BBC Respond to ‘Newsnight’ complaint

Complaint regarding “Newsnight” on BBC2

Dear Gerald McCusker,

Thank you for your response to my complaint about the ‘Newsnight’ broadcast on 19 January 2010. You correctly anticipated that I would not be satisfied with your reply.

Far from engaging with ‘military matters’ the segment by Colonel Tim Collins made no effort to analyse the military aspect of the attack on Gaza with any pretence at objectivity. If this had been the case why were we not shown the extent of Israel’s military might? The Israeli army is the fourth largest in the world and has a vast range of munitions from nuclear to buzzing drones that are partly for surveillance (not a cat’s whisker moves in Gaza without the Israeli military knowing about it) and partly for psychological warfare (they are constantly overhead, ‘like having a wasp in your ear’ as one Palestinian has described it).

By making out that homemade rockets pose a threat to the Israeli army’s arsenal as if there were two equally powerful sides, your programme set out to give credence to Israel’s propagandising justification for its blitz on Gaza using weapons of mass destruction such as phospherous bombs.

This ‘soldier’s view’ was biased against the Palestinian people and Colonel Collins’  ‘military eye’ was turned away from Israel’s massive armoury.

Regarding your point that overall context of the piece was clear, this was far from the case. By suggesting that that the level of resistance to Israel’s onslaught merited its description of ‘military matters’ and ‘soldier’s eye’ is to grossly distort the facts. The Palestinians do not possess an army. The Gazans do not possess any military equipment at all that is capable of confronting the Israeli Army. How is a ‘soldier’s eye’ appropriate in this one-sided situation? The entire commentary was from the point of view of the Israeli side and was completely biased and a distortion of facts on the ground.

This being the case, I wish to take my complaint to the next stage of the process.

Thank you for your help with this.

Yours sincerely,

Diane Langford

Dear Ms Langford

Thanks for your e-mail regarding ‘Newsnight’ broadcast 19 January 2010.

I understand you’re concerned by Colonel Tim Collins’ report in this particular programme and I note you feel that it offered a unbalanced and biased account of the situation in Gaza.

I’m sorry you were unhappy with our authored report by Colonel Tim Collins. It was not meant to provide a political analysis of the conflict. As was made clear in the introduction to the piece we were giving a “soldier’s view” of the conflict, introducing Colonel Tim Collins as a “celebrated war veteran,” indicating that this was a piece offering a personal view based on his military experience.

The overall context of the piece was clear, in the introduction we said that a year ago “the Israeli army was readying itself to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, after a three-week campaign which led to accusations of war crimes.” We then go on to say 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the conflict.

As a soldier, he examined the evidence at the mosque – and gave his opinion – in fact he used those words “my opinion” – about the cause of the secondary explosions that he had discerned. He didn’t talk about Goldstone and the wider context because he was just reporting with his military eye on what he was able to see on the ground.

The piece was not intended as a comprehensive report but a ‘what I was able to see and reflect upon’ authored piece about military matters that, while a personal view, nonetheless took pains to steer clear of the perceived political rights and wrongs of the conflict.

We have covered the Gaza incursion on ‘Newsnight’ in many ways, and this piece should be seen as one perspective in our overall coverage. The role of ‘Newsnight’ as a news and current affairs programme is to give our viewers distinctive coverage from the news bulletins and to offer new perspectives on long-running stories, and so engage our viewers. This is what we were attempting to do with this piece.

However I note the strength of your feelings in relation to this matter and accept that you may continue to disagree and I’d like to take a moment to assure you that I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log.

This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all news programme makers within the BBC, and also their senior management.

Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.


Gerald McCusker

BBC Complaints

BBC2 Newsnight, complaint

Newsnight, Tuesday 19th January 2010

I was repelled by the ‘Newsnight’ segment featuring Colonel Tim Collins on Tuesday night. He was on an obvious mission to justify the Israeli massacre in Gaza that occurred a year ago. Given the BBC’s callous refusal to publicise The DEC appeal that followed this inhuman and, universally acknowledged, disproportionate attack, it is astonishing that you would follow this up with a downright justification of Israel’s horrific war crimes. The BBC’S claim to impartiality has been completely discredited by this sequence of events.

Colonel Collins, who has been compared to a character out of ‘Apocalypse Now,’ made no effort to make sense of the numbers of deaths involved: 13 Israelis (four of those were ‘friendly fire’, 1,400 Palestinians, involving hundreds of civilians, including women and children. Instead, he seemed unmoved by the evidence in front of him and chose only to see Hamas posters and interview the usual suspects in their ‘lair’ with an arsenal consisting of homemade rockets.

At Sderot, his guide was Mickey Roosevelt, ‘from North London’ who showed Colonel Collins the rockets collected since 2000 which have caused so little damage. He was not taken to review Israel’s arsenal of F16s, nuclear weapons, phosphorous bombs and all the other paraphanalia of the world’s fourth largest army. It was as if Israel was the unarmed victim, living in fear of having homes demolished, schools flattened and hundreds of civilians slaughtered.

The programme presented a complete distortion of the facts and made no attempt to inform, provide context, or even the slightest attempt at impartiality.

Colonel Collins is well-known for his gung-ho speeches (‘show them no mercy’, ‘we are their nemesis’) and boasts of his war record in the most brutal military interventions of the past decades. ‘Not as bad as Faluja,’ he commented, eyeing a flattened mosque. He claimed to have found proof of weapons having been stored in the crypt of this building, but there was no evidence shown on camera.

As he toured the region in an Israeli-piloted helicopter, he flew over Qalqilya, one of the Palestinian towns most grievously affected by Israel’s apartheid wall. ‘It’s to protect the main road,’ said the pilot, speaking of an Israeli-only road built on stolen Palestinian land.

Given the BBC’s complete blanking of the recent VivaPalestina Convoy, the Gaza Freedom March, and other efforts by civil society humanitarian activists from around the world, the programme takes on a special meaning. The depth of the BBC’s bias is demonstrated across the entire output of your programming and not only by the skewed nature of this particular item on ‘Newsnight.’

Israel is Bad News

Israel wants to be seen as a normal country while claiming exemption from international norms. It must twist the truth to play the victim, hide its brutal features, the occupation, the Wall, the Law of Return. Unrelenting hasbara (Heb. explanation/propaganda) is its only recourse. Wars that were months, sometimes years, in the making are backed up with scripts casting atrocities as benign. Last December Mark Regev and Major Avital Leibowitz stood by in well-equipped press facilities on the border, rehearsing predetermined denials before the first soldier set foot in Gaza.

Leibowitz, Deputy Spokesperson for the IDF, says its spokesperson’s office has opened up a 24-hour North American desk, a European desk, a Russian desk, a Latin American desk, a new Arabic desk, as well as a film and photo desk. She described three main objectives, ‘maximizing access for news media, twenty-four hour availability, and showing the human face of the IDF.’ Indignant assertions that the IDF is the ‘world’s most moral army’ spew down the wires.

The foreign ministry’s deputy director for cultural affairs, Arye Mekel, recently declared, ‘We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, plus theatre companies, exhibits. This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.’

Israeli Embassies around the world dictate terms of reference such as ‘disputed territories’ and ensure that Jerusalem is referred to as the capital of Israel. Many succumb to the constant barrage of zionist hasbara from cyber ops such as Honest Reporting, BBC Watch, The Jewish Internet Defence Force, Tom Gross Media and the use of downloadable gizmos like Giyus.

A network of emailers and bloggers, known as The Hasbara Brigade, supports Israel’s governmental, military and ‘diplomatic’ hasbara, demanding apologies, retractions and resignations. Suppression is the objective and Karl Sabbagh believes ‘for this to succeed it must be directed at people who are unfamiliar with the issues and who might be persuaded that they have somehow “got it wrong.”’

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) sent hundreds of lobbyists urging Members of Congress sign a letter to President Obama demanding Israel be ‘allowed to set the pace of any future negotiations.’ sent up to 6,000 emails a day to CNN executives, paralysing their system. The Jewish Internet Defence Force focuses on sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Google Earth, taking control of social networking groups campaigning for Palestinian human rights and dismantling them.

