1. "Familiar tricks to pay lip-service to objectivity"
2. BBC takes sham Syrian elections at face value
3. "The BBC has become an open opponent of America's policies" (Daily Telegraph, March 4, 2003)
4. "'High turnout' in Syria polls" (BBC News, March 3, 2003)
“FAMILIAR TRICKS TO PAY LIP-SERVICE TO OBJECTIVITY”
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach two articles connected to the BBC's Middle East coverage, with brief extracts first for those who dont have time to read them in full:
1. "The BBC has become an open opponent of America's policies" (Daily Telegraph, March 4, 2003). Columnist Barbara Amiel says "Television reporting of the Middle East can be rated in a hierarchy descending from bad to worst. America's Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is better than most... Further down the slope come networks such as CNN, which maintain a sham of objectivity in order to hide a news agenda that veers between generalised antipathy to American positions on most issues and a particular dislike of George W. Bush.
"[Below that comes the English-language BBC]. BBC News resorts to a number of familiar tricks to pay lip-service to objectivity, beginning with its po-faced determination to present all sides of an issue even when one side may lack all merit. The merit of suicide bombers, for example, simply cannot be equated to those trying to stop them. Debating this is like pairing off an astronomer discussing rocks on the moon and a person who believes the moon is made of green cheese...
"The very bottom rung is occupied by the BBC Arabic [language] Service funded by the [British government] Foreign Office, which is to say the British taxpayer. One would hope for a BBC approach similar to its glory days in the Second World War truthful information in areas denied the listeners by their own media. [Instead] the BBC Arabic Service appears to rule out any criticism of Arab leaders or their regimes."
BBC TAKES SHAM SYRIAN ELECTION AT FACE VALUE
2. "'High turnout' in Syria polls" (BBC News, March 3, 2003). Here is an example from today's BBC website of what Amiel is referring to. "Syrian officials have reported a high voter turnout on the first day of parliamentary elections the first since President Bashar Assad took power in 2000," begins the BBC report, which takes the Syrian "elections" at face value as if they were free and fair. Note there are no words like "hardline" and "hawkish" which the BBC used on countless occasions in their coverage of Israeli elections in late January.
-- Tom Gross
THE BBC HAS BECOME AN OPEN OPPONENT OF AMERICA’S POLICIES
The BBC has become an open opponent of America's policies
By Barbara Amiel
The (London) Daily Telegraph
March 4, 2003
Television reporting of the Middle East can be rated in a hierarchy descending from bad to worst. America's Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is better than most. The PBS anchor stations may have a philosophy that sits comfortably in the pages of the Guardian, but that doesn't prevent them from remembering that journalism in Western society traditionally stands for values including fairness and objectivity, and they attempt to honour them if sometimes only in the breach.
Further down the slope come networks such as CNN, which maintain a sham of objectivity in order to hide a news agenda that veers between generalised antipathy to American positions on most issues and a particular dislike of George W. Bush.
The BBC's News and Current Affairs doesn't bother honouring values of even-handedness. It has become an undisguised opponent of American policies and of Britain's insofar as they coincide with America's. This is especially true of Middle East policy, though it also covers the spectrum of issues on which America has taken a position at odds with the BBC, from the Kyoto Accords to the International Criminal Court.
One has only to take a look at the reports of the BBC's chief correspondent in the Middle East, Orla Guerin. Her December 21 account from Bethlehem of how "the Israelis have stolen Christmas" is a classic of the genre. "Israeli tanks have gnawed away at the pavement," she reports.
There is not a mention in her account of the Palestinian gunmen who occupied the Church of the Nativity earlier that month, held its priests hostage and turned the church into a pigsty before the Israelis ended the terrorist sit-in.
BBC News resorts to a number of familiar tricks to pay lip-service to objectivity, beginning with its po-faced determination to present all sides of an issue even when one side may lack all merit. The merit of suicide bombers, for example, simply cannot be equated to those trying to stop them. Debating this is like pairing off an astronomer discussing rocks on the moon and a person who believes the moon is made of green cheese.
The current fad in British television news analysis is to conduct competitive "debates" over key issues. Serious people opposed to the BBC agenda do get on the air, but only in a programme format where any thought is pulverised between at least four or five other debaters and one important new participant the audience which votes in the winner.
One is reminded of the Greek dramatists' use of a chorus. The BBC audience doesn't speak in unison, but it performs the same function, echoing whatever the main theme is that the programmers wish to leave with the viewer.
But if the ordinary BBC news service has departed from any pretence of objectivity, the very bottom rung is occupied by the BBC Arabic Service, funded by the Foreign Office, which is to say the British taxpayer.
No one would want the BBC to turn into a Radio Free Europe or Voice of America. That approach to broadcasting, while legitimate, is the tool of a specific political agenda. But given the censorship in the Arab world, one would hope for a BBC approach similar to its glory days in the Second World War - truthful information in areas denied the listeners by their own media.
