Vanunu was not paid by the BBC for the interview. Neither did the BBC offer to rent or pay for an apartment for Mr Vanunu on his release. Magnetic North, the independent production company, leased an apartment in a complex in Jaffa for a short time for its producer.

“The BBC’s Jerusalem bureau was not involved in the organisation or conduct of the interview nor was it involved in its editing. In broadcasting this interview the BBC was fulfilling its duty to report world events fairly and impartially. Mr Vanunu’s story is of legitimate world interest and it would have been remiss of the BBC not to cover it.”

By Wale Azeez

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