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Is the BBC trying to shore up support for Israel’s assault on Gaza?

Pro-Israeli broadcasters are finding it ever harder to defend Israel in the face of the large-scale massacres and destruction in Gaza.

 But the BBC is determined to do its best, sacrificing all claims to impartiality and journalistic integrity in the process.

In addition to flooding its radio and television programs with Israeli spokespeople, while keeping Palestinian voices to a minimum, the BBC, as it did during Israel’s 2012 assault on Gaza, has taken to presenting pro-Israel commentators as independent.

BBC audiences are, therefore, given strong doses of pro-Israeli propaganda — being told that Hamas is using civilians as human shields, that Israel has shown nothing but restraint in the face of constant rocket attacks, that it is defending its citizens and so on — while under the impression that they are hearing neutral, independent comment.

These key Israeli messages are, of course, more likely to be believed by viewers and listeners if they think they are impartial observations, rather than the opinions of pro-Israeli spokespeople.

On 17 July, as part of its 10pm news broadcast, the BBC News Channel ran an interview with Davis Lewin, deputy director and head of policy and research at the Henry Jackson Society.

The Henry Jackson Society is a virulently pro-Israel think tank, described in 2012 by its founding member, Marko Attila Hoare, as “an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge, churning out polemical and superficial pieces by aspiring journalists and pundits that pander to a narrow readership of extreme Europhobic British Tories, hardline US Republicans and Israeli Likudniks.”

In a 2013 job advert for the position of its North American director, the society wrote it was looking for someone who could reach out to the “pro-Israel community.”

Lewin himself is the recipient of an “Israel research fellowship” — a one-year placement awarded to university graduates, under which they work for the Israeli government or an organization sympathetic to Israel (he is listed as an alumnus of the class of 2009/10).

On its website, the Israel Research Fellowship (IRF) organizations says recipients of the award are “mentored by senior executives in their placements and informed by specially designed conferences.”

It adds: “Israel research fellows, with their comprehensive knowledge of historical and intellectual trends, serve as articulate spokespeople for Israel. The IRF is a pro-Israel, apolitical, non-partisan enterprise that aims to serve in the best interests of the State of Israel.”

Damage already done

And yet, when he appeared on the BBC News Channel, Lewin was introduced by presenter Martine Croxall as simply: “Davis Lewin, who’s from the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign and defense policy think tank.”

Few people watching would have been aware of the nature of the Henry Jackson Society or of Lewin’s pro-Israel placement.

Speaking, it seemed to viewers, as a spokesperson for an independent think tank, Lewin had three minutes to push the pro-Israeli, anti-Hamas line, aided at times by Croxall’s interviewing, which included this question: “Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organization by not just Israel but other countries, too. What are Israel’s intentions towards Hamas? It has said this is a limited scope action. Why doesn’t it just try and get rid of Hamas altogether?”

Not surprisingly, the interview was quickly posted on YouTube by the Henry Jackson Society.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the BBC to remind it of its own editorial guidelines, which include this: “We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

For once, the BBC was quick to write back, sending this by email: “We apologize for this and would like to assure you that the matter has been raised with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC News Channel, who have been reminded of the need to clearly describe the ideology of such organizations in our coverage.”

However, the damage had been done. And what good is a reminder to journalists who have a history of presenting pro-Israeli commentators as independent and face no censure for doing so?

In November 2012, as Israel pounded Gaza for eight days, BBC News 24 (as the BBC News Channel was known), used Jonathan Sacerdoti as a commentator four times in two days, presenting him each time as an independent expert.

Sacerdoti, however, was no impartial expert. He had worked as director of public affairs at the Zionist Federation and, in 2012, he was elected to the international division of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The international division’s primary work is to promote Israel.

After eight months of challenge, the BBC finally admitted it had breached its editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality with its misrepresentation of Sacerdoti.

And then, as now, the BBC told the Palestine Solidarity Campaign it would remind its editorial staff of the need to correctly identify its contributors. That “reminder” apparently came to nothing.