This is not what they get. The BBC Arabic Service appears to rule out any criticism of Arab leaders or their regimes. Apart from some cryptic and occasional references in news reports, there is no critical discussion and analysis of public policy issues such as human rights, health, housing and illiteracy. There is no discussion of government priorities, government corruption or the activities of the security forces and police. When Saddam Hussein was "re-elected" with a 100 per cent vote, the election was reported as if it were a perfectly normal exercise in democracy.
The very rare exceptions to this often carry anti-West motives: a programme last December 10 included a member of the Iraqi opposition, Hamid Al-Bayati, but the interview with him was turned into an attempt to prove that the opposition was created by foreign enemies of Iraq.
The British report on human rights problems in Iraq, released last December, was reported in the context of its having been written to justify an attack on Iraq. (An exception was a programme broadcast a few days after the release of the report, which contained genuine criticism of human rights in Iraq. The moderator, however, was firmly pro-Saddam and began with a quotation attributed to a British newspaper that threw doubt on the veracity of the whole report.)
On the other hand, there is no shortage of detailed reports about failings of Western systems. There have been lengthy programmes on Palestinians held without trial in Israel, Muslims held by America in Guantanamo Bay and British treatment of asylum seekers. These may be appropriate topics for the Arabic Service, but not in the context of silence about related issues in the Arab world.
The BBC's Arabic Service has also kept listeners up to date on scandals at the Department for Education, the Home Office and even in the life of Prince Charles. Meanwhile, people in the Arab world may have little idea of how the political and economic systems in the West operate, what values lie behind them and what the relationship is between Church and State, media and government, stock market and investor, ordinary people and their police. Before the flaws are explained, the system needs to be understood.
Unsurprisingly, the BBC Arabic Service is consistently hostile to peace between Israel and Palestine, which puts it at odds with the Foreign Office and the Government. Anti-Israel remarks are thrown into topics gratuitously. Almost two years after the UN certified that Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, BBC Arabic Services still told listeners that Israel was in occupation. Officials of the Palestine Authority and various Palestinian organisations are frequently heard, but rejectionist voices (those against any peace settlement) are favoured. Prominent moderates such as Sari Nusseibeh are rarely heard.
Legitimate journalism may have a Left-wing prism or a Right-wing one. The Guardian or the New Statesman are not any the less legitimate a journalistic enterprise than The Daily Telegraph or The Spectator. One may disagree with a point of view, but that is not the complaint here.
The complaint against the BBC's Arabic Service is that, in its news analysis, it has abandoned the normal traditions of Western journalism and is embarking on exactly the same exercise as the controlled press in Arabic dictatorships, except it does so under the imprimatur of the BBC and at the expense of the British taxpayer.
Telling the truth might mean that the service loses some of its Arab contributors. It might even be jammed. But it would gain respect, and possibly even listeners. We would all be the better for it.
“HIGH TURNOUT” IN SYRIA POLLS
'High turnout' in Syria polls
March 3, 2003
Syrian officials have reported a high voter turnout on the first day of parliamentary elections the first since President Bashar Assad took power in 2000.
Polling centres re-opened for a second day of voting on Monday. They are due to close at 1400 local time (1200 GMT). Voters are choosing 250 parliamentarians, but opposition parties are boycotting the process, saying it is undemocratic.
Mr Assad's Socialist Arab Baath Party (SABP) and six other allied smaller parties grouped in the National Progressive Front are guaranteed 127 of the 250 seats. Other seats are filled by independents.
The state news agency Sana said 4,945 candidates are contesting the seats in the People's Assembly to represent Syria's 15 provinces.
Casting his vote on Sunday, the Syrian Prime Minister, Mohammed Mustafa Miro, said the elections were a way for Syrians to help modernise their country.
Since succeeding his father, the Western-educated Bashar Assad has introduced much-needed economic reforms and permitted a level of political tolerance.
"There is a feeling now that the community wants to be more involved in decision-making," analyst Sameer al-Taqi said.
"One sign of that is that the business community was encouraged to present heavyweight independent candidates."
Many of the candidates have gained momentum from reforms and presented ambitious programmes that aspire to a modern economy and more popular participation in political life.
The current parliament finished its four-year term late last year.
The assembly is a full legislative body that can amend the constitution and other laws and can deliver a vote of no confidence against the cabinet or any of its ministers. The president appoints the cabinet.
But critics have denounced the house as toothless on the grounds that it has traditionally been dominated by MPs from the ruling Baath party.
Candidates have been on the campaign trail for a month, filling city streets with banners, pictures and tents.
Although several new opposition groups have boycotted the election, some analysts and candidates said the groups had lacked the support needed to win.
Independent candidate Yasser al-Nehlawi said candidates who withdrew represented fairly insignificant parties.
"I do not think that any real party has boycotted the election. They (the parties) should have taken part and displayed their (popular) base, if any," he said.