Jim Hoagland revealed in The Washington Post ‘a queasiness between the two allies (USA and Israel) that cannot be publicly discussed by either without damaging political consequences.’ [April 26, 2009) That is hasbara at work.

Far from a heterogeneous ‘Jewish conspiracy’ the most influential purveyors of pressure and misinformation are united by a common neo-con agenda, not by race or religion. The intimidating spectre of Rupert Murdoch, personal friend of Ariel Sharon, haunts the newsrooms of London, Sydney and New York. On January 26, 2009, a London Times editorial parroted Murdoch’s Newscorp mantra: ‘Israel is better than its enemies…The bitter lesson of this war is that Hamas cannot be allowed to win.’ For ‘Hamas’ read ‘Palestinians’ and you get the drift.

Sam Kiley once wrote of the fear Murdoch instils, ‘The Times foreign editor and other middle managers flew into hysterical terror every time a pro-Israel lobbying group wrote in with a quibble or complaint, and then usually took their side against their own correspondent—deleting words and phrases from the lexicon to rob its reporters of the ability to make sense of what was going on.’ [6th September 2001, ‘Middle East War of Words,’ Evening Standard.]

Associated Newspapers’ Daily Mail with over two million readers always mirrors Israel’s pronouncements,‘Revealed: UNRWA spokesman who lied about Israel’s shelling of a school previously worked at the BBC with Jeremy Bowen.’ [January 9, 2009]

An example of the solidarity Israel receives from other colonial settler societies and their presses was the walkout in Geneva at The Durban Review Conference, ‘A great victory,’ Shimon Peres crowed. The influence of hasbara was noticeable in coverage of the event.

Haider Eid, writing about The Durban Review Conference for Maan, reminds us,

‘The conflict has been misrepresented, by CNNized mainstream media owned by those who decided to boycott the DRC, as a “war” between “two sides.” In fact, as I have argued, and as the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said put it, there are not two sides involved in the “violence” in the Middle East. There is a colonial state turning all its great power against a stateless people, repeatedly made refugees – a dispossessed people, bereft of arms with the aim of destroying this people.’

A sign that the tide is turning came when former Evening Standard editor Max Hastings wrote in the Guardian on Saturday, 9th May, 2009, that he has ‘fallen out of love with Israel.’ He spoke for many more journalists and editors who, for decades, unquestioningly tolled the bell for the zionist state but are now wearying of its needy, megaphonic demands.

Max Hastings’ article can be read in full at:

Media Manipulators, David Leigh in The Guardian

Media manipulators

How a north London web-designer began a campaign that deluged the Guardian with emails

More net news

David Leigh


Thursday February 22, 2001

Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification for the multiple murder of innocent Israeli civilians?

It’s a pretty bizarre question, but we found ourselves being asked it over and over again this week. Emails clicked in to the letters page by the hundred, all making the same weirdly alliterative points. This followed publication of a Guardian article trying to understand the motivations of the Palestinian bus driver who ploughed into a queue this month, killing eight Israelis.

The mysteriously similar emails – from all over the world – started coming in, too, to our foreign editor; to our website; and to the personal email address of our Middle East correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg.

They were inconvenient, and also sometimes a bit scary in their violent tone – “The bloody Guardian… Have you killed a Jew today?… Are you anti-Jewish?… Unrelenting Guardian anti-Israel bias… Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification etc…?’

This global blitzing was tending to crowd out genuine expressions of opinion from our readers. Our suspicions aroused, we tried to discover what was going on. It wasn’t straightforward. But eventually we discovered the trick. A website calling itself was set up in London last autumn.

It has recruited 12,000 subscribers to its database, it claims, all dedicated to fighting anti-Israel “bias” in the media. The aim was to recruit a total of 25,000.

Every time someone writes something they don’t like, details of the offending article are circulated round the world, together with a handy form of protesting words, ready to be lightly embroidered and electronically dispatched at the push of a button.

“This is what you should do,” they tell their members “Forward it on to the news company concerned at the email address provided. If you can, please change the subject of the email to ‘complaint’ or something similar.”

Their first success, HonestReporting boasted, was with the London Evening Standard. Its columnist Brian Sewell wrote last autumn calling on Israel to “become a multicultural society” and cease exploiting the Holocaust to justify unacceptable behaviour.

“The next day, [we] sent out a letter to subscribers.” Standard articles recorded “a wave of complaints… hundreds of Jewish readers have written in”. Then “after more pressure” there followed a pro-Israel article by Simon Sebag-Montefiore. “This is an example of what we can do.”

And now it was the Guardian’s turn to get the email treatment. A long electronic bulletin went out headed: “The Guardian: a mainstream British newspaper consistently blames Israel for everything.”

It complained that a Steve Bell cartoon showing Sharon’s bloody handprints on the Wailing Wall “encroaches on brash anti-semitism”. It complained that a Muslim, Faisal Bodi, had written questioning Israel’s right to statehood; and complained that the Guardian had said Sharon had killed the peace process. “No blame is assigned to Arafat.” And there too, was our old alliterative friend: “Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification…?”

Who was behind this internet harassment? The website gave no address. It had been registered last October under a London name and phone number that seemed not to exist. Eventually, it transpired that it had been set up by a 27-year-old Jewish web-designer from north London called Jonathan. “Don’t give my full name,” he asked. “Someone was killed in Stamford Hill [the Jewish district] the other day.” He and his friends came up with the idea by themselves: “We were just brainstorming.”

But the operation was now being funded and run from the US by an organisation concerned with media fairness, Media Watch International.

And who were they? “We’re pretty new,” says their director, Sharon Tzur, speaking from Manhattan. “It’s a group of concerned Jewish business people in New York.”

Yet a bit more inquiry reveals that this is not quite the whole story either. For this week’s bulletin denouncing the Guardian was in fact composed in Israel by a man named Shraga Simmons.

And when he is not working for HonestReporting, Mr Simmons is to be found employed at another organisation altogether – Aish HaTora. This is an international group promoting orthodox Judaism. “I do some work for Aish,” Mr Simmons says, from Israel. And Jonathan, the web-designer who started it all in London, also concedes: “I go to the odd class at Aish.”

Aish verge on the colourful in their antics. Founded by Rabbi Noah Weinberg, who complains that “20,000 kids a year” are being lost to Judaism by marrying out, Aish invented speed-dating – eight-minute sessions in cafes to help New Yorkers find compatible Jewish partners. They’re widely regarded as rightwing extremists. And they’re certainly not people entitled to harass the media into what they would call “objectivity”.

In the US and Britain, there is a campaign to smear anybody who tries to describe the plight of the Palestinian people. It is an attempt to intimidate and silence – and to a large degree, it works….

There was little attempt to dispute the facts I offered. Instead, some of the most high profile “pro-Israel” writers and media monitoring groups – including Honest Reporting and Camera – said I am an anti-Jewish bigot akin to Joseph Goebbels and Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh, while Melanie Phillips even linked the stabbing of two Jewish people in North London to articles like mine. Vast numbers of e-mails came flooding in calling for me to be sacked.

BBC Betrays Jeremy Bowen

Beeb betrays Bowen

After witnessing his local colleague and driver, Abed Takkoush, being incinerated by an Israeli tank near the Lebanese border in 2000, Jeremy Bowen was shot at himself. Andrew Balcombe, Zionist Federation Chair, immediately wrote to the BBC Trust demanding Bowen’s removal as Middle East Editor claiming that this incident – a ‘tragic mistake’ – ‘may have coloured (his) views about Israel.’ Ever since, the zionists have been gunning for Bowen, unearthing internal emails in which he carried out his remit of reviewing the situation in the Middle East for fellow staffers, and claiming in the Jerusalem Post, ‘Jeremy Bowen faces Mecca while he writes for the BBC.’

New efforts to undermine him have resulted in the BBC Trust caving in to the ZF and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (Camera).  Complaints that Bowen’s online analysis, How 1967 defined the Middle East and his report From Our Own Correspondent BBC Radio 4, 12 January 2008 were ‘chronically biased’ came from Jonathan Turner of the ZF and from Camera. Even though the Trust only upheld three out of 24 specific complaints, this has been spun as a huge victory and Turner called Bowen’s position ‘untenable.’ The 118-page report published by the BBC Trust was lambasted for ‘failing to offer correctional steps.’  The complainants even claimed BBC editorial guidelines are ‘illegal.’