Defending Israel’s attacks

Presenting pro-Israeli commentators as independent is not just limited to the BBC’s airwaves, but is also evident in its online output.

On 22 July, BBC Online uploaded a long feature headlined “Gaza: How Hamas tunnel network grew.”

With 700 Palestinians killed at that stage, with thousands injured, and around 300,000 internally displaced, this came across as a desperate attempt by the BBC to shore up justification for Israel’s ongoing massacres.

Reams of paragraphs are devoted to tunnels “booby-trapped with explosives” — and the effort needed by Israel to detect them. The impression given to the reader is that Israel is under a very real threat from the existence of these tunnels and the existence of the organization — Hamas — which built and operates them. The lie that Israel “withdrew” from Gaza in 2005 is also contained in the report.

The article is written, not by a BBC journalist, but by Dr. Eado Hecht, who is described by the BBC as “independent defense analyst and lecturer in military doctrine at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.”

But Hecht is not “independent,” as the BBC claims. He is in the pay of the Israeli army. Unknown to readers of the BBC Online article, Hecht also teaches at the Israeli military’s Command and General Staff College.

It’s not worth asking if a Palestinian in the pay of Hamas would ever be given space by the BBC to write a long feature about the threat to Palestinians of Israeli aggression. The answer is obvious.

But it is worth noting that the BBC has form in providing platforms to pro-Israelis to expound their views on Gaza.

In November 2012, as Israel’s onslaught on Gaza was drawing to an end, BBC Online ran a feature by Guglielmo Verdirame, a professor in international law at King’s College London.

The article was headlined “Gaza crisis: the legal position of Israel and Hamas.”

Verdirame used his BBC platform to defend Israel’s vicious, sustained attack on Gaza’s refugee population in “legal” terms.

To the reader, told only that Verdirame teaches at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, this was an impartial viewpoint. But Verdirame had presented the same arguments three weeks earlier to a Zionist Federation event in London for Israel advocates. His pro-Israel credentials are impeccable, being involved as well with UK Lawyers for Israel, an organization whose aim is to sue those it regards as “enemies” of Israel.

Verdirame was put to use by G4S this year to co-author a paper defending the security firm’s involvement in the Israeli prisons where Palestinians are held and routinely tortured. That he should have been asked to write as an independent commentator by the publicly-funded BBC is disgraceful.

Impartiality goes out the window

There are numerous legal experts the BBC could call on who would pronounce Israel’s assault on Gaza a violation of international law. Forty-two of them signed a statement to that effect on 28 July, including Richard Falk, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

But none of them is likely to be receiving a phone call from the BBC. Their messages don’t fit the broadcaster’s apparent agenda.

On 31 July, when the BBC’s flagship news program Today wanted to discuss whether Israel’s current assault on Gaza had a legal basis, it interviewed, not just one, but two, Israelis. And not a single Palestinian.

The first Israeli interviewed was Pnina Sharvit Baruch. Listeners were told she was the “former head of international law at the IDF [the Israeli military], now a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies [in Tel Aviv].”

What they weren’t told is that Sharvit Baruch was a colonel in the Israeli army, retiring after Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. They were not told that, in that role, she legitimized strikes on civilians in Gaza during Cast Lead, including the attack on the graduation ceremony of new police officers, which resulted in 180 Palestinians being killed.

She was considered so extreme that, in 2009, staff at Tel Aviv University protested her appointment as a lecturer in law. She was not, however, considered too extreme for the BBC.

The day before she made her unchallenged appearance on Today, Sharvit Baruch was interviewed on the legalities of Israel’s attack by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), which describes itself as being “dedicated to creating a more supportive environment for Israel in Britain.”

On Today she was joined by Yuri Dromi, introduced by presenter Sarah Montague as “director-general of the Jerusalem Press Club, but he used be a spokesman for the Israeli government in the Nineties.”

Sharvit Baruch and Dromi enjoyed nine minutes of gentle questioning by Montague. Her acceptance of everything they said and her failure to ask a single challenging or critical question was compounded by the absence of a Palestinian spokesperson who could have made that challenge instead and offered a different viewpoint.

