Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Skies are Weeping: BBC apologises for misleading report

DEBBIE FINK singing Cantata for Rachel Corrie

A top BBC official has admitted that BBC television misled viewers in the way it reported a concert dedicated to those who have lost their lives during the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Fraser Steel, head of the Beeb's editorial complaints commission, has written to opera singer Deborah Fink, asking her to accept his apologies on behalf of the corporation.

Soprano Debbie sang "The Skies Are Weeping", Philip Munger's Cantata Opus 75 for Rachel Corrie, at the Hackney Empire on Tuesday, November 1. The concert also featured The Singer of Wind and Rain, by Gregory Youtz, as well as jazz fusion music from Tsivi Sharett 's TS Ensemble and a debka performance from the al-Hurriya Dance Troupe.

Cindy Corrie, whose daughter Rachel was killed trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer destroying Palestinian homes, flew in to introduce the concert. The family of British photographer Tom Hurndall, shot dead while trying to shepherd Palestinian children away from gunfire, was also present.

This was the world premiere for Philip Munger's cantata. A previous attempt to stage it in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lives had to be cancelled after threats to the composer and performers. In London, too, although the evening was billed as A Concert for Justice and Peace, and expressedly dedicated to all "the lives lost during the occupation", Zionist protestors turned up outside the theatre ostensibly complaining that it wasn't honouring Jewish victims of terror bombings.

One woman, perhaps misinformed what she was protesting about, carried a placard saying ingenuously "Peacemakers preach peace not hatred". The impression was belied by thugs with her, honestly wearing tee shirts proclaiming their backing for right-wing settlers in Hebron, and threatening passers-by and concert-goers.

Most people ignored them and went in to enjoy the concert. A small group from Jews Against Zionism gave out a leaflet to counter the Zionist protest. Police moved the two groups away to opposite corners away from the theatre entrance.

On the following evening BBC TV London and South East news had an item about the concert, including some words from Philip Munger and Rachel Corrie, and a shot of musicians rehearsing, but going on to report "Jewish protests" against the concert, (no mention of the Z-word!) while depicting the leafletters from Jews Against Zionism, much to their chagrin, and giving the last word to a Zionist spokesman repeating the line that the concert ignored Jews who had died.

So the impression given viewers was - Palestinians and their supporters on one side, Jews on the other. One might have put this down to poor reporting, which was bad enough, but in fact the BBC had interviewed Debbie Fink, who was not only the singer of the cantata but the main organiser of the concert. Debbie made a point of mentioning that she was Jewish, as were many of the people supporting the concert.

Tsivi Sharett is Israeli, Steve Marks who compered is a member, like Debbie, of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and among the concert's sponsors were Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter (a Hackney lad, incidentally), Morris Farhi, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Miriam Karlin, Miriam Margolyes, Anthony Sher, Susie Orbach, Tom Stoppard and Prof.Avi Shlaim, plus Jews for Justice and the Jewish Socialists' Group.

Quite a line-up of Jewish talent, and a very different picture from the one which BBC viewers were given. Or the impression which the Zionist protestors wished to give.. But the interview with Debbie Fink and any mention of her or the others was excised from the broadcast.
Debbie complained, as did yours truly, and others (including Roland Rance of Jews Against Zionism, horrified to see himself and friends depicted as part of the Zionist protest, when they had been abused and threatened by the Zionists!)

The letter that Debbie has now received, more than three months after, is below. You may think as I do that it is inadequate, as a correction, but at least it is an admission that the BBC got it wrong.

By the way, if you'd like to see more, visit the website
where you can also order souvenir programmes, with words of the Cantata and Gregory Youtz' songs from Palestinian poems.

My previous blogs on this subject, in November:

A Night at the Empire

One State, two State, E8

BBC letter:

I believe that, in broad terms, the item was even handed in the way it reported the views of those supporting the concert and those protesting against it. However, I am concerned that this approach inadvertently created a situation where an over simplification may have mislead viewers.

Though the item made no distinction between the protesting groups, its reference to them, over shots of the protest, was immediately followed by a contribution from a protester opposed to the concert. I think this risked giving the impression to viewers that all the Jewish protestors opposed the concert, which was not, in fact, true.

Taken together with this juxtaposition, I do believe the absence of any further detail of those organising the concert gave rise to the potential for misunderstanding. In view of the circumstances surrounding the event, once the reporter included a general reference to Jewish protest there was, in my judgement, an obligation to make some allusion, however brief, to the difference of opinion within the Jewish community. To the extent that this did not happen, I am therefore upholding your complaint, and I hope you will accept my apologies on behalf of the BBC.

Fraser Steel



At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would be great to have such a concert right here in Israel. The memory of Rachel Corrie must remain alive and her MURDER must remain a thorn in the side of the Israel government.
'Never to forgive.... Never to forget'
Sound familiar?


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