For describing Jebel Abu Ghoneim (Har Homa) as ‘a big concrete housing development,’ when the complainant insisted that the buildings were faced with Jerusalem stone, Bowen was accused of using language that ‘appears to be calculated to promote hatred of the Jewish state and the Jews.’

His statement: ‘For Palestinians, the settlements are a catastrophe, made worse every day by the fact that they are expanding fast’ was upheld as accurate, even though the complainant argued that the settlements were ‘beneficial economically’ to the Palestinians, are ‘not expanding’ and they are ‘militarily necessary for Israel’s security.’ Another of Bowen’s statements that annoyed the ZF was that Israel was ‘in defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own.’ This time, the Trust found that Bowen’s language was ‘imprecise’ and suggested he should have qualified ‘everyone’ with ‘nearly everyone.’

The BBC Trust claims that Bowen’s online piece ‘breached the rules on impartiality’ because readers might come away from it thinking that the interpretation offered was the only sensible view of the1967 war. As Robert Fisk commented: ‘…I suppose the BBC believes that Israel’s claim to own land which in fact belongs to other people is another “sensible” view of the war.’ The Independent journalist admits feeling nauseous every time he types ‘Trust’ into his laptop. ‘…That word,’ he wrote, ‘which so dishonours everything about the BBC.’

Anthony Lerman observed in the Guardian: ‘There’s something faintly distasteful about the whole exercise…one wonders whether people behaving like vexatious litigants should really be given such credence.’

The ZF submitted that the number of complaints to the BBC from pro-Palestinian groups has reduced over the past three years; hence, the BBC must be pro-Palestinian.

The BBC Trust’s report can be read in full at:

Meanwhile, the long-running Freedom of Information case between Steven Sugar and the BBC over publication of the Balen Report is back in the High Court. The ZF manufactured a storm over an internal document produced by a senior editorial adviser hired in 2004.  They are hopeful that Malcolm Balen, appointed to appease the zionist lobby, found the BBC was biased against Israel.  The corporation is appealing a House of Lords ruling that overturned a previous decision that the report was ‘for the purposes of journalism’ and therefore exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

None of Balen’s public comments indicate his report would be anything other than bland. The Thomas Report, an independent inquiry commissioned by the BBC Governors in 2006, took Balen’s findings into account. They concluded, far from being biased against Israel, the BBC had work to do to make their coverage more even-handed.

BBC news managers responded to Thomas: ‘An internal BBC News review, led by senior editorial adviser Malcolm Balen, led to greater resources being allocated to the Middle East and the appointment of a specific editor, veteran foreign correspondent Jeremy Bowen.’

BBC Impartiality Review (4)

Stuart Purvis comments:

Stewart Purvis

The Guardian, Monday 20 November 2006

Purivs wrote: Earlier this year I was a member of the independent panel set up by the BBC governors to review the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We reported on the high number of emails we had received from abroad, mostly from North America, and the evidence of pressure group involvement. A majority of email correspondents thought that the BBC was anti-Israel, however if the emails that could be identified as coming from abroad were excluded, the opposite was true – more people thought the BBC anti-Palestinian or pro-Israel.

One particular target has been the respected French TV correspondent, Charles Enderlin, whose Palestinian cameraman filmed 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura being shot and killed, as his father tried to shield him at the start of the second intifada. Enderlin accused Israeli troops of shooting and killing the boy. French supporters of Israel went online to claim the report was a distortion based on faked footage. His network, France 2, responded with legal action and, last month, in the first of four individual cases, a French court found the organiser of a self-styled media watchdog website guilty of libel.

Another online target has been the TV footage of bloodshed on a Gaza beach earlier this year. A Palestinian girl was seen screaming as she saw the bodies of dead family members killed by what Palestinians allege was Israeli shellfire. When I mentioned the impact of these pictures at last week’s conference, members of the audience shouted “staged”.

One person came up to me afterwards to suggest that the family had somehow died somewhere else and that their bodies had been moved to the beach to be filmed. Where, for instance, was all the blood? I pointed out that I had seen everything that the cameraman had shot and that some pictures were too gruesome to be shown.

It is clear that the government of Israel wants to fight back against the impact of foreign media pictures like these. Amir Gissin talked last week of plans to get Israeli video onto sites like YouTube which he said were viewed by opinion “shapers”. And his cousin Dr Ra’anan Gissin, formerly Ariel Sharon’s media adviser, has endorsed the idea of having picture power at the country’s disposal ready for future conflicts. Referring to Israel’s opponents, he put it in his usual direct way: “You need to shoot a picture before you shoot them.” Stewart Purvis is professor of Television Journalism at City University in London. He is a former chief executive and editor-in-chief of ITN.

BBC Impartiality Review (3)

Diane Langford and Robert Robinson gave oral evidence to the BBC Governors’ Independent Review Panel, Chaired by Sir Quintin Thomas.

Members of the panel were welcoming and attentive. The meeting lasted for just under an hour. We began by explaining  PSC’s aims, emphasising our independence, non-party political nature and the diversity both of our membership and partner organisations.  We stressed that we work within the framework of international and human rights law and suggested that the BBC should do the same in its coverage and terminology.

Our proposal that panel members should visit Palestine to acquaint themselves with the situation was received with non-committal smiles. One panel member told us that he found his experience of visiting Gaza reflected in our ‘interesting’ written submission. [See this blog for written submission]

The panel was told how perplexing our members find it that the BBC fails to report what is going on in Palestine when information is widely available from reliable sources. Generally BBC coverage is seen as a parallel universe – far from the one that actually exists on the ground. That the BBC shapes the news rather than reporting it is completely unacceptable.

Examples given included the false impression of two equal sides, failure to provide basic context, failure to mention occupation, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Among other issues covered were the BBC’s failure to explain the original dispossession, its constant reference to Israel’s ‘War of Independence’, repeated misinformation such as referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and uncritically supporting Israel’s repudiation of international law, amounting to collusion with an illegal occupation.

We also took issue with what is NOT said: no sense of the sheer scale of

dispossession, the racism suffered by indigenous Palestinians inside Israel, dearth of maps, and completely invisibilising non-violent resistance.

We reiterated our complaint about the lack of Palestinian voices, citing ‘Women’s Hour’ as culpable. Fresh examples of distortion were given, for example, the BBC’s pusillanimous coverage of Sharon’s illness in which they presented him as a ‘man of peace’, contrasting with Lindsey Hillsum’s nuanced report for Channel 4 in which she acknowledged the fact that there is no peace process – specifically mentioning that disengagement from Gaza was a move to consolidate colonies in the West Bank.

There was a discussion on the failure of the BBC as a public service broadcaster to call Israel to account, perceived as the corporation’s unquestioningly acceptance of the impunity bestowed on Israel by its powerful friends. We also discussed the ways in which the BBC bows to pressure from the Israeli Embassy, tailoring language and muzzling its own journalists.

Robert handed the panel a draft suggestion for the BBC Website regarding settlements and spoke about settler violence and the consensus amongst international human rights lawyers on the subject.

Finally we expressed the hope that the review will be seen as an opportunity to set things right. If the BBC starts to live up to its obligations as public service broadcaster this will have been a worthwhile exercise. DL

BBC Impartiality Review (2)

BBC Flunks Impartiality Test

Diane Langford

A report commissioned by its governors has told the BBC it must do better. An independent review panel chaired by Sir Quentin Thomas, highlighted ‘failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation.’  The panel’s conclusions are backed by new research from Loughborough University that shows six times as many Israeli fatalities as Palestinian deaths were reported in news and current affairs programmes over the period under review, despite many more actual Palestinian deaths. It also confirms the noticeable disparity in favour of Israelis in BBC ‘talk-time’ taken as a whole.

In a letter to The Guardian [May 4, 2006] Greg Philo, co-author of ‘Bad News from Israel,’ pointed out that these figures represent a more extreme ratio than found by Glasgow Media Group three years ago, indicating that BBC bias has become even more pronounced. He asks: why has this situation been allowed to continue and what will the BBC now do to offer a better informed coverage?

The Thomas Report recommends “the BBC should make purposive, and not merely reactive, efforts to explain the complexities of the conflict in the round, including the marked disparity between the positions of the two sides, and to overcome the high level of incomprehension among the audience.” The broadcaster is urged to consider the case for basing a correspondent in the West Bank to facilitate access “particularly once the barrier is complete.”

While it deals effectively with glaring deficiencies in BBC coverage which are hard to ignore, at times the report comes across as callously indifferent, as in the observation: “In recent years (When has it been otherwise? DL) many more Palestinians have been killed but usually in circumstances which are less dramatic and give rise to less striking images. Moreover, leaving aside death and injury, much of the Palestinian suffering arises from the situation of displacement and occupation, which does not generally lend itself to the newsworthy event.”

It is suggested that news stories are chosen on the basis of the pictures available to accompany them. In light of this, it is curious that one of the most newsworthy and iconic symbols of occupation, the Apartheid Wall, is so shyly peeked at by BBC cameras. The report does not say what it would take for the BBC to get excited about economic strangulation, starvation and state terror. However there is recognition that news and current affairs programmes are as much a construct as is a soap opera: there must be a choice of subject, presentation decisions, narrative framework, context setting and the selection of angles of vision. Journalists, producers, editors and the BBC as an institution should be fully conscious that a ‘human construct’ is being created, declares the report, and must take responsibility for their crucial interpretive role in that process.

All this could be applied to the report: itself a construct on every level, sugaring the pill for the BBC by conferring a gold standard upon ‘the majority’ of its output, and appeasing the Israeli notion of a ‘dual narrative’ in which ethnic cleansing, land theft and human rights violations are reduced to a mere ‘mindset.’ Zionist myths are accorded the status of legitimate narrative. The choice of an Israeli lawyer, Noam Lubell, to produce a paper on international law, is puzzling given the nature of an exercise aimed at establishing impartiality. Lubell gets it badly wrong in his appraisal of the ICJ ruling, ignoring the role of the Wall in illegal annexation of Palestinian land. The choice of experts on the Middle East invited for a seminar with the Panel also displayed a narrow ‘angle of vision’ and the organisations and individuals invited to give written and oral evidence mirrored the asymmetry referred to in the report. Heavy hitters, including Gideon Meir and Daniel Shek, put Israel’s case, while the Palestinians and their supporters were unable to match the resources of the Israeli Government and Embassy.

Lubell’s contribution has been used by the panel to help determine terminology: should the BBC use ‘occupied’ or ‘disputed’ lands? When giving oral evidence for PSC, we were told the BBC style book calls for the use of ‘occupied territory’ but this is not followed consistently. ‘Targeted killings’ is the term preferred by the panel for Israel’s illegal assassinations. Discussing the use of words deriving from the root ‘terror’ (ism/ist etc) the report acknowledges that state terrorism should be named as such, and puts the issue into the context of attacks on civilians, recalling terrorist acts by the Zionist. If those described as terrorists don’t like it, suggests the report, they can always cease the activities that give rise to the label. However, when describing the concerns of pro-Israeli witnesses regarding ‘tendentious’ reporting of Israeli actions as possibly triggering anti-semitism, the panel refrained from issuing similar advice.

The BBC is commended for appointing Malcolm Balen as senior adviser in late 2003 when relations between Israel and the BBC were at an all-time low. In a Haaretz interview Balen expressed his view of  accusations of anti-semitism aimed at the BBC.

“I know there is a widespread belief, and it quite shocked me on taking this job, that if the BBC gets something wrong, or the nuances are misplaced, there is now a virtually automatic assumption that the BBC had done that because it is biased against Israel, or worse, anti-Semitic,” he says. “It is very difficult for sections of the audience to accept that the BBC got something wrong – it is maybe because it got it wrong, and not because it is biased. This situation polarized the debate and it is very difficult to get the editorial debate back on pragmatic level.”

Balen complains of Israel’s “megaphone diplomacy,” which he says thwarts possible dialogue. He offers as an example the leak of a letter from Natan Sharansky to the BBC. Sharansky claimed that a report on Hussam Abdu, a Palestinian youth who was caught at the Hawara roadblock wearing an explosive belt, was marked by an anti-Semitic bias.

”The letter,” says Balen, “was leaked to the media and became a public debate, [concerning] whether the BBC is anti-Semitic, based on this single report. Rather, it should have been a private debate about the editorial content of that report. Now, any viewer and any listener is perfectly entitled to ask questions about our coverage, but once it comes associated with allegations of anti-Semitism based on an individual report, the BBC could have done nothing else but to rebut that claim and defend itself robustly. We are so far removed from what should be the case, which is a pragmatic, sensible debate, where the two sides can understand each other better. I now get calls from government officials in Israel and they are legitimate, sensible editorial conversations, which is the way we should have a debate.”

While Malcom Balen’s appointment is praised, the panel goes on to recommend the creation of another, more senior post, to improve ‘grip’ and provide firmer guidance. Perhaps they were too polite to mention the worsening bias towards Israel and audience incomprehension unearthed by the Loughborough study, happened under Balen’s watch.

Complaints from viewers and listeners ‘sometimes seem to be treated as a necessary nuisance and dealt with defensively.’ It is not enough for the BBC to say that as there are complaints from both sides their coverage is about right. This kind of complacency would not be acceptable, says the report.

Over 700 emails and around 80 letters from the public arrived for the panel between 3rd October and 25th October 2005. ‘Pressure group activity could be seen in the number of identical letters or parts of letters. A large number of pro-Israeli supporters emailed from the United States, often with the same complaint, on the same date and/or from the same state:’ a reminder of the effectiveness of using your own words when complaining.

Despite its shortcomings, the Report is a useful tool for challenging bias and distortion, not only in BBC coverage but that of the entire mainstream media. PSC’s submission to the panel is on our website under ‘PSC News.’

The Thomas Report and appendices:

Press Statement issued by the Board of Governors:

PSC thanks everyone who made individual representations to the BBC Governors’ Impartiality Review. If you would like to be more involved in media work, please contact the office to join our media group.

BBC Impartiality Review (1)


Sir Quentin Thomas, CB,

Israeli-Palestinian Impartiality Review,

BBC Governance Unit,

Room 211,

35 Marylebone High Street,

London W1U 4AA

Dear Sir Quentin,

We are grateful for this opportunity to put forward our concerns regarding the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to an independent review body.

For several decades, The Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been actively engaged in the difficult work of telling the truth about the dispossession and subjugation of the Palestinian people, while countering the myths propagated by what we perceive to be pro-Israeli bias in the media.

1)             We greatly value those occasions when the BBC has enabled a glimpse of what life is like for Palestinians living under occupation.  However, it is disappointing that such programmes are often shown very late at night, for example, Ben Anderson’s Frontline Football.

2)            We are worried that the BBC’s frequent failure to provide a context to its reports, or to clearly identify the situation as one of military occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands, creates a misleading picture of the realities on the ground. While it is understandable that the BBC cannot give the full historical background every time Palestine is mentioned in the news, we are disappointed by a failure to provide any context whatsoever to most reports: for example, not pointing out that the Wall being built on occupied Palestinian territory has been ruled illegal by the ICJ. Regular reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is similarly misleading and has the effect of shoring up Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem.

3)            We believe that as a public service broadcaster, the BBC has an obligation to provide factual information that will help to deepen the understanding of viewers and listeners. We are concerned that when international laws and norms are being comprehensively breached as in the case of Israel, it is vital that this should become public knowledge, and not be covered up because the occupying power possesses by far the greater lobbying capacity. Nor should the BBC adopt the terminology of occupation at the behest of the Israeli Embassy, as often appears to be the case (see later).

4)            At the present time when great repression is being perpetrated against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the BBC has given very little coverage to the killing of Palestinians, daily use of sound-bombing and the sealing off of Gaza. The terrible situation in the West Bank has not been scrutinised by the BBC during a time of unprecedented settlement expansion, carving out of settler-only roads, and wall building, coupled with murders, mass arrests and inhuman restrictions on movement.

5)            According to figures collected by the Glasgow University Media Group, most people get their information about Palestine from television. Respondents complained to GUMG (Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Bad News From Israel, Pluto Press, London, 2004) that lack of context was a major ‘turn off’. They said that even the phrase “occupied territory” does not make it clear who is occupying what. Just a couple of words could make that clear. Lack of time or space, does not justify the omission of crucial words, and only adds to incomprehension.

