The following is the text of a proposed newspaper advertisement challenging imbalance and bias in the BBC coverage of the attack on the Free Gaza flotilla. To add your name to the letter, which currently has 151 signatories, please comment on this post, or contact its author, Tony Greenstein, via his blog. Signatories are asked to donate between £10-£30 to the cost of the ad.
The BBC’s Biased & Shameful Coverage of the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a Betrayal of its Charter
When Israel’s navy attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31, killing at least nine human rights activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, there was worldwide incredulity at Israel’s claim that its commandos acted in self defence.
The BBC’s prime time news reports, however, on radio and TV, broadcast without comment Israeli premier Netanyahu’s Orwellian statement that “Israel did all it could to avoid violence”. Mark Regev, Israeli government PR chief, went unchallenged as he justified the murders and vilified the victims.
BBC audiences were not told that Israeli forces had confiscated all photo and audio recording equipment belonging to the 700 people on the flotilla, then kidnapped and detained them while pumping out its own doctored and often faked “evidence” to the world media.
By the time the flotilla survivors were free to tell their side of the story, the news agenda had conveniently moved on, leaving imprinted on BBC viewers’ and listeners’ minds Israel’s fantasy of outnumbered heroes fighting off crazed terrorists bent on bringing weapons of destruction to Israel’s peaceful shores.
Anyone relying on BBC news would not have heard world famous Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, explain the beatings inflicted on activists after they were detained.
They would not know that a widely-broadcast audio clip purporting to reveal someone on the Mavi Marmara telling the Israeli attackers to “go back to Auschwitz” was a forgery.
They would have missed photos, smuggled past the Israeli censors, showing activists not attacking, but treating, injured commandos aboard the Turkish aid ship.
Nor would they have heard of Jewish American art student Emily Henochowicz, who lost an eye on May 31 when Israeli soldiers fired a teargas canister directly at her during a non-violent protest at Qualandyia checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.
Knowledge of such routine attacks on Palestinians and their Jewish supporters would provide meaningful context to the isolated reports provided by the BBC. Instead we heard a BBC correspondent fatuously state: ‘Of course the Israeli military is very well experienced at dealing with crowd control.”
If Iran, North Korea or Somali pirates, had carried out a murderous attack in international waters on a ship flying another country’s flag, would the BBC have broadcast uncritical interviews with apologists for the attackers?
That it did so in this case reflects a pro-Israeli bias in the BBC’s coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict that was highlighted in a report presented to the corporation’s Governors in April 2006.
The report showed that, despite occasional excellent background reporting, the BBC habitually feeds its audiences news coverage which, in the name of “balance”, makes no differentiation between the victims of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and the forces of the state responsible for the occupation.
“BBC coverage does not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture,” the report to the Governors said.
It noted that historical and other context was frequently absent and coverage failed to reflect “the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation.” It also found that “the death of an Israeli killed by the Palestinian side was more likely to be reported by the BBC than the death of a Palestinian killed by the Israeli side.”
The culture behind these failings was at work in the BBC’s mainstream coverage of the siege of Gaza, Israel’s reasons for imposing that siege and the murders on the Mavi Marmara.
We look forward to a thorough review of the BBC’s mainstream news coverage in order that the context of events is always present in that coverage. For example Israel’s habitual violence against and repression of peaceful protest should have served as the backdrop to its coverage of Israel’s murders on the Mavi Marmara.
Let us see the BBC stand up to threats from Israel instead of caving in, as occurred when the government of Ariel Sharon targeted correspondents Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen. (BBC Says Sorry to Israel, 12.3.05. The Guardian, BBC appoints Middle East tsar, 11.11.03. The Guardian)
Let us see no more of the blatant bias exhibited by the Corporation’s refusal, in January 2009, to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza.