“The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?” (& American teen Danny Wultz dies)

May 15, 2006

* Latest in a long list of untruths put out by the BBC’s defenders: “Israeli victims receive more air time.” Yet there was extensive coverage of Palestinian “militants” who died yesterday while there was no mention of Israeli Lior Anidzar (26) who died Saturday or American teen Daniel Wultz (16) who died yesterday, both as a result of the Tel Aviv Passover suicide bombing

* Melanie Phillips: “With the BBC, through its distortions and omissions, loaded questions, double standards, partial language, rigged panel discussions and systematic decontextualisation of violence which have succeeded in reversing the roles of victim and aggressor in the Middle East in the minds of millions of people, constituting the single most influential weapon worldwide in the monstrous campaign to prepare the ground for the destruction of Israel”

* Martin Walker, the editor of UPI: “The official report for the governors of the BBC on its coverage of the Palestine-Israeli conflict found predictably that there was ‘was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias’ but then went on to list a series of measurements by which the BBC could be said to be biased in favour of Israel. Despite a catalogue of examples to the contrary, the governors insist there is bias *against* the Palestinians. This produced mocking guffaws in my own newsroom…”

* Press release: “The Council for Arab-British Understanding welcomes the findings of the independent panel looking into the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian issue”

* The Guardian media correspondent, Ben Dowell: “BBC sources expressed surprise that the report accused the corporation of demonstrating bias towards Israel”

 

CONTENTS

1. It pours forth its worldview in almost every language of the Middle East
2. “Little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias”
3. “We think they should call terrorist acts ‘terrorism’”
4. “State-terrorism”
5. BBC report receives varied reviews in UK; Arab media not interested
6. “One side is in control…”
7. “No link between BBC bias and anti-Semitism"
8. “Israelis receive more air time”
9. Lior Anidzar and Daniel Wultz
10. “Bad news from Israel" read by all members of the panel
11. “One of the most dreadful stories ever broadcast by the BBC”
12. A history of BBC reports
13. Australian politician criticizes anti-Israel media bias
14. Guffaws of laughter
15. “The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?” (Times of London, May 11, 2006)


[Note by Tom Gross]

IT POURS FORTH ITS WORLDVIEW IN ALMOST EVERY LANGUAGE OF THE MIDDLE EAST

This is a more detailed dispatch on the BBC governors’ report, which was set up to determine whether the BBC is biased in its treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, following criticism of its coverage by many parties, including myself.

It should be emphasized that the BBC is possibly the most influential news service in the world. It broadcasts in dozens of languages, on TV, radio and online.

Its radio service alone attracts over 163 million listeners daily, according to new figures released by the BBC yesterday, up from 153 million previously.

It pours forth its worldview in almost every language of the Middle East: Pashto, Persian, Arabic and Turkish. Needless to say it declines to broadcast in Hebrew, even though it does broadcast in the languages of other small nations: Macedonian and Albanian, Azeri and Uzbek, Kinyarwanda and Kyrgyz, and so on. (It doesn’t broadcast in Kurdish either; but then the BBC doesn’t concern itself with Kurdish rights or aspirations since they are persecuted by Moslem-majority states like Syria and Iran. We didn’t hear much on the BBC, for example, when dozens of Syrian Kurds were killed and injured by President Assad’s regime.)

(For the record, there are the same number of Hebrew and Kinyarwanda speakers, each about 7 million. Only 3 million people speak Kyrgyz, and only 1.6 million speak Macedonian. At the time I write, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is presently at the top of the BBC Macedonian home page: www.bbc.co.uk/macedonian.)

“LITTLE TO SUGGEST DELIBERATE OR SYSTEMATIC BIAS”

The “Report of the independent panel for the BBC governors on impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” released earlier this month and referred to in a previous dispatch on this list, contained both criticism and praise of BBC coverage. It appears that the report was an attempt to pander to both sides in an attempt to seem “fair” and “impartial,” even though it seems clear to unbiased parties that most BBC reporters’ opinions are heavily tilted against Israel, whether they cry for Yasser Arafat, or are secretly recorded telling Hamas rallies that they are “waging the campaign shoulder to shoulder together with the Palestinian people.”

Yet, the panel concluded that there was “little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias” within the BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the same time, the report criticized “the elusiveness of editorial planning, grip and oversight” of its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said the BBC does not “consistently give a full and fair account.”

The importance of the BBC coverage was outlined in the report in which it was admitted that its international influence means the BBC and its coverage are “important prizes” in a conflict where “the media themselves are part of the contest ground.”

The full report can be seen here: www.bbcgovernors.co.uk/docs/reviews/panel_report_final.pdf

“WE THINK THEY SHOULD CALL TERRORIST ACTS ‘TERRORISM’”

The inquiry, led by Sir Quentin Thomas, the president of the British Board of Film Classification, argued that the BBC should be less cautious over its use of the word “terrorism” because “that is the most accurate expression for actions which involve violence against randomly selected civilians.”

The report justified the use of the word “terrorism” since “it was readily used [by the BBC] in respect of the tube and bus bombs in London on 7th July 2005.” The inquiry concluded that “If it appears to adopt one policy in covering terrorist attacks in London, or Madrid, [the BBC] must expect to face questions if it appears to take a different line in Israel.”

For more on this see this article written days after the London bombs, The BBC discovers ‘terrorism,’ briefly.

“STATE-TERRORISM”

The panel, which quite clearly wanted to keep proceedings as “fair” as possible, also said the BBC should use “terrorism” to describe violence against civilians with the intention of causing terror for ideological objectives, “whether perpetrated by state or non-state agencies.”

Steve Hewlett, writing in The Guardian, argued that this new definition may include “the allied bombing of Dresden – as it was aimed at random individuals and designed to create terror.”

If these guidelines are adopted we could soon see BBC condemnation of any number of countries practicing “state-terrorism.”

Hewlett concluded his piece in “hope that the new governance arrangements at the BBC are robust enough to take what is good from the panel’s report but to reject what is not.”

BBC REPORT RECEIVES VARIED REVIEWS IN UK; ARAB MEDIA NOT INTERESTED

Following the publication of the BBC Governors report, The Times of London headlined its news piece “BBC news ‘favours Israel’ at expense of Palestinian view” whilst The Guardian titled its article: “BBC cleared of bias in Israeli coverage.”

According to my sources that closely monitor the Arab media for this list/website, both al-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat, the two main international daily papers in the Arab world, which are both Saudi-owned and based in London, have not reported at all on the internal BBC inquiry. The London-based, Saudi-affiliated, ELAPH also neglected to mention the report.

Al-Quds al-Arabi, a London-based Palestinian daily edited by Abd al-Bari Atwan, also failed to mention the report. This is particularly surprising as Atwan has been a frequent guest commentator on the BBC in recent years.

(Incidentally, in an editorial today, on page 19, al-Quds al-Arabi, says “Israeli law [is] Nazi in its racism.” See: www.alquds.co.uk:8080/TodayPages/qds19.pdf. But the BBC never mentions what an extremist Atwan is when it uses him as one of their favorite and supposedly impartial commentators. Al-Quds al-Arabi is also published in New York and Frankfurt as well as in London.)

IRNA, the Iranian news agency, and KUNA, the Kuwaiti news agency, contained short reports on the BBC bias report.

Writing in Arab News (May 9, 2006), the British Arabist Sir Cyril Townsend, said: “Slightly to my surprise, for I keep a close eye on this subject, a study for the BBC’s governors reported on May 2 that the BBC’s coverage of the Arab-Israel conflict implicitly favors the Israeli side… the BBC comes out of all this rather well, and I expect many of its top staff, who face powerful and sustained criticism from the articulate pro-Israeli lobby, will feel this critical study gives them much useful ammunition. It is much to the credit of the BBC that it called for the study in the first place… I end with a word of praise for Orla Guerin, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent. She has reported on Sharon and Jewish settlers and Hamas, in a calm, thoughtful, exemplary and impartial manner day after day.”

“ONE SIDE IS IN CONTROL…”

The report also asserts that “one side is in control and the other lives under occupation,” and that “Israelis are necessarily in the position of authority, while the Palestinians are frequently in the position of challenger.”

Leading journalist and commentator, Melanie Phillips, a longtime subscriber to this email list, argues “What occupation? Ever since Oslo, the Arabs in the disputed territories have lived under rule by the Palestinian Authority. The only occasions when Israeli rule impinges on their daily lives occur when Israel takes defensive security measures to stop the Arabs from murdering its citizens.”

“NO LINK BETWEEN BBC BIAS AND ANTI-SEMITISM”

The panel also claimed that: “We did not find evidence that any increase in anti-Semitic behaviour could be attributed to BBC coverage.”