6)            If the BBC were to show more maps of the region, this would greatly enhance viewers’ understanding of the situation. For example the outline of the Israeli Oslo maps and the division of the West Bank into “cantons” (Bantustans) coincides with the route of the wall, demonstrating the premeditation of successive Israeli governments in relation to the route of the Wall. Such maps are readily available from sources such as Palestine Monitor, or Israeli sources, but have never been shown by the BBC. Maps illustrate very clearly how Israel has steadily expanded from 0% of Palestinian land to 54%, to 78% and now with the settlements just east of the Green Line and along the Jordan Valley to nearer 90%.

7)            The BBC has frequently adopted the Israeli-centric version of the original dispossession of the Palestinians as “Israel’s War of Independence” to refer to the forcible expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian people in 1948, known to Palestinians as The Nakba, (“catastrophe”).  [For example, in the commentary of Last Stand, a “This World” programme, produced by Noam Shalev, BBC2, November 10th, 2005]. Forcible expulsion is understood everywhere else where it occurs as ‘ethnic cleansing’. This policy of Israel’s has continued until today in the form of house demolitions, violent attacks, killings, wall and settlement building, closures and all the other panoply of “ethnic cleansing” which Israel employs on a daily basis and which is rarely even glimpsed on the BBC.

8)            Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has called Israeli policy “quiet ethnic cleansing”. Apparently the BBC does not acknowledge the reality of systematic Israeli policies to drive the Palestinians off their land. Therefore we believe there is a major disjunction between events on the ground and the emphasis of reportage by the BBC.

9)            There is very little coverage by the BBC of the reality of settlements. Sometimes they are referred to as ‘Israeli towns’ or ‘Israeli-populated areas’ instead of illegal colonies built on occupied land. Settlers are never asked awkward questions about the Palestinians whom they have displaced. It is never made explicit that the settlers are backed, financed, protected and armed by the Israeli state and are free to threaten and kill Palestinians.  Settlers regularly attack Palestinians and steal their crops and land with impunity.

10)            A search through BBC Online reveals that settlers are usually shown smiling with their children. Settlers are never portrayed as violent, armed thugs, although this how they are experienced by Palestinians. Settlements are described as ‘neighbourhoods’, in ‘disputed’ territories.

11)            Among other topics neglected by the BBC are: the effect of the Wall on the indigenous population; checkpoints and closures; Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy (confirmed recently by an Israeli whistle-blower); Israeli refuseniks, both conscripts and professional soldiers and pilots who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories and the non-violent resistance against the occupation.

12)            The BBC has failed to point out in its reports regarding the Wall that this is not on the “green line” between Israel and the Occupied Territories, but deep inside Palestinian land, in places in concentric circles and loops, strangulating whole communities.  On the contrary, the BBC has frequently referred to the Wall as being on “the border”. Nor has the Wall been given the coverage appropriate to the seriousness and illegality of the situation.  We doubt that the building of such a monstrous Wall on any other location would be so under-reported.

13)            For every mile of the Wall which has been built, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists have joined together in non-violent actions to resist. Such demonstrations have been brutally attacked by settlers and the Israeli occupation forces, hundreds of arrests have been made, but none of this has been shown on the BBC. As we write, Palestinians in Bil’in are being lifted from their beds and arrested because of their participation in the weekly non-violent anti-Wall protests; and the Rabbis for Human Rights organize, day after day, olive harvest support for farmers in different villages suffering from settler harassment. These are daily realities which the BBC renders invisible.

14)            The Israeli framing of the conflict is that Israel is a democratic state, defending itself against terrorism, which is forced on a daily basis to fight for its survival even to the extent of sometimes using unpalatable means. We believe this is the version that is overwhelmingly conveyed by the BBC, implicitly if not explicitly. It leads to a disproportionate concentration on armed violence, whether by the Israeli state or by Palestinian groups, and it reduces the official Palestinian political voice to one of condemning the violence on both sides. The danger with this approach is that the Palestinian struggle for self-determination is perceived as illegitimate because it is based on violence or because it is seen as being antithetical to the existence of the democratic state of Israel.

15)            An alternative framing of the conflict is that it is between an occupying military power, without any democratic legitimacy in the occupied territories, and the democratic aspiration of the Palestinian people, expressed most recently through Presidential elections, to the democratic state to which they are entitled in international law. This approach would tend to legitimise Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation, while allowing for individual acts of terrorism to be condemned.

16)            We invite the Review to compare the way the Palestinian struggle is framed with the portrayal of other struggles for democratic self-determination, such as the popular movements which brought down Soviet communism in Eastern Europe or more recent events in former Soviet republics. We believe that such a comparison would show that where the framing is one of democracy and popular resistance the coverage tends to emphasise the role and aspirations of ordinary people, with whom listeners and viewers can readily identify, who are trying to throw off oppression. It thus tends to be sympathetic to those engaged in the struggle, reflecting our own world view which is one of people living freely in democratic nation states. In the Israeli-Palestinian context we believe that this would lead to greater emphasis on the intrusive and oppressive nature of the military occupation, the resilience of ordinary Palestinians under occupation, the role of civil society in both Israel and the Palestinian territories, for example in organising peaceful protests against the Wall, and Israeli practices including house demolitions, destruction of agricultural land and the control of movement within the occupied territories. It would also focus attention on the reality of Israeli settlements both as they affect the daily life of Palestinians and as a means of annexing Palestinian land and resources.  We believe that such coverage would not only be more representative of how most Palestinians in the occupied territories experience the conflict, and of their predominantly peaceful and democratic aspirations, but would also tend to support the efforts of those on both sides who use democratic and peaceful means. Coverage which focuses disproportionately on violence feeds the cycle of violence.

17)            There is no recognition by the BBC of the national or territorial integrity of the Palestinian people as a whole, i.e. that Palestinian society consists of millions of people in the diaspora and refugee camps, as well as inside Israel and the West Bank and Gaza. We have yet to see any depiction of indigenous Palestinian culture on a BBC programme, nor is there any acknowledgement of the many “traditional” Israeli cultural practices which have been co-opted from Palestinian traditions, e.g. falafel, debka dancing. Only those who have made a study of the region would have any idea from the output of the BBC that there are over one million Palestinians living inside Israel as second-class citizens under constant threat of ‘transfer’ – the Israeli euphemism for ‘ethnic cleansing’. Many Palestinians inside Israel live in shacks near their former homes, in ‘unrecognised villages’ – an Israeli euphemism referring to yet another aspect of Israel’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ policies. Such villages, inhabited by indigenous Palestinians have never been linked up to basic amenities such as water and electricity, despite paying full taxes.  Israel is operating an apartheid system on both sides of the ‘green line’ but we have yet to see this reflected in programmes put out by the BBC.

18)            The BBC has never adequately explained to its viewers and listeners why the right of return for refugees, which is a basic human right, enshrined in international law, should not apply to Palestinian refugees. Nor that thousands of Palestinians have been made refugees over and over as Israel has stolen more and more land.

19)            Martin Asser’s Guide to a West Bank Checkpoint, BBC Online, Aug 8, 2003, portrays a checkpoint on the “border”, ignoring the fact that the overwhelming majority of checkpoints are entirely within Palestinian territory. There are even “flying checkpoints” set up at the whim of local IOF soldiers. His diagram illustrating a model checkpoint is laughable to anyone who has visited the West Bank with its medical facilities, waiting area and taxi bay. Yet another example of the BBC’s palliated version of a reality that entails far more misery and violence for Palestinians than is acknowledged.

20)            BBC correspondent Keith Graves wrote in the Guardian on 12 July 2003:

“Under the Sharon government intimidation of reporters deemed ‘unfriendly’ to Israel is routine and sanctioned by the government of Israel.”

21)            In addition to the well-documented harassment of reporters (including the killing of James Miller) as stated above, we are deeply concerned by the apparent influence exercised on the BBC by the Israeli Embassy. Robert Fisk, among others, has pointed out that the BBC has adopted language insisted upon by the Embassy. For example, use of the term targeted assassinations, incursion, security fence; ‘terrorists’ and ‘militants’ when identifying Palestinians resisting occupation; ‘disputed territory’ instead of ‘Occupied Territory’; referring to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and using phrases such as ‘fighting over a sacred site in Israel” when the location is East Jerusalem, Bethlehem or Ramallah, in Palestinian territory.

