Monday, July 21, 2014
Is the BBC really pro-Israel?
By Tom Gross, July 19, 2014
The National Post
Some 5,000 rowdy demonstrators chanting anti-Israeli (and, in some cases, blatantly anti-Semitic) slogans brought traffic to a virtual standstill outside the BBC’s central London headquarters in Portland Place last week. They were protesting what they claim to be the BBC’s “pro-Israel” bias.
The next day, the BBC flagship Today radio news program (a program which is near compulsory listening for the British political elite, including the prime minister), ran an item on the demonstration, examining the absurd proposition that the BBC – which for decades has been at the forefront of providing a worldwide platform for Palestinian extremists (one correspondent, Barbara Plett, even admitted on air that she cried in sorrow when Yasser Arafat died) – was in fact “pro-Israel.”
“Are the protesters right? Have we been biased at the BBC in favor of Israel?” BBC anchor Mishal Husain asked her guest Greg Philo, professor of Communications and Social Change at Glasgow University.
Philo responded: “I’ve had many senior journalists at the BBC saying they simply can’t get the Palestinian viewpoint across… the Palestinian perspective is just not there.”
Leaving aside Husain’s own bias against Israel, which was well documented by watchdog organizations at the time of the last major Hamas-Israel flare-up in November 2012, the claim by Philo, and the choice to use him as the studio guest, is bizarre.
Indeed, Gaza seems to dominate BBC foreign coverage — so much so that thousands of people killed last week in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya and various African conflicts have barely been mentioned.
“The BBC has had way more people in Gaza just this week than they had in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq war, more than they ever had in Basra and more than they have had in Afghanistan,” a friend of mine, a seasoned British war correspondent who has extensively covered the Afghan and Iraq wars, wrote to me this week. The British, American and other militaries have killed far more people in both Afghanistan and Iraq than Israel has ever killed in Gaza. And of course Afghans and Iraqis haven’t fired thousands of rockets indiscriminately into British and American cities.
Those BBC correspondents in Gaza (Jeremy Bowen, Lyse Doucet, Paul Adams, Yolande Knell, Quentin Sommerville, Rushdi Abualouf, Shahdi al Kashif, and several others reporting on Gaza from elsewhere including James Reynolds, Kevin Connolly and Jonathan Marcus) have this week, as they have for years, presented Palestinian claims against Israel in the most graphic detail.
And many of those Palestinian claims are misleading at best. On Friday, for example, a BBC reporter in Gaza, replying to the question about how ordinary Palestinians were coping “with Israeli actions,” informed us that “no one has any electricity.”
What he didn’t say, and what the BBC anchor didn’t point out, is that the reason that 70,000 Gazans (not “all Gazans”) have been left without electricity is because Hamas – not Israel – fired a rocket that hit a Gaza power line. (By contrast, NATO did “bomb Serbia into darkness” in 1999, and the U.S. did so in Iraq both in the Gulf War and in 2003.)
Indeed the BBC, along with most of the international media, have failed to tell us that quite a number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza were the result of misfired Palestinian rockets. Last week alone, at least 100 Hamas rockets accidently hit targets within Gaza.
The BBC (and other media) barely mentioned that on Friday – under pressure from Israel and the U.S. – the UN agency UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) admitted that 20 Hamas rockets have been stored at an UNRWA school in Gaza. This is, of course, not news to people who follow the region closely; Hamas has for years stored and fired its arsenals at Israel from or near hospitals, schools, ambulances and mosques, in multiple breaches of international law.
A report by BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Adams was one of several on the network in recent days to make use of a Nazi analogy. Israel, we were told, had made “a concentration camp of 1.8 million people.” Other BBC reports made the ridiculous claim that Palestinians were “starving for the past 8 years” (Click here to see photos of food of “Gazans preparing for Ramadan” last month)
To its credit, “BBC Trending” – one small part of the vast network of TV, radio and online channels that comprises the BBC – ran an item this month admitting that pictures of alleged victims of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza were inaccurate, some for example, actually showing scenes from Syria and Iraq. One photo circulated by Hamas last week purported to show a teenager in Gaza killed by an Israeli airstrike. It was, in fact, a still image from the Hollywood horror film Final Destination 4.
But what the “BBC Trending” item didn’t point out is that some of the most senior BBC correspondents in the Middle East, such as former Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison, have been responsible for sending out inaccurate photos on their BBC Twitter feeds.
Of course it is not only the BBC who are allowing their prejudices to get in the way of balanced reporting. On Friday, for example, one of CNN’s Gaza correspondents, Diana Magnay, sent out a tweet calling Israelis “scum” (CNN has since apologized and reassigned Magnay to Russia.) But can you imagine the outcry if she had called Palestinians, or Muslims, “scum”?
Jon Stewart, on the Daily Show, called Hamas “Freedom Fighters.” That’s not very funny for the five million Israelis – 80% of the population – who have had to cower in bomb shelters this past week. And it’s not funny for the Gazans who live under Hamas’s highly oppressive rule and risk their lives if they dare to criticize the regime. Also unfunny was the Washington Post’s Wednesday cartoon, which depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly punching a Palestinian baby.
Peter Beaumont, the correspondent for the influential British paper The Guardian has (as of July 17) run 20 articles on the current Gaza conflict, comprising 18,886 words butnot one report of his has properly explained Hamas’ use of human shields – even though this is crucial to understanding the situation and Hamas itself has repeatedly boasted of this policy as an effective way to deter Israel from attacking its rocket launchers. By contrast, the Arab media has been full of reports on the use of human shields (which is a war crime under international law).
Indeed people in the West might not realize it, but many Arab media are far more honest about the ills of Hamas than we might find in the West.
“Thank you Netanyahu and may God give us more [people] like you to destroy Hamas!” wrote Azza Sami in the leading Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. On Egyptian TV, several commentators said they were “sick and tired” of Hamas. There have been similar sentiments in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and even in the Fatah-controlled West Bank. So the next time 5,000 rowdy demonstrators take to the street to protest Western media’s supposed “pro-Israel” bias, they might want to keep in mind the history, the facts and what Arab media are saying about Hamas.