Melanie Phillips responded to this claim: “This of course is mere assertion based on no evidence at all. Indeed, how can it be otherwise? Since the panel has concluded there is no BBC bias against the Jewish state, how can it have contributed to animosity against the Jews?”

Whilst the report claimed there was no link between BBC bias and increased anti-Semitism in the UK and elsewhere, it did assert that “Although the evidence put to us by those supportive of the Palestinian side did not emphasise this point, it is easy to see that there is also the possibility of an adverse impact on Muslim communities.”

In other words, the study for the BBC governors attempted to equate anti-Semitism with anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain on the basis of precisely none of the evidence with which they had been presented.

“ISRAELIS RECEIVE MORE AIR TIME”

According to the study, deaths of Israelis received greater coverage than Palestinian fatalities, while Israelis received more airtime on news and current affairs programs. In their pieces on the BBC report, newspapers in Britain, such as the Independent, put great stress on this claim, as if it were true.

Martin Walker, the editor of United Press International (UPI), notes in his article, attached below, “given the media-wise presence of the Peace Now movement and Israel’s lively democracy, much of that nominally ‘Israeli’ talk time would have been highly critical of the Sharon Government.”

Dr. Irene Lancaster of the University of Manchester, also questioned the study’s assumption that the fact that the BBC supposedly broadcast more interviews with Jews and Israelis than with Palestinians demonstrated a pro-Israel leaning. The BBC regularly reports the opinions of anti-Israeli Jews, Dr Lancaster said, which under the report’s methodology would count as a pro-Israel broadcast.

The “prestigious Reith Lectures, currently running on [BBC] Radio 4 and repeated several times a week on the BBC World Service is a typical example of the BBC using Jews, both running the show and featuring Jews, in this case Daniel Barenboim, the conductor, in order to demonize Israel and thus the Jewish people by ridiculously adulating Muslim culture, in this case that of the Palestinians,” she said.

LIOR ANIDZAR AND DANIEL WULTZ

The report also claimed that “a small percentage of Palestinian fatalities were reported by BBC News… (whilst) the killing of more than one Israeli by Palestinians either by gun or bomb was reported on national broadcast programs.”

This is simply untrue. Today, for example, the BBC News website reports on six Palestinian “militants” killed in an Israeli anti-terror operation. Yet there is no mention on their website of Daniel Wultz or Lior Anidzar, the two most recent victims of the April 17 suicide attack on a Tel Aviv falafel stand during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

(Nor was there any mention in the BBC story on air or on line, that the senior Islamic Jihad terrorist who, with his gang, died in a shootout yesterday had planned several suicide bombings that killed almost forty people – including the April 17 suicide attack in which Anidzar and Wultz died – and was planning to carry out another terror attack shortly. He received funding directly from Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus. Nor in the midst of countless reports about how the Palestinians don’t have any money was there mention of the 10 kilogram explosive belt seized in a Palestinian car by the Israeli army in Nablus on Saturday en route to be used in a terror attack in Israel this week; nor that yesterday the Israel Navy intercepted another Palestinian gun boat near Gaza, this one carrying about 450 kilograms (992 pounds) of TNT and parts of mines, and additional bags of explosives. This is where the international aid money goes.)

Lior Anidzar, 26, of Tel Aviv, who had married his wife Maya just 13 days earlier, died of his wounds on Saturday (May 13) in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. Anidzar’s sister, Dalia, who is six months pregnant, said yesterday that she would name her baby Lior after “her darling, sweet little brother.”

Daniel Wultz, 16, an American on vacation in Israel, died from his injuries yesterday. Wultz was referred to in the dispatches “The mushroom cloud is on its way” (& American teen victim loses leg) and Al Aqsa leader: American Jewish teens are our ideal target (& Fisk on Walt).

There is no mention of either Lior Anidzar or Daniel Wultz on the BBC website.

Nor was there any mention of them in this morning’s BBC radio World Briefing program despite the fact that the first four reports in the program all dealt with the alleged humanitarian crisis faced by Palestinians (and another report later in the program was also on the Palestinians). Two of my journalist colleagues, working for respected international media in Gaza last week, told me privately that there was in fact plenty of food in Gaza despite some media claiming that “the Palestinians are facing starvation and hunger.”

Nor, among a mass of other reports about suffering Palestinians yesterday, did the BBC mention the Israeli injured by a bomb near Ramallah. Even the Jordan news agency ran the story, but not the BBC. See: www.petra.gov.jo/nepras/2006/May/14/16.htm.