22)            The list of euphemisms and Israeli-centric language is endless: “fled” is used as a euphemism for expulsion,

“Eighteen per cent of Israel’s population is Arab. They are the descendants of the Palestinians who remained in the country during the first Arab Israeli war of 1948 – others fled.” – Richard Miron, BBC Online, February 6, 2004.

23)            Why does the BBC refuse to identify the indigenous Palestinians inside Israel as Palestinian instead of assisting the Israeli efforts to make Palestinians invisible by carelessly referring to them as ‘Arabs’?

24)            The BBC often refers to areas such as Qalqilya, which has been transformed into a giant prison by the wall, as “hotspots”. Settlements where racist and violent settlers live like Kiryat Arba, Kafr Darom, Shilo, Itamar or Immanuel are never called hotspots. Why?

25)            Even when the Israeli army kills unarmed civilians the people involved are referred to as “militants”. A young boy was killed near the Wall and his murder was justified because he could have been ‘a look out for militants.’

26)            When the Israeli army, one of the most powerful in the world, enters refugee camps or Palestinian towns with tanks and helicopters, the BBC describes the resulting systematic destruction (as in Jenin) as ‘pitched battles with militants.’

27)            The BBC appears to change its terms to fit current Israeli PR requirements. For instance, Israel’s initial descriptor for its grotesque Wall was “separation fence”. This phrase was embraced by the BBC. When it became clear that comparisons with apartheid were invoked by reference to (racial) “separation” this term was dropped. In lock-step with the Israel’s PR concerns, the BBC duly began using the Israeli’s new preferred term “security fence’. This accommodation with the language of occupation and apartheid is tantamount to taking sides and displays blatant bias on the part of the BBC.

28)            Confirming our worst fears, The Independent newspaper carried a statement from the embassy press secretary on 21st September 2001:

“London is a world centre of media and the embassy here works night and day to try to influence that media. And, in many subtle ways, I think we don’t do a half bad job, if I may say so. We have newspapers that write consistently in a manner that supports and understands Israel’s situation and its challenges. And we have had influence on the BBC as well.

29)            Another example of bias is manifested by the BBC’s practice of buying Israeli-produced programmes and showing un-mediated, non-attributed IDF propaganda footage. For example, “The siege of the Church of the Nativity” was produced by an Israeli company, a fact that was not publicised nor deemed objectionable by BBC editors.

30)            In the spirit of fair-mindedness, we ask the panel to imagine the BBC giving prime airtime to film coverage supplied by a Palestinian crew from a Palestinian perspective.

31)            Though there are several Israeli nationals reporting from Jerusalem for the BBC, there are no Palestinian journalists with similar responsibilities – these are just “stringers.” It would seem that there would be issues of objectivity and balance when hiring such journalists to write on Israel and Palestinian issues. Would the BBC send a Palestinian journalist to report on Israeli issues? Obviously this would be unthinkable even in terms of how such a reporter would traverse checkpoints and avoid closures, let alone obtain a press pass from the occupying power.

32)            Despite a burgeoning film industry, an incredible achievement of for a people living under occupation, the BBC chooses to operate what amounts to a boycott of films produced by Palestinians, including feature films.

33)             Naomi Klein and Aaron Mate wrote in The Guardian on July 4th, 2005:

“Rarely in the media do we hear the many anti-occupation voices that challenge the consensus that the Palestinians are to blame for their own misery. But it’s not just Palestinian resistance that is distorted or ignored: so too are Palestinians themselves, their faces, their lives.”

34)            Klein and Mate have touched on a matter that deeply aggrieves us: the lack of Palestinian voices in your coverage of issues even though Palestinians are the victims of Israel’s brutal, illegal occupation. Israeli or American spokespersons are frequently called upon to comment on events that directly affect Palestinians, while no Palestinian voice is heard.  Coverage of Palestinian lives is restricted to the minority of individuals involved in violent activities. The courageous, non-violent demonstrations against the occupation, especially those against the apartheid Wall have not been given any attention by the BBC. Surely, non-violent resistance ought to be encouraged? We understand that the Israeli government restricts access to such demonstrations by the media, however, if Haaretz can cover these demonstrations, why not the BBC?

35)            We have frequently noted that when Palestinians are interviewed, there is a stark contrast between the rudeness with which they are often treated, as opposed to the deference shown to Israeli spokespersons, many of whom could be indicted as war criminals for activities in which they are currently involved.  (Afif Safieh on Newsnight/Shimon Peres on Newsnight).

36)            In a BBC Newsnight interview with Diana Buttu, a PLO legal advisor, and Daniel Taub on December 18, 2003, Kirsty Wark constantly steered the discussion to “Palestinian violence” and interrupted Ms Buttu every time she tried to add context. In contrast to her hectoring of Diana Buttu,  Mr Taub was allowed to rattle off his points without interruption.  Yet again, the BBC obliged the occupying power and silenced a Palestinian voice. The technique of forcing a Palestinian interviewee to face off with an Israeli official on a narrow RT10 agenda such as “terrorism” or “reform” ensures there is no opportunity to challenge Israel’s behaviour. This is the pattern in the few cases where a Palestinian is actually invited to take part in such programmes.

37)            The BBC appears to be at pains to avoid posing hard questions about the illegality of Israel’s actions when interviewing Israeli leaders.  Nor is the bloody past of Ariel Sharon and others, well documented even in the Israeli press, ever brought up.

38)            PSC contacted Women’s Hour in May this year, near the anniversary of the Nakba, to inform them of the availability for interview of a secular, feminist Palestinian woman activist who is Director of The Jerusalem Centre, an organisation that works with Israeli women on issues such as domestic violence and checkpoint watch. Although no such voice has been heard on Women’s Hour, our offer was politely declined on the grounds that as Jocelyn Hurndall (mother of murdered student Tom Hurndall) had been on the programme two months earlier it would not be ‘balanced’ to have a Palestinian woman interviewed so soon. Firstly, Jocelyn Hurndall is not Palestinian and, no doubt, would have been horrified if she knew that her appearance on Women’s Hour had precluded a Palestinian woman from being heard. Secondly, claiming that ‘balance’ was being achieved in this case was quite extraordinary in view of the lack of Palestinian women’s voices in general and on Woman’s Hour in particular.

39)            What is left out of BBC reportage is often more significant than what is included. For instance, house demolitions have not been adequately covered, despite massive coverage of the demolitions in Zimbabwe and emphasis on illegality and international human rights conventions in the case of Zimbabwe.

40)            Human interest stories are largely ignored. For example, of the 60 women who had to give birth at Israeli checkpoints over the last 4 years, 36 lost their babies; a few of the mothers died too. Our concern is that if these were Israeli women and babies, the story would probably be reported. Why is the BBC silent on such stories?

41)            It is noticeable that words such as “quiet” are often used to describe periods in which no suicide bombings have occurred, even as Israeli targeted killings, house demolitions, land theft and mass arrests continue on a daily basis. If we did not know otherwise, it could be assumed “nothing” was happening. This indicates that Palestinian lives are considered less significant than Palestinian ones.

42)            Although we recognise that obstruction by the Israeli army and Government creates difficulties for reporters, there are many reliable sources of information including Israeli human rights organisations such as B’Tselem and Palestinian civil society organisations who collect information about political prisoners, assassinations, random killings, land theft and wall and road building on a day to day basis.

43)            It is puzzling and deeply disturbing that the great imbalance between the occupying power, a powerful nuclear state supported by the USA, and the stateless, weapon-less, Palestinians, is mirrored in the coverage of the occupation and dispossession of Palestine by the BBC.

44)            The informed listener/viewer has to ask why this is happening. Is it due to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, or a more subtle form of self-censorship? It is as if ‘balance’ involves not reporting anything that shows Israel in a bad light. For example, any Israeli violence is almost always presented by the BBC as retaliatory. In the interests of ‘balance’, why is Palestinian violence never referred to by the BBC as retaliatory?

