Saturday, January 24, 2009

BBC's shameful "impartiality" shows inhumanity

DEMONSTRATORS will gather outside the BBC in Portland Place today for another march in support of the people of Gaza. Just when I'd guess many people were, like myself, hoping the ceasefire would give us time to relax, and reflect, and the people in Gaza the chance to bury their dead and try to rebuild their lives. But today's demonstration, at the initiative of Media Workers Against the War, who wanted to highlight bias and under reporting, has been given added point by news from the BBC itself.

I received this from a friend yesterday:


The BBC has broken a 45 year-old agreement with overseas aid charities
by refusing to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee fundraising
appeal for Gaza “to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in
the BBC’s
impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story”:

Would the BBC have done the same for Burma, Georgia, Zimbabwe or Tibet?

Complain online here: "

Julia Bard, who sent me this information, appended the letter of complaint which she had sent to the BBC:

"As a journalist and a human being who has frequently made donations as a result of appeals on BBC radio and television, I am horrified that the BBC has refused to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee fundraising appeal for Gaza 'to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story'.

Most disasters are ongoing news stories and they all have at least two sides to them.
That doesn't mean leaving people to die for lack of food, medicine and shelter. I am a Jew who, along with many Israelis and other diaspora Jews, has been watching horrified as Israel systematically smashed up an enclave crowded with civilians -- actions which both the Israeli government and the Jewish communal leadership in Britain claimed were being carried out in our name.

I am fortunate in knowing how to donate to the appeal for Gaza without getting this information from the BBC but you must be well aware that this is not the case for most of your audience. By refusing to carry this appeal you are condemning untold numbers of people to continuing suffering. I can think of many words to describe standing by while innocent civilians suffer and die for lack of humanitarian aid. 'Impartial' isn't one of them."

I think Julia's view will be shared by lots of people.

On the news today we were told that the BBC took its decision after consulting its
news editors. This does not entirely surprise me. I've noted before where the BBC's peculiar idea of "balanced reporting" led. It conspicuously failed to cover the regular suppression of civil demonstrations at Bil'in in the West Bank, even though these were drawn to its attention by British participants, and even when Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Corrigan was injured by rubber bullets. It censored out an interview with the main singer and organiser of the Skies Are Weeping concert for Rachel Corrie, held in London, giving the last word to the man from the Zionist Federation. During the recent Gaza massacre we kept seeing Israeli government spokespersons on the news, while the Palestinian envoy in London, Manuel Hassassian, didn't get a look in.
We also heard today that this refusal to broadcast an aid appeal is not the first time. They previously did it after the war in Lebanon. Consistent in one respect, then.

Of course the BBC is not alone in the British media. Just more full of shit about its "impartiality" perhaps. But this weekend Murdoch-owned Sky News was saying it would follow the BBC's lead, and it looks like others will do the same.

Nor is it only on the Middle East that BBC 'balance' has been heavily loaded. I still remember the time, early in the Bosnian war, when we were told on the news that "Muslim authorities" in Zenica were investigating the killing of an aid worker. For a moment I wondered why a police matter was being handled by a religious body, half expecting to see a turbaned imam on my screen, whereas what we saw was an ordinary-looking police officer in an ordinary police car. Then the penny dropped. Although the British government had reluctantly recognised Bosnia and Hercegovina, the country which, unlike Israel, had invaded nobody but was the victim of aggression, was under an arms embargo (unlike Israel). The Foreign Office line was that this was a three-sided war between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Douglas Hurd told us lifting the embargo would only create a "level killing field"; and throughout the conflict the Bosnians resisting the carve up were called "Muslims".

Tuzla, with its Social Democrat mayor and mixed population was described by the BBC as a "Muslim stronghold". When a mortar attack on the town centre killed 75 youth celebrating Yugoslav Youth Day the BBC rshowed its "impartiality" by refusing to interview a Tuzla parent who happened to be in London. Instead Radio 4 Today programme had the men from the right-wing Serb information centre in its studio. When General Zivjak, who commanded the Bosnian forces at Sarajevo, came here and spoke at a rally, I waited to see if the BBC would call him a "Muslim commander" - he happened to be a genuine Bosnian Serb - but no worry - the BBC did not interview nor mention him. Likewise they mised the opportunity to interview diplomat Sven Alkali on his way back from Washington. I had been waiting to hear how they would describe this Bosnian ambassador to the US who went on to become a government minister - would he be a 'Muslim Jew' or a 'Jewish Muslim'?

Of course back then one could trace the line which the BBC had adopted to
the position being taken by the Foreign Office. More generally, I am inclined to suspect Britain's colonial past has left its governing classes with a mentality which not only deals in stereotypes but assumes the lesser breeds will keep to their allotted places. Tell them a Serb is defending Sarajevo, or a Jewish woman is supporting the Palestinians and you're just not playing by their rules, old boy.

Anyway, after upsetting the Blair government, by reflecting the crisis in British politics over the Iraq war(which is when Media Workers Against the War sprang into life), the Beeb backed down with the loss of a director general and moved to the Right. Except, this time, it seems to have even gone too far for the government.

On Friday BBC director general Mark Thompson turned down a request from International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander to reconsider his decision. Another minister Ben Bradshaw has urged the BBC to "stand up" to the Israeli authorities and broadcast the appeal to raise emergency funds for Gaza. Bradshaw, himself a former BBC journalist, said that broadcasters' decision not to screen the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) was "inexplicable" and dismissed the Corporation's explanation for its position as "completely feeble".

Labour veteran Tony Benn and other MPs and celebrities taking part in today's demonstration will deliver a letter to the BBC demanding that it reverse its decision.

PHONE: 03700 100 222
TEXT: 03700 100 212

I know some BBC staff are ashamed and disgusted by their bosses' stand. But they have enough trouble keeping their jobs and trying to tell the truth, without trying to have any say in the running of things. As for we the public, we all pay for the BBC one way or another, without it seems having much influence on "our" public service broadcaster, unlike some well-funded professional lobbyists with sway in the media. It may be time to try making ourselves felt by other means.

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At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Call me cynical but:
The bbc is postering on this issue as it has been under repeated attack for its support of our incompetent government, and especially on supporting Israel over Gaza this year.
Which is also why NuLabor is now making this a grandstand issue to support aid to Gaza to show it is not influencing the bbc behind the scenes.
Also compare £25 million of our money to aid Gaza, while last year it sold a record £18 million of military hardware to Israel.


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