It is also worth noting the contrast between the lack of coverage over American teen Daniel Wultz, who was murdered in Tel Aviv, and the obsessional coverage of American political activist Rachel Corrie, who died in an accident.

Doctors said that during Wultz’s four-week fight for life, he was able to communicate with his family by batting his eyelids, despite being in great pain.

At least one other of the 70 injured in the bombing remains in critical condition and may not survive.

“BAD NEWS FROM ISRAEL” READ BY ALL MEMBERS OF THE PANEL

Page 17 of the BBC report asserts that all members of the panel read the book “Bad news from Israel” by Greg Philo and Mike Berry. Amazingly, “Bad News from Israel” claims systematic pro-Israeli bias on the BBC and other television channels. Following publication of this book last June, Philo appeared on a number of different BBC programs.

It is therefore not surprising that one of the conclusions of this report was that “there was little reporting of the difficulties faced by the Palestinians in their daily lives.”

For more on this book, see the dispatch BBC’s former Mideast correspondent: BBC is much too pro-Israel (June 22, 2004). (Even for those with limited time, I suggest you take a look at some of the items in that dispatch.)

“ONE OF THE MOST DREADFUL STORIES EVER BROADCAST BY THE BBC”

One of the BBC reports cited by the panel was “a report on how a modern day traveller might undertake a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.” No mention was made in the BBC Governors report that an Israeli Foreign Ministry Official said at the time that “this was one of the most dreadful stories ever broadcasted by the BBC.”

For more on this, see the third note in the dispatch Venezuelan President Chavez: “The descendants of the Christ-killers” control the world (Jan. 2, 2006).

Additionally, no mention is made in the whole report of BBC Jerusalem correspondent Barbara Plett who said on air that she “started to cry” in sorrow when Yasser Arafat left the West Bank shortly before his death in October 2004.

The BBC’s Board of Governors criticized BBC news chiefs for not sanctioning Plett in November 2005. There is no mention of this sanction in the report even though it comes under the specific time period the report was investigating.

For more on this, see BBC sanctions reporter who cried for Arafat (& “Hitler” running in Fatah primaries) (Nov. 28, 2005).

A HISTORY OF BBC REPORTS

Unsurprisingly, a report provided by the BBC, about its own coverage, by a supposedly independent panel nominated and serviced by the BBC, has produced a report which reeks of BBC “impartiality.”

This is not the first time the BBC has failed to sufficiently criticize its own Mideast reporting. In 2003, a report which was also provided for the BBC Governors, prepared by the Royal Institute for International Affairs, concluded that “BBC coverage was impartial and accurate.”

Another internal report prepared in 2003 for BBC Management by “Senior Editorial Adviser on the Middle East” Malcolm Balen has still not been made public, although this 2006 report claims that “a number of its recommendations have been implemented.”

AUSTRALIAN POLITICIAN CRITICIZES ANTI-ISRAEL MEDIA BIAS

Other broadcasters elsewhere also seem to be inspired by the BBC agenda. For example, last week Connie Fierravanti-Wells, an Australian Liberal Party Senator, criticized two Australian television stations for their “anti-Jewish, anti-U.S. slant that some broadcasters relish in adopting.” The legislator, having returned from Israel to see the untruth of the “Israeli apartheid lie” with her own eyes, added that stations ABC and SBS often “tell only one side of the story.”

GUFFAWS OF LAUGHTER

I attach below a commentary piece on the BBC report by Martin Walker, Editor of United Press International (UPI), who says that the conclusions of the report that there was no anti-Israeli bias in the BBC “produced mocking guffaws in my own newsroom.” Walker cites several examples of such bias, borrowed with my permission from this email list/website.

Unlike the other big news agencies (Reuters, AP, AFP), UPI at least attempts at fair coverage of the Middle East. The systematic anti-Israeli errors of other news agencies are too numerous to be catalogued. For example, the caption for one of the main AP photos sent this morning by AP to newspapers and websites worldwide reads: “A Palestinian man stands at the border fence as he looks to the Israeli settlement of Metulla, during a rally to mark the 58th anniversary of ‘al-Nakba,’ or ‘the catastrophe,’ at the Fatima Gate in the village of Kfar Kila on the Lebanon-Israel border, on Sunday May 14, 2006.”

Metulla is of course not a settlement but a town in northern Israel, founded in 1896.

-- Tom Gross