45)            Further evidence of the BBC’s penchant for bowing to Israeli demands was manifested in March, 2005, when Simon Wilson, deputy bureau chief in Jerusalem was barred from the country for failing to submit for censorship an interview with Mordechai Vanunu. We understand that many BBC journalists have objected to this climbdown on the grounds that it will compromise their work in Israel. We ask members of the panel familiar with the Vanunu case to consider the implications of collaboration with this unnecessary censorship.

46)            The BBC has a long and distinguished tradition of independence and accuracy. Its record in this particular area is a sad break with that tradition. This has repercussions outside Britain, as so many people worldwide are used to tuning in to the BBC for responsible reporting. In the Arab world, where the public are generally well-informed on the region, people are now seeing the BBC as the mouthpiece of the British government on these issues. The BBC’s projected venture into television programming in the Arab world, going head-to-head with Al Jazeera, looks set to create even more problems concerning the BBC’s bias and self-censorship. Peter Preston summed up the perception of this project when he called it, Al Blairzeera (Guardian, 31st October, 2005)

47)            Israeli journalist Daphna Baram interviewed the editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger on February 11, 2004, about the sustained, vociferous campaign accusing his newspaper of anti-semitism. We draw the panel’s attention to his comment regarding the BBC:

“There has been a deliberate policy to target Israel’s critics, and the more beleaguered Israel becomes – the more pronounced this tendency becomes. The prolonged assault on the Guardian has been remarkably successful in achieving a worldwide circulation of a view that the Guardian is anti-semitic. And, of course, once they’ve finished with the Guardian they’ll move onto the Independent, or the BBC, or whoever.”

48)            In her book Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel, Ms Baram identifies the website organisation HonestReporting as the organiser of an “email bombardment” of The Guardian which included a hate campaign against their correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg which was so intense that it prevented her from carrying out her job. (p.199 ibid)

49)            In light of the above, it is difficult not to conclude that this review is in itself a response to the demands of the pro-Israeli lobby. The organisations listed in your terms of reference, from which you intend to gather opinions, mirrors the David and Goliath nature of the occupation. BRICOM, for example is a multi-million pound PR operation, while organisations such as our own, operate on a shoestring and are entirely reliant on volunteers and members’ subscriptions for our existence.

50)            For the purposes of this submission we combed the BBC’s Newswatch webpage in which are listed details of complaints of bias by the BBC in relation to Israel-Palestine. Over last two periods reviewed on line, we did not find a single example of a complaint being taken up from a complainant sympathic to the Palestinian perspective.

51)            Despite our misgivings, based on past experience, we trust that your review will resist the blandishments of the pro-Israel lobby and go some way to rectifying the problems we have outlined above. We would be happy to provide a representative to answer in person any questions raised by our submission.

With best wishes,

PS. For your reference we print below an extract from an article by Paul de Rooij. We are grateful to Mr de Rooij for his permission to use extracts from his articles. We commend the work of the Glasgow University Media Project to your panel.

This is not journalism, it is apologia.

Few articles display the BBC’s bias better than Chris Morris’s “Lost hope in Mid-East conflict”. Although not the worst example, it displays the full panoply of the apologist’s toolkit [Lost Hope in Mid-East conflict, BBC Online, Jan 19, 2004]. Morris ignores key contextual information, delves into specifics instead of looking at the wider context, and offers a clear example of apologia.

Morris reports on the case of a pregnant woman held up at a gate by Israeli soldiers, impeded from reaching the ambulance, and forced to give birth next to the gate where she miscarried her twins. But Morris doesn’t tell us that there have been many other cases where women have been forced to deliver at checkpoints resulting in dozens of miscarriages. When it suits the propagandist, the relevant context is ignored.

Equally curious is the fact that Morris only refers to a mysterious “gate” without mentioning the wall that is being built straight through the West Bank village of Deir Balut – where the incident Morris describes took place. One would almost think that the gate stood on its own next to the village, but the key context, the wall, is not mentioned; not even one of the euphemisms (barrier, fence) is used. However, from the account of an Israeli peace activist, Dan Shohet, one would think that the wall being built would be difficult to miss [Electronic Intifada, December 26, 2003]:

“The Wall will circle the village from three directions, will separate it from its lands and from the road to the south (the road to the east was blocked three years ago, and was never opened again). The inhabitants will be pushed into a crowded enclave, a ghetto, together with a few nearby villages — surrounded by walls, fences, road blocks, army and settlements.”

Eight houses of the village, most of the arable land and the chief water source will fall on the “wrong side” of the wall, and effectively the village will be eliminated. But Morris mentions none of this.

However, what is astonishing is the way in which Morris discusses the soldiers who barred the pregnant woman from reaching the ambulance. Under the heading “What would you have done?” Morris states:

“Change the perspective in this story and what do you see? Conscript soldiers wary of attack at a checkpoint surrounded by darkness. What would you have done, really? Would common humanity have won through? Would you have taken the risk? Or would you have played it safe, fearful of a trap? Who knows? There are no easy answers. I’d like to think the soldiers on that checkpoint, on that cold winter night, didn’t want two new-born babies to die. But die they did, and Israel is damaged and devalued by tragic tales such as this. All the talking has led nowhere. And so it goes on — another week in the Middle East.”

Judith Brown from Exeter University had the right riposte: “… it was not a question of ’what would you do’ if you were in the position of the conscript soldier. It should be a question of ’why did he not uphold the international law […]’, as he was obliged to do as a soldier of the occupying power” [Reply, by Judith Brown].

Several photos accompanying the article summarize the thrust of the piece:

Caption: “You can’t blame soldiers for being jumpy at checkpoints.” This amounts to bald-faced apologia.
Caption: “Most roads are blocked to Palestinians.” Morris sees no reason to explain why this is the case – no references to the wall or the checkpoints.

Morris throws in this conclusion: “Never mind whose fault it is — all the talk, all the well-meaning mediation will come to nought [sic]. I think now that there is a real possibility that this will simply drag on and on.” The only thing that the text doesn’t capture is Morris’s sigh after the last sentence. Nothing we can do about this, and we can’t apportion blame. The plight of the Palestinians is portrayed as a fact of nature.

Paul de Rooij, Counterpunch, Feb 2004

Media Starter Pack

PSC and the Media

Please, DO mention the occupation! DO mention the Nakba!

To join our national letter-writing initiative or participate in general medial work, email the office on

This Starter Pack is sourced from:

Guardian Media Directory (Guardian Newspapers, 2005)
Bad News from Israel (Glasgow Media Group, 2004)
Do-It-Yourself Apartheid in Palestine (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Campaign, 2005)

Our media strategy revolves around our members and supporters and depends on you. Our greatest assets are the justice of our cause and our nationwide reach of pro-active membership and networks. PSC is an independent, autonomous organisation, which is listened to when we succeed in making ourselves heard. By co-ordinating our letter writing and complaints to editors and media watchdogs at national and local level, we can make a difference. If you are reading this and are still not a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, please join us. You can do so on line via our website.
Local branches of PSC exist in many towns and cities in the UK and are ready to welcome you.
If you are already in a branch, why not set up a letter-writing group?

HINTS FOR LETTER-WRITING: Please join up the dots by doing your own research and using your own words.

Letters from an original perspective are more likely to be published, although we also still have to keep challenging the usual diet of basic misinformation.

Examples: A letter in The Church Times revealing Blair’s ignorance about Palestine by his G8 reference to “the two religions in the region” although he himself is a Christian; a letter in the Express newspaper, which is outside our usual focus on the Independent and Guardian.

Use economical language. Keep your letter as short as possible.

Subscribe to Palestinian email services and visit websites such as Stop the Wall. Palestine Monitor and Electronic Intifada as well as the PSC website to arm yourself with the facts on what’s really going on.

Daily papers have a DEADLINE of 4pm for publication the next day, so submit your letter as early as possible.

Trade journals, trade union journals, Women’s Institute publications etc. are all potential publishers of material on Palestine from their different perspectives. For example, medical journals could be supplied with articles on the crisis in care, the ambulance service. The Disability Movement press would be interested in people who have been disabled by occupation. Construction News might publish something on the Caterpillar boycott. Grocer magazine might take something on the boycott of Israeli goods. Music and Dance journals could take something on the Palestinian music and dance scene. Architectural, geological and educational journals can all be approached. Vogue carried a piece by Bella Freud in its September issue about Palestinian embroidery and crafts.

