Friday, February 03, 2012

Another gap in the BBC's map?

IMPLYING Palestine is not free was "contentious", says the Beeb.

AMONG my prized posessions is a map. It came into our family's possession when my Dad bought a big old picture frame for summat else, and cleaned it, revealing this map of the world that was printed in 1801. Beside old ill-defined regions with names lost in legend and the mists of time, such as Tartary and Cathay, it has countries yet unsettled, like "New Holland" - Australia as we call it today.

And blank spaces, with gaps in coastlines where the mapmakers of the day were honest enough to admit that the lands lay unexplored. Terra Incognita, as they say. I'm told the map is not rare or valuable, but it was a great aid to my education and I'm only sorry I've nowhere to hang it now.

Having empty spaces and missing names from a map is another matter when the places have been erased, and it determines your picture of current affairs, and that of those who depend on you for their awareness. When it signifies not just places you have not been, but where you have decided, or been told, not to go.

I've remarked before on the US customs officers who undermined their government's official "two states" position by refusing to clear imports of Taybeh beer on the grounds they were labelled "brewed in Palestine", and they said there was no such country as Palestine. It made light of Obama's talk of pre-1967 borders, but foreshadowed US opposition to UNESCO recognition of Palestine, and Newt Gingrich's arrogant assertion that Palestinians are an "invented people".

Gingrich once seemed to have different views, urging Arab Americans to invest in Palestine, but standing for the top office is an expensive business, and some of Gingrich's current sponsors are the kind who think Palestinians ought not to exist and have no right to a place on the map.
OK, so American politicians are the best money can buy, you may sneer, but what's the BBC's excuse?

Here's an item from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign's website:

BBC Trust rules in favour of censoring 'Palestine'
The BBC has denied it was wrong to edit the word 'Palestine' from an artist's peformance on Radio 1Xtra, but has said its producers may have been 'overcautious'.

This final ruling issued at the end of January, marks the end of an eight month campaign by PSC to hold the BBC to account for its bias in censoring the lyrics 'I can scream Free Palestine for my pride/still pray for peace' from a rap performed by the artist, Mic Righteous, on 1Xtra.
In an extraordinary exchange of correspondence, during which the BBC's excuses for cutting out 'Palestine' grew ever more bizarre, one producer wrote: 'Referencing Palestine is fine, but implying that it is not free is the contentious issue'.

PSC would like to thank all our members who wrote to the BBC on this issue, and especially those who carried on the campaign for eight months.

Read PSC's press release, New Statesman article, the Washington Post and Left Foot Forward blog on the BBC's decision. PSC's Amena Saleem has written in Electronic Intifada today about the BBC's ingrained bias against Palestine. Follow the Twitter debate @PSCupdates

PSC campaigns actively against media bias, and the Mic Righteous campaign is just one of many we instigate and run.
Our aim is to try and change media coverage of Palestine for the better.

I'm not a great fan of rap music and its use in propaganda (nor of the endless circulation of posed photographs and suspect videos ) but I guess that's a generational thing. It's certainly no excuse for censoring them. Why should we accept that the name "Palestine" is unmentionable?

I used to find it irritating when some Palestinian organisations always referred to Israel if at all in inverted commas, and more often "the Zionist entity". As though pretending it was not there could make it go away. But they were refusing to recognise a state which was denying their rights and oppressing them. Whereas Palestine, whether you are referring to the clearly defined geographical area of the mandate, or those parts of it not taken up by the internationally recognised state of Israel, is not oppressing anybody.

But nor is it yet free, as anyone can ascertain by noticing the presence of barbed wire and Israeli soldiers, trying to travel without encountering a road block, or seeing those killed or injured by the occupiers. If the BBC reporters are unable to reach places like Bil'in (those inadequate maps again!) or have been advised against venturing into the Anata hills at night to see Palestinian homes being demolished, they could at least stick around Ben Gurion airport where they might have seen the Birmingham delegation that was not allowed to deliver childrens books collected for a Palestinian school. They might even have interviewed a friend of mine who was prevented from visiting his in-laws, or asked why Professor Norman Finkelstein was treated as a "security risk".

But according to the powers that be at the BBC, implying that Palestine is not free (oh gosh I'm rapping) is a "contentious issue", don't you see?

As it happens this is not the first or only time I've noticed the BBC's erasure of some countries or nationalities.

During the early part of the Bosnian war I was puzzled one day to hear a BBC news reader saying that "Muslim authorities" were investigating the suspicious death of an aid worker, near the town of Zenica. Thinking it was strange that such a matter was being entrusted to the religious authorities, I came into my room where the television showed not some cleric in a green turban but a policeman, in a police car, going up a hill.

Then it dawned on me. Although the British government, perhaps under pressure, had recognised Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Foreign Office under Douglas Hurd (and some British military commanders) were carrying on as if Bosnia was just -"the Muslims", one of three warring factions supposedly consumed by age-old hatreds, and neither entitled to defend itself nor get a fair hearing on the Beeb. The term "the Muslims" became de rigur, so that the only time you heard the word "Bosnian" was when Karadzic's forces were referred to as the "Bosnian Serbs". No wonder the poor listeners and viewers got confused. I think they were meant to be.

When Bosnian army General Divjak, who happened to be an ethnic Serb, came to London, I wondered how the BBC would describe him. Likewise Bosnia's ambassador in Washington, Sven Alkalaj, currently Foreign Minister, whom being of Sefardi background they might have to introduce as a "Muslim Jew"! But I need not have worried. So far as I know such visitors simply did not make it to the microphones, unlike the Serb information Centre in London, (staffed by Royalists!), who seemed to have a season ticket to the BBC.

If that was down to government pressure and/or old Establishment links, the reason for preventing the name Palestine disturbing listeners is less clear. But it goes with the BBC's refusal to broadcast a charities' appeal for Gaza, as if the amount of damage and suffering inflicted on people there was also "contentious", and with the failure to cover many issues and struggles in the occupied territories , even when internationals like Nobel prizewinner Mairead Corrigan have been injured.

This week some villagers in the Jordan valley went on humger strike hoping to attract world attention. The French-based company Veolia which is out to expand its contracts in Britain, is implicated in occupation activties in the Jordan valley, as well as in the ring of settlements around east Jerusalem. Let's see what publicity is given to the hunger strikers, trying to resist occupation by peaceful means. I wish PSC and others trying to oppose media bias and censorship the best of luck.

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