It was an extraordinarily biased piece of pro-Israeli broadcasting, even by BBC standards. Montague’s questions seemed to be set up as deliberate cues for Sharvit Baruch and Dromi to set out the Israeli government’s key messages.

For example, she asked Sharvit Baruch, “Would you be advising the Israeli army that what they have done is legal?”

What answer did she seriously expect?

If the BBC wanted a genuinely impartial answer to this question, it could have invited a UN spokesperson onto Today to answer it. To ask it of a former Israeli army legal advisor who has greenlighted previous massacres seemed like a deliberate invitation to propaganda, not an attempt at serious journalism.

But serious journalism, and impartial journalism, seems to go out of the window at the BBC, at least when it comes to Palestine. Israeli spokespeople and supporters are given unchallenged platforms that are not offered to their Palestinian counterparts, they are presented as independent when they are not, they are allowed to speak without challenge, and with no Palestinian to oppose them.

The result is day after day of Israeli propaganda pushed down the throats of anyone who looks to the BBC for impartial reporting of the occupation.

Sarah Montague’s interview with Pnina Sharvit Baruch and Yuri Dromi can be heard here at 02:14:27 until the end of August.

Amena Saleem

Amena Saleem's picture

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist, working closely with Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza with PSC.

More information on PSC’s solidarity work is available at www.palestinecampaign.org

Complaints to the BBC can be made at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints.

 

How the BBC devalues Palestinian lives and acts as mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda

Mind you that this article was published before this new preemptive war on Gaza and the burning live of Palestinian youth.

Amena Saleem Posted in News this June 29, 2014

Why is the BBC seemingly determined to shield Israel from bad publicity by withholding important news stories from its audiences,?While pushing anti-Palestinian stories provided by the Israeli army?

Palestinian funeral

Funeral of 14-year-old Palestinian boy Yousef Al-Shawamreh, shot by Israeli soldiers, 19 March 2014

Over the last 5 weeks, the trend in BBC reporting to ignore events that show Israel in a negative light, while affording coverage to tenuous claims from the Israeli army that it has uncovered Palestinian “terror” plots, has become quite glaring.

On 19 March, a 14-year-old Palestinian child, Yussef Shawamreh, was shot in the back and hip by Israeli soldiers as he foraged for edible wild thistles on his family’s land in the occupied West Bank.

The child bled to death.

His two friends, aged 12 and 17, were seized by soldiers dressed in black fatigues and wearing black face masks, and taken to a nearby illegal settlement, in handcuffs and blindfolds. There, they were beaten for failing to answer questions in Hebrew, a language neither understands.

By any standards, the cold-blooded killing of a 14-year-old by soldiers, and the subsequent abuse of his young friends, is appalling. The media outcry if the boy had been Israeli and his killers Palestinian can only be guessed at.

As it is, with the dead child being Palestinian, the BBC ignored the story.

The previous week, the BBC also failed to report on the killing on 10 March of university student Saji Darwish, also in the West Bank. Saji, a university student, was shot in the head by Israeli forces as he tended his goats.

Prevailing news agenda

When challenged by Palestine Solidarity Campaign on its failure to report on the killings of young Palestinians by the Israeli army – two in 9 days – BBC Online’s Middle East desk wrote back saying: “There is no mandate to report every killing.”

And so killings of Palestinians went by with the BBC’s journalists feeling under no obligation, or mandate, to report any of them.

Pressed further, the Middle East desk wrote back again to say: “The fact that we did not report the death of Yusef Abu Aker Shawamreh [sic] should not be construed as evidence of bias. There can be occasions where an incident does not get mentioned, possibly as a result of the prevailing news agenda.”

So what was the prevailing news agenda around the time of these youths’ deaths? According to BBC Online, it would appear to be an overwhelming concern with Israel’s security, and the threat the state claims it faces from Palestinians.

On 5 March, BBC Online ran with the story “Israel ‘halts weapons shipment from Iran.’” The article begins: “Israel says it has seized a ship carrying advanced Iranian weapons made in Syria that was heading towards Gaza.” The alleged weapons were surface-to-surface missiles.

