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      Arrow The BBC: Eyeless in Gaza

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      The BBC: Eyeless in Gaza

      Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, The Electronic Intifada, 6 January 2009

      On 29 February last year the BBC's website reported deputy defense
      minister Matan Vilnai threatening a "holocaust" on Gaza. Headlined
      "Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust'" the story would undergo nine
      revisions in the next twelve hours.

      Before the day was over the headline would read "Gaza militants 'risking
      disaster.'" (The story has since been revised again with an exculpatory
      note added soft-pedaling Vilnai's comments).

      An Israeli official threatening "holocaust" may be unpalatable to those
      who routinely invoke its specter to deflect criticism from the state's
      criminal behavior. With the "holocaust" reference redacted, the new
      headline shifted culpability neatly into the hands of "Gaza militants"

      One could argue that the BBC's radical alteration of the story reflects
      its susceptibility to the kind of inordinate pressure the Israel lobby's
      well-oiled flak machine is notorious for. However, as will be
      demonstrated in subsequent examples, this story is exceptional only
      insofar as it reported accurately in the first place something that
      could bear negatively on Israel's image. The norm is reflexive

      To establish evidence of the BBC's journalistic malpractice one often
      has to do no more than pick a random sample of news related to the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently on its website. In a time of
      conflict BBC's coverage invariably tends to the Israeli perspective, and
      nowhere is this reflected more than in the semantics and framing of its

      More so than the quantitative bias -- which was meticulously established
      by the Glasgow University Media Group in their study "Bad News from
      Israel" -- it is the qualitative tilt that obscures the reality of the
      situation. This is often achieved by engendering a false parity by
      stretching the notion of journalistic balance to encompass power,
      culpability, and legitimacy as well. The present conflict is no

      "Hamas leader killed in air strike," reads last Thursday's headline on
      the BBC website. Notwithstanding the propriety of extrajudicial murder,
      there are 14 paragraphs and the obligatory mention of the four dead
      Israelis before it is revealed that "at least nine other people,"
      including the assassinated leader's family, were killed in the bombing
      of his home in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

      The actual number is 16 dead, 11 of them children; 12 more wounded,
      including five children; 10 houses destroyed, another 12 damaged -- a
      veritable slaughter. Had a Hamas bombing killed or wounded 28 Israeli
      citizens including 16 children you'd be sure to see endless coverage --
      of the kind the BBC lavished on the disconsolate illegal settlers in
      2005 as they were made to relinquish stolen land in Gaza.

      The BBC's Mike Sergeant, sitting in Jerusalem, would not concern himself
      with such sentimentality. There is no further mention of Palestinian
      civilian deaths. Their tragedy was no more than a sanguine message which
      Sergeant tells us will "be seen as an indication that the Israeli
      military can target key members of the Hamas leadership."

      "Israel braced for Hamas response," blared the ominous headline on next
      day's front page. With all references to Hamas in its coverage prefixed
      with "militant" and invariably accompanied by images of blood and
      debris, the average viewer is very likely to assume the worst. It
      transpires what the world's fourth most powerful military is bracing
      itself for is merely a citizen's protest called by Hamas in the Occupied
      Palestinian Territories.

      Further on we learn that Israel has been bombing such "targets" as a
      mosque and a sleeping family. The BBC's next headline on the same day --
      "Gaza facing 'critical emergency'" -- is an improvement. It quotes
      Maxwell Gaylard, the UN's chief aid coordinator for the territory,
      highlighting the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis.

      Following this is a warning from Oxfam that the situation is getting
      worse by the day: clean water, fuel and food in short supply, hospitals
      overwhelmed with casualties, raw sewage pouring into the streets. And
      then we get "balance."

      Israel, we learn, has claimed Gaza has "sufficient food and medicines."
      It of course ought to be easy to verify which of the competing claims is
      valid, but that presumably would violate the "usual BBC standards of
      impartiality." There is also a more mundane reason why the BBC won't
      present its own findings, but it is tucked away in the very last
      paragraph of the article.

      Israel, we learn, "is refusing to let international journalists into
      Gaza" including no doubt those of the BBC. Ethics of reporting would
      require that the BBC preface each of its reports with the disclaimer
      that it has no way of knowing what is going on in Gaza other than
      through the propaganda handouts of the Israeli military.

      The final act of chicanery comes in the shape of a sidebar which lists
      the number of rockets fired by Palestinians for each day of the
      conflict. This is particularly odd in an article ostensibly about the
      consequences of the Israeli blockade and bombing, especially since no
      similar figures are produced for the number of bombs, missiles and
      artillery shells rained on Gaza.

      The source the BBC uses is the Intelligence and Terrorism Information
      Center based in Israel. What it does not mention however is that the
      "private" think tank is a conveyor belt for Israeli military propaganda
      which, according to The Washington Post, "has close ties with the
      country's military leadership and maintains an office at the Defense
      Ministry." Any Palestinian claim on the other hand would not appear
      unless enclosed in quotation marks, even if independently verifiable.

      The quotation marks are a useful distancing device deployed to show that
      the characterization may not be one shared by the BBC. This would be
      understandable if their application were consistent. It isn't. To take
      one telling example, after the Lebanon war when both Israel and
      Hizballah were accused by Amnesty International of war crimes only in
      the case of Israel did the BBC enclose the accusation in quotation

      It is through these subtle -- and not so subtle -- manipulations of
      language that the BBC has shielded its audience from the ugly realities
      of occupied Palestine. In the BBC's reportage lexicon, Palestinians
      "die" but Israelis are "killed" (the latter implies agency, the former
      could have happened of natural causes); Palestinians "provoke," and
      Israelis "retaliate;" Palestinians make "claims," and Israelis

      Moreover, schools, mosques, universities and police stations are part of
      the "Hamas infrastructure;" militants "clash" with F-16s and Apache
      helicopters. "Terrorism" is inextricably linked to Palestinians but
      Israelis merely "defend" themselves -- invariably outside their borders.
      All debates, irrespective of fact or circumstance, are framed around
      Israel's "security" -- Palestinian security is irrelevant.

      If Israel's wall annexing land in the West Bank is mentioned, it is in
      terms of its "effectiveness." In the odd event that an articulate
      Palestinian voice represented, the debate is rigged with a set-up video
      that is meant to put them on the defensive. When all else fails, there
      is the reliable "both sides" argument -- if reality won't accommodate
      the image of an even conflict, the BBC figures, language will.

      Then there's the framing: Israel's violence is always analyzed in terms
      of its "objectives;" and Palestinian violence is of necessity
      "senseless." This is no doubt how it must appear to the average reader
      since the word "occupation" rarely appears in the BBC's coverage.

      It hasn't appeared once in the last 20 stories on Gaza on its website.
      And if occupation is mentioned rarely, then the UN resolutions almost
      never. The picture is even worse on television, where the Israeli point
      of view predominates.

      While Matan Vilnai's threat of a holocaust is consigned to the memory
      hole, the statement invented and attributed to the Iranian president
      about wiping Israel off the map is still in play. It is this double
      standard which also allowed the BBC to cover the story of a British Jew
      joining the Israeli military as a human interest story -- which may not
      be entirely surprising considering the BBC's man in Jerusalem, Tim
      Franks, is himself a graduate of Habonim Dror, a Zionist youth movement.

      It is this inhuman devaluation of Palestinian life that allowed the BBC
      at the peak of the criminal blockade in July 2007 to have two stories up
      on its website related to the occupied territories, both about animals
      -- "Israeli paratroopers swoop on pet shop to rescue rare eagles" and
      "Kidnapped lioness is reunited with her brother in Gaza Zoo."

      While the BBC's refusal to by-line its online reports makes it hard to
      trace stories back to individual journalists, a revealing glimpse of the
      editorial context in which they work was offered by an article in The
      Observer by the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen -- a man whose
      modest analytical skills are matched only by his historical illiteracy.
      With the BBC workhorse -- "both sides" -- weaved into the very headline,
      Bowen piles inanity upon cliche.

