Steel dismissed the relevance of impartiality clause 4.4.14 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, claiming it was only applicable when producers had assumed an interviewee was neutral, whereas, he said, 'Sacerdoti's viewpoint is well known to program-makers in BBC News.'
However, when the complaint reached the Trust, it emerged that this was not the case, with the Controller of the BBC News Channel asserting to the contrary, that 'In fact [the interviewee's] background was not fully understood by the producer of the interview and therefore not conveyed to the presenter (and consequently the audience) in clear terms.'
This picture of events suggests serious failings on the part of BBC producers and likely contributed to the BBC Trust's decision to overrule Steel.
The Trust stated that clause 4.4.14 had indeed been breached and the BBC had failed in its responsibility to appropriately signpost the interview so that viewers could properly evaluate Sacerdoti's contribution for themselves.
"No requirement to balance"
But it also decided 'there was no requirement to balance the interviewee’s comments with an accompanying guest holding an alternative viewpoint', so the impartiality complaint was only partly upheld.
According to the BBC Trust, which eventually agreed that Sacerdoti was indeed 'associated with a particular viewpoint', he himself refuted the suggestion that he was a pro-Israel campaigner.
Instead he described himself as 'an analyst of Middle Eastern affairs' and tried to downplay his pro-Israel work, telling the BBC's Independent Editorial Adviser that he was only 'briefly employed part-time and as a freelancer, by the Zionist Federation (for two months)'.
Given that Sacerdoti appeared as a representative of the Zionist Federation on BBC Big Questions in November 2009, then on Sky News in June 2010 and, on the BBC again in September 2010, according to its own blog, it appears that he was in fact doing media work for the Zionist Federation for a period of at least 11 months.
Sacerdoti was emailed via the contact form on his website but did not respond to questions. However, he previously told The Jewish Chronicle newspaper that he felt his comments were 'in keeping with the requirements of due impartiality'.
While the ruling is centrally a damning indictment of journalistic standards in the BBC news room, Sacerdoti – who tried to remove evidence of his pro-Israel connections from the internet – does not come off well either.
It is also important to point out that despite finally admitting it was wrong, the ruling should not be taken as legitimizing the BBC's policy on the use of "experts", nor its complaints procedure or problematic mechanisms of self-regulation.
The process leading up to the decision was lengthy, time-consuming and frequently exasperating; at every stage, the BBC appeared unwilling to investigate properly.
While it is important to try to hold the mainstream media to account, this is no cause for optimism about the trust we should place in the BBC's capacity to report fairly on the Middle East.