The story continues: “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the shipment was a ‘clandestine operation’ by Iran, and added that the weapons would have been used against Israel.”

Credulous BBC news team

The BBC’s source for the story is, in its own words, “the Israel Defense Forces.” There is a link from the BBC’s page to the story on the Israeli army’s website.

The story is based entirely on the claims of the Israeli prime minister and Israeli army officials, and doesn’t even begin to question how surface-to-surface missiles could possibly be smuggled into besieged Gaza.

Nor is the timing of the Israelis’ find questioned by the credulous BBC news team. The announcement came just days before EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s relationship-building visit to Iran (which denied any involvement in the shipment).

Instead, the Middle East desk chose to run a corresponding feature headlined “Israel’s clandestine battle with weapons smugglers.”

An incredibly lengthy report, written by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus, it claims to reveal how the “major shipment of weaponry heading to the Gaza Strip from Iran throws a spotlight on alleged ongoing attempts to arm militants there, and Israel’s aim to thwart them.”

The feature continues in predictable BBC form, with subheadings such as: “So how does this compare to previous Gaza arms interceptions?”

All Israeli allegations of where the arms were headed and what they were to be used for are taken as fact.

There is no critical analysis at all of Israel’s sudden announcement.

“Israel has lied”

However, while the BBC remained oblivious to the absurdities of claims that a missile-loaded ship might be headed to Gaza, under land, sea and air blockade, and to the possibility that it was acting as a pliable conduit for Israeli propaganda, more sceptical news organizations challenged Israel’s allegations.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran a story headlined: “Netanyahu’s display of seized ship: meaningless Hollywood-style propaganda.”

Columnist Amir Oren writes: “From David Ben-Gurion’s time to the present, Israel has lied when it believed it had to.”

In its report “Doubts surface on Gaza destination of rockets seized by Israel,” the respected news agency Reuters quotes an unnamed US official as saying: “You look at those things and it’s obvious they couldn’t have been slipped into Gaza.”

Even the right-wing Times of Israel chose to cover the story from all angles, and not just from Israel’s perspective, as the BBC had done. Its report is headlined: “Iran arms ship may have been bound for Sinai, not Gaza.”

Correspondent Marissa Newman refers to investigations by US and Middle East intelligence analysts which concludes that: “Israel may have obfuscated [the ship’s] real destination in order to spare Egypt the humiliation of conceding the security unrest in the peninsula.”

Fact or speculation?

Compare these reports, responsibly analyzing the possibility that this story was no more than Israeli propaganda, with the BBC’s decision to use Israel’s claims as an opportunity to manufacture a feature on how an embattled Israel is fighting a “clandestine battle” with weapons smugglers.

Even when US doubts about the story began to emerge, the BBC refused to report on them, sticking with the Israeli side of the story which paints Palestinians in Gaza as violent militants.

Questioned on why the BBC is so willing to believe and report on all Israel has to say, the online Middle East desk replied: “The veracity of all stories can be called into question if there is not independent verification, but this depends on the reliability of the source and the credibility of the available information.”

And who is the source for this story? Back to the Middle East desk: “The article makes it clear that the announcement has come from Israel, i.e. that is the source.”

In other words, the BBC’s news teams are willing to throw journalistic values to the wind and accept Israel – a country which remains implicitly dishonest about its nuclear arsenal – as a credible and reliable source, in a way it probably wouldn’t do with any other country.

The Middle East desk certainly places what Israel has to say above what US and Middle East analysts have to say. Asked to follow up its original story by reporting on their doubts about the arms shipment, the Middle East desk replied that “to comment further would be purely speculative.”

So, according to the BBC, what US officials have to say is speculation, but what comes out of the mouths of Israeli officials is fact.

Promoting Israel’s viewpoint

On 21 March, BBC Online ran another story that could be viewed as propaganda for Israel under the headline: “Israel uncovers longest Gaza tunnel.’” The BBC’s source once again is the Israeli army, and a link is provided to the story on the army’s website as verification for its authenticity.