      Throughout there is no mention of an occupation. Bowen has been
      conveniently transported to Sderot -- an Israeli public relations ploy
      to "embed" journalists within range of Hamas rockets in order to make
      them report with empathy -- and he is happy to oblige. On the other hand
      there is no mention of those at the receiving end of Israel's lethal
      ordinance. He mentions civilian casualties only in the context of the
      "lot of bad publicity" they get for Israel.

      On the basis of this evidence, he then concludes "it is probably fair to
      say that [Israel] does not hit every target it wants, otherwise many
      more would have died." We then end with speculation on Israel's possible
      objectives. Despite "both sides," there is no similar scrutiny of
      Hamas's objectives.

      At a conference in London in 2004, a BBC journalist based in the
      Occupied Palestinian Territories told me that when it comes to Israel
      the editorial parameters are so narrow that journalists soon learn to
      adapt their stories in order not to upset the editors. Similarly,
      editors likewise know not to upset their government-appointed managers.

      Since the days of Lord Reith, the BBC-founder who assured the
      establishment to "trust [the BBC] not to be really impartial," on
      foreign policy the corporation has acted as little more than the
      propaganda arm of the state (whatever independence it had once enjoyed
      evaporated with the purge carried out by Tony Blair in the wake of the
      Hutton Inquiry).

      Contrary to the prevailing view in the US, where progressives don't tire
      of comparing it favorably against US media, the BBC's record of coverage
      in the Middle East is dismal. As media scholar David Miller revealed,
      during the Iraq war the representation of antiwar voices on the BBC was
      even lower than on its US counterparts.

      A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung study found the corporation to have the
      lowest tolerance for dissent of the media in the five countries it
      analyzed. Just as its correspondents in Iraq celebrated the fall of
      Baghdad as a "vindication" of Blair, its man in Washington Matt Frei
      threw all caution to the wind to exult: "There is no doubt that the
      desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world,
      and especially now in the Middle East, is especially tied up with
      American military power."

      The BBC's partiality in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is
      a mere reflection of the close affinity of successive British
      governments with Israel. Both Blair and his successor Gordon Brown have
      been members of the Israel Lobby group Labour Friends of Israel. The
      Foreign Minister David Miliband has kin who are settlers in the West

      All three major influence-peddling scandals in the past five years that
      engulfed the leadership of the ruling New Labour party involved money
      from wealthy Zionist Jews (all linked to the Labour Friends of Israel).
      If the BBC is not impartial, then the UK government most certainly is

      The BBC, as is its wont, merely reflects the latter's tilt. This is
      blatant enough that despite pressure from the Israel lobby, the BBC's
      own Independent Panel concluded that its coverage of the Palestinian
      struggle was not "full and fair" and that it presented an "incomplete
      and in that sense misleading picture."

      But the gap between the alternate reality that the BBC inhabits and the
      reality on the ground witnessed and relayed by independent media is so
      great today that it has compelled John Pilger to write: "For every BBC
      voice that strains to equate occupier with occupied, thief with victim,
      for every swarm of emails from the fanatics of Zion to those who invert
      the lies and describe the Israeli state's commitment to the destruction
      of Palestine, the truth is more powerful now than ever."

      Muhammad Idrees Ahmad is a member of Spinwatch
      He blogs at The Fanonite
      ©2000-2007 unless otherwise noted. Content may
      represent personal view of author. This page was printed from the
      Electronic Intifada website at ei: The Electronic Intifada . You
      may freely e-mail, print out, copy, and redistribute this page for
      informational purposes on a non-commercial basis.
      Nov 2, 2015 "Assata Shakur Liberation Day" marks 36 yrs of freedom for our Comrade Assata Shakur, Our Warrior was liberated from a NJ prison by Comrades In The Black Liberation Army click here to read more or here

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