Dissident Israeli activists and human rights organisations are also a good source of information and the media may be less dismissive of them. Examples: Gush Shalom; Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

Please remember that even unpublished letters are counted, as are complaints to the BBC and Ofcom, so keep writing, ringing, emailing and faxing!

Ofcom consists of the merged ITC and Broadcasting Standards Commission. The BBC is regulated by its governors but Ofcom is angling to take control of the BBC.

Office of Communications (Ofcom),
Riverside House,
2A Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA
Ofcom Media Office,
202 7 981 3033

The BBC is accountable to its governors and the government as regulators.

Chairman of BBC Governors is Michael Grade. Vice-Chairman Anthony Salz: Governors are Deborah Bull, Dame Ruth Deech, Dermot Gleeson, Professor Merfyn Jones, Professor Fabian Monds, Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, Angela Sarkis, Ranjit Sondhi and Richard Tait.

Michael Grade recently announced that the BBC governors’ next impartiality review will focus on treatment of stories about Israel and Palestine. Please write to Michael Grade to let him know your views.

BBC Television Centre,
020 8743 8000

BBC complaints department:

“The question which must be asked about TV news journalism is – why is it that it has such difficulty in explaining the Palestinian perspective, when it can so readily feature that of the Israelis?”
(Philo and Berry, Bad News from Israel, Pluto Press, 2004)

“Rarely in the media do we hear the many anti-occupation voices that challenge the consensus that the Palestinians are to blame for their own misery. But it’s not just Palestinian resistance that is distorted or ignored; so too are Palestinians themselves, their faces, their lives.” – Naomi Klein and Aaron Mate, the Guardian, July 4, 2005.

Most people get their information about Palestine from television news programmes (85%) and newspapers (9%) according to figures collected by Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow Media Group in 2002 and published in their book “Bad News from Israel”. Surveys taken before that date showed that the numbers of those whose main source of images is the television news was increasing while the number of those gleaning information from newspapers was declining. However, “opinion formers” who read newspapers were marginally better informed.

Half the respondents in a “low income group” replied that the Palestinians were the occupying power. When asked, what nationality are the settlers? The majority from all groups replied: “Don’t know.”

People questioned by the Glasgow Media group said that lack of context was a major ‘turn off’:

“Every time it comes on it never actually explains it so I don’t see the point in watching it – I just turn it off and go and make a cup of tea.” (‘Female student, Glasgow’)

Respondents complained that even the phrase “occupied territory” does not make it clear who is occupying what. Just a couple of added words could make that clear. Lack of time or space, is no excuse for shoddy reporting which adds to incomprehension and leaves the viewer or reader feeling disempowered.

Programmes which could be said to reflect something of the reality on the ground, are given the twilight slot, i.e. “Frontline Football”.


Israel 367.75 – Palestine 189.5

The media must be called to account on this. These figures represent the relative amounts of air time and lines of text used respectively about Israel and Palestine in 2001 and 2002, not necessarily favourable comment. (The Glasgow Media Project measured BBC and ITV output if they were lines of text).
Media organisations frequently excuse themselves from explaining the Palestinian perspective by pleading that they are under siege from the pro-Israeli lobby demanding that they maintain ‘balance’. By succumbing to this, they effectively censor their output by excluding Palestinian interviewees, and whiting out the background to the story.

Israel places severe restrictions on journalists who are trying to provide coverage on the ground, keeping the international media away from the scenes of their war crimes.

Veteran BBC correspondent Keith Graves:

“Under the Sharon government intimidation of reporters deemed ‘unfriendly’ to Israel is routine and sanctioned by the government (of Israel).” (Guardian, 12 July 2003)

The Israeli Occupation Force has deliberately targeted gunfire at journalists and killed a Channel 4 reporter when he had been filming the bulldozing of Palestinian homes.

Israeli Embassy press secretary:

“London is a world centre of media and the embassy here works night and day to try to influence that media. And, in many subtle ways, I think we don’t do a half bad job, if I may say so… We have newspapers that write consistently in a manner that supports and understands Israel’s situation and its challenges. And we have had influence on the BBC as well.” (Independent, 21 September 2001)

Conservative Friends of Israel invites senior journalists to lunches at the House of Commons.

Speakers from the US are frequently featured on TV news endorsing and supporting Israeli positions.

THE BBC has caved in to embassy and lobbying pressure to refer to the Apartheid Wall was a ‘security’ fence – and to use language such as ‘disputed territory’ rather than ‘occupied territory’ –
see Robert Fisk, Independent on Sunday
see Paulo Derooij, Counterpunch


Lack of context in news reports leads to misconception and incomprehension: eg. headlines such as “Mob Violence in Israel”, “Fighting over sacred site in Israel” – when the location is Ramallah or Jersalem. Jerusalem is constantly referred to as the capital of Israel.

Israeli’s are portrayed as “people like us” – part of the Western world, entrants in the Eurovision Song Contest, just trying to get on with normal lives, under siege in a sea of hostility.

Rarely acknowledged is Israel’s overwhelming military might, stockpiled WMD, ingrained racism, lack of democracy for Palestinians inside Israel, zealous land-theft, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and that Israel is a theocratic state practising state terror styled on an apartheid template.

In contrast, Palestinians are not shown as rounded human beings, there is a dearth of personal stories to which people can relate, and an absence of historical context. The rich diversity of Palestinian culture is completely ignored. The steadfast, heroic day-to-day non-violent resistance of the Palestinians is entirely overlooked.
THE APARTHEID WALL, is frequently referred to as a ‘security’ fence, rather than a wholesale land-grab, further dispossessing Palestinians by starving them into submission inside ghettos. The World Bank is set to finance hi-tech gates in the wall for trafficking cheap labour and goods.

Concentric circles of concrete walls twice the height of the Berlin Wall, engulf Palestinian towns such as Bethlehem, strangling a once-thriving tourist industry and cutting Palestinians off from their land, schools and hospitals, and each other.

For a full explanation of Israel’s ‘disengagement’ policy and the role of the Apartheid Wall see “Do-It-Yourself Apartheid in Palestine – Israel, The World Bank and ‘sustainable development’ of the Palestinian Ghettos.” (published by La Citta Del Sole, 2005)
Copies available from PSC Office at £6, or go to


“TV news images presenting settlers as isolated, vulnerable communities – disguising the deep levels of racism, fundamentalism and violent behaviour of settlers..” (Bad News from Israel ibid)

Report in Ha’olam Ha’ze as early as 1994:

“Beating the Arabs, or humiliating them otherwise or vandalising their property before the very eyes of the army soldiers is not regarded as ‘suffient reason’ for arresting a settler.”

Settlers are depicted as innocent victims being forced to leave their homes. There is no questioning of the role of settlements as part of occupation, no reflection of the reality described by a report by Amnesty and B’Tselem (Israeli human rights group):

This report offers an image of a frightened but friendly settler who wants peace and co-operation.”

“Among the settlers’ actions against the Palestinians are setting up road blocks to disrupt normal Palestinian life, shooting at rooftop water heaters, burning cars, smashing windows, destroying crops and uprooting trees, and harassing merchants and owners of stalls in the market.” (B’Tselem, 2003)

Graffiti at entrance to

Cycle of Violence: implying two equal sides in a tit for tat struggle.

“DISENGAGEMENT”Outright misinformation:

“…a unilateral exit without any Palestinian concession in return”
(Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2005)

LAND GRAB/Home Demolition: Violent dispossession of people from their homes and destruction of homes and property – contrast international reaction to Mugabe’s Operation Drive Out Trash:

UN’s 98-page report described Zimbabwe crisis as a “catastrophe” that violated international law, and was “carried out in an indiscriminate manner, with indifference to human suffering, and, in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions on national and international legal frameworks.”
It called for an immediate halt to any further demolitions and for Zimbabwe to allow unhindered access to the international and humanitarian community to provide assistance.

We welcome your suggestions and look forward to receiving examples of your interventions in radio phone-ins, letters to editors, and complaints to the relevant media watch-dogs.