The BBC reports: “A spokesman said it was the longest tunnel found to date and was meant for use in attacks on Israeli civilians.” The story came five months after a similar BBC story headlined “Gaza ‘terror tunnel’ uncovered inside Israel.”

In the intervening five months, BBC Online carried no stories on how tunnels between Gaza and Egypt have served as a lifeline to the Palestinians, held under an illegal blockade for seven years. When the BBC reports on tunnels under Gaza, they are solely “terror tunnels.”

And so, in March, the BBC ignored the killings of Palestinian youths in the West Bank, choosing instead to run dubious stories on arms shipments to Gaza and “terror tunnels,” both of which propagate Israel’s hasbara viewpoint of Palestinians as terrorists hellbent on its destruction. The truthful image of Palestinians that Israel does not want promoted – that of victims of unprovoked Israeli aggression – is kept from BBC audiences.

This week, BBC Online airbrushed another historical moment from its news pages. This time it was the comments of US Secretary of State John Kerry, blaming Israel for the breakdown of talks with the Palestinian Authority, which the BBC decided to withhold from its licence fee-paying audience.

Incredibly, the BBC begins its article in a way that placed the blame on the Palestinians for the collapse of the talks, a claim made by Israel. Once again, the BBC reported from the viewpoint of Israel. The US perspective that Israel precipitated the breakdown was not reported.

So why is BBC Online’s Middle East desk seemingly so determined to shield Israel from bad publicity by withholding important news stories from its audiences, while, on the other hand, pushing anti-Palestinian stories provided by the Israeli army?

Could it be anything to do with the desk’s editor, Raffi Berg, who took up his post in August 2013, and was exposed by The Electronic Intifada for having sent emails to BBC journalists asking them to promote the Israeli perspective in their reporting?

It is, of course, impossible to say. But what can be said, by just looking at its reporting of Israel and the Palestinians over the last five weeks, is that it is becoming almost impossible to hide the pro-Israeli bias of BBC Online’s Middle East desk. For that, the BBC should surely take collective responsibility.

Source: Electronic Intifada

Palestinian perspectives censored on BBC: Why Israeli lies keep broadcasted unchecked…?

Film director Ken Loach of Land and Freedom (about the revolutionaries who fought in the Spanish Civil War that often reflect his keen sense of justice). recently learned that Palestine and Palestinians, and Israel occupation of Palestinian lands, remain taboo for the BBC.Mind you that the BBC is still a publicly funded institution, and any censorship might send the message that the British people agree with its policy lines…

On 23 July, Loach was at the Royal Albert Hall in London to listen to a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, performed by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The orchestra consists of Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab musicians, and is conducted by Daniel Barenboim, who formed the orchestra in 1999 with the late Palestinian academic and activist Edward Said.

Loach was asked during the intermission for an interview by BBC Proms, which was recording the concert for later broadcast.  Lock considered it reasonable to air his thoughts on the nature of the orchestra as well as the music.

Loach said that he spoke to the BBC journalist for five minutes, during which time he said: “Seeing Israelis and Arabs, including Palestinians, sitting side by side on the stage makes us confront the issue of the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, and I shall be thinking of them when I hear the music tonight.”

The BBC had in the last six months alternately denied the existence of Palestine and then the fact of Israel’s occupation, the mere mention of the fact of the Palestinian people’s oppression was too controversial to broadcast.

Amena Saleem posted on The Electronic Intifada on August 14, 2012:

BBC admits to censorship

Loach received a phone call from the program producers informing him that his interview would be cut “due to the music over-running.” Lock sent an email to the BBC stating:

“Thank you for letting me know about the broadcast and the need to shorten the interview. Of course I understand about length. But I would ask you to include my brief remarks about the orchestra and the Palestinians. As an opponent of oppression and tyranny I think Ludwig [van Beethoven] would have approved. It was one of the reasons I agreed to take part. I’m happy if you need to reduce my thoughts on the music itself.”

His email was ignored and the interview was broadcast three days later on BBC Proms with his observation about the oppression of the Palestinian people removed. The rest of the interview remained intact.

