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.

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