Loach said: “I called the producer, Oliver MacFarlane, who admitted they had deliberately cut the line about Palestine. He said if they’d included it they would have had to have a balancing interview. I wasn’t pleased and I responded robustly.”

When asked to respond to this, a BBC spokesperson stated: “As part of the BBC’s comprehensive music television coverage of The Proms, esteemed filmmaker Ken Loach was invited to comment on his personal passion for Beethoven, given the time slot available and the fact that this was a music television programme, the most editorially relevant sections of Mr. Loach’s interview were used in the final edit.”

Israeli oppression of Palestinians not suitable for broadcast by BBC. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

One of the most obvious examples of bias by the BBC is the taxpayer-funded broadcaster’s habit of inviting Israeli politicians or the Israeli government spokesperson, Mark Regev, onto its programs to speak without challenge.

Palestinians and those who would convey a Palestinian perspective are not given the same opportunity.

Why Israeli spokespersons go unchallenged, and the BBC refuses Palestinian opinions to balance the Israeli interviews?

But if it was the case that the BBC did feel the need to “balance” Loach’s simple words about the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, it has absolutely no qualms about airing, totally unopposed, the wild, often lurid, mostly fact-free statements made by Israeli ministers and spokespeople.

Take, for example, James Naughtie’s interview with Danny Ayalon on Radio 4’s Today program on 16 January 2012.

The interview was conducted the day after the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called on Israel to end its occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories and to end its violence against civilians.

This strong UN criticism of Israel was completely ignored by Naughtie, who focused on Iran with the unquestioned premise of the interview being that Iran is, without a doubt, developing nuclear weapons and consequently poses a grave threat to Israel.

Ayalon had been on air for less than a second when he said: “What we see here is a drive, a relentless push by Iran to illegally acquire and develop nuclear weapons and for them it’s not just a means, it’s a way to reach hegemony to continue with their very dangerous and radical approach.”

He went on to say: “Today Iran is the international hub of terror in the world.”

This was clearly Israeli propaganda. ; Ayalon used the BBC to loudly bang the drums of war against Iran. Yet Naughtie neither challenged his unfounded opinions, which were presented as facts, nor brought in someone to present an alternative viewpoint.

Ayalon’s wild accusations, so much more controversial than Loach’s mild remarks, were certainly not cut for lack of a “balancing interview.”

Nor was Ayalon questioned about Israel’s widely suspected nuclear arsenal or about Israel’s staunch refusal to allow international weapons inspections.

BBC’s double standards

Arthur Neslen was a BBC journalist for four years, but this didn’t stop him falling foul of the BBC’s double standards on this issue.

In March this year, he wrote an article for the Guardian newspaper describing how he returned to Gaza to meet the man who had tried to kill him(Khalid)  more than two years earlier (“Why I met the man who tried to kill me,” 2 March 2012).

During Israel’s massacre in Gaza in 2008-2009, Khalid had gone to the front line to ask the Israelis to stop killing civilians. He was captured at gunpoint by Israeli soldiers, handcuffed and blindfolded, taken to the doorway of a house the Israeli army had commandeered, and repeatedly beaten by soldiers on their way in or out.

Khaled was then used as a human shield by Israeli snipers, who placed him in front of an open window and shot from behind him. Khalid was later taken to a detention center in Israel and put through the court system, regularly beaten, before being released back into Gaza two months later.

This article for the Guardian led to a phone call requesting an interview from the producers of Outlook, a BBC World Service program which is broadcast Monday through Thursday.

Neslen agreed, but even before he visited BBC studios, the problems began.

Neslen said: “The BBC kept delaying the interview. Then they called two months later and said they were ready, so I went to do the interview which lasted 45 minutes.”

In his interview, Neslen described how a stranger called “Khalid” (not his real name) had attacked him randomly in a Gaza street in May 2009, pulling a knife on him as he came out of the offices of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

In 2011, Neslen had returned to Gaza to meet the man who had tried to kill him and, in his BBC Outlook interview, he told Khalid’s story.

Before telling his story in the Guardian, Neslen spent a month trying to get an explanation from several Israeli authorities, finally obtaining a statement from the Israeli Ministry of Justice which confirmed the dates of Khalid’s arrest, court appearances and release.

BBC drops story

All this evidence proved insufficient for the BBC.

“The BBC called me after I’d left the interview, asking me to come back straight away. They wanted to know what the Israeli response was to Khalid’s story and I told them about the statement. I was told the interview would go out the following week.”

However, ten minutes before the interview was due to be aired, he received a series of “desperate” emails and calls from a BBC journalist asking to see all his correspondence with the Israeli authorities on the matter, which he emailed over immediately.

“They told me I hadn’t provided them with proof that I had put the allegation to the Israeli army that they had used Khalid as a human shield,” said Neslen. “Then they dropped the story.”

“Why didn’t they put the allegations to the IDF [Israeli army] themselves?” he asked. “I was a BBC journalist for four years and they didn’t believe my story. But if Mark Regev goes on BBC News to say a hunger striker is a member of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the BBC never tries to go to the family to get confirmation. It only seems to go in one direction.”

The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the BBC in May to ask why Regev had been allowed to make unchallenged and false comments on BBC1’s News at 10 and Radio 4’s six-o-clock news bulletin on 11 May.

Regev claimed the Palestinian hunger strikers, who numbered more than 1,000, were motivated by an “Islamist cause” and wanted to “commit suicide.”

Last week, the group received this response from the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit:

“You have said that the report lacked the necessary due impartiality because it contained an interview with the Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, but did not include a similar interview with someone putting forward the view of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality make it clear that due impartiality does not necessarily require all views and opinions to be covered in equal proportions on all occasions.”

As Neslen says, it only seems to go one way with the BBC. Take this line from the Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality, which the BBC appeared to disregard when interviewing Loach:

“… it is not usually required for an appearance by a politician, or other contributor with partial views, to be balanced on each occasion by those taking a contrary view.”

The BBC seems to interpret this as meaning that someone who openly lies about the political motivations of Palestinian hunger strikers can be heard unchallenged on its airwaves, while someone who dares to mention the oppression of the Palestinians must be silenced.

Bowing to Israeli pressure

Neslen has his own ideas, based on his time at the BBC, for the double standards.

“They’re running scared of the Israeli authorities,” he said. He gives an example, detailed in his book, In Your Eyes a Sandstorm: Ways of Being Palestinian, of the Israeli embassy calling the BBC radio newsroom where he then worked.

The Israel government asked a news editor not to run the Palestinian side of a particular news story, implying that doing so could involve an accusation of “terror collusion.” The Palestinian statement, sent by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to the BBC, was dropped.

On another occasion, at the beginning of “Operation Defensive Shield,” Israel’s massive re-invasion of the West Bank during the second intifada, the Israeli government threatened to close down the BBC’s offices in West Jerusalem if it did not pull its correspondent Barbara Plett out of the West Bank. The next day she was withdrawn.

Nelson said: “These sorts of things happen every day, and some news editors will stand up for core journalistic values. But in general, Palestinian calls of complaints about news bulletins tended to be laughed off. I remember one acting editor on a BBC Radio 5 live bulletin slamming down the phone on a Palestinian caller and saying ‘If I get one more call from a moaning Arab…’”

He added: “If the Israeli embassy phones in, there’s a vast disparity of power [compared] to if a Palestinian activist calls in. They take Israeli calls very seriously, and critical stories about Israel get shot down through official pressure and the fear of official pressure. These are very powerful lobbyists — people know their careers can be broken.”

The result of all this is obvious bias shown against the Palestinians in the BBC’s broadcasts, whether it is by the complete omission of their story, the editing of comments which dare to mention their oppression, or the constant, relentless foisting of the Israeli narrative onto the audience.

Is this really journalism? Those who pay their licence fee so that the BBC can broadcast all across the world — and those whose lives are affected by those broadcasts — deserve much better.

Amena Saleem is active with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK and keeps a close eye on the media’s coverage of Palestine as part of her brief. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza for PSC. Follow the PSC on Twitter: @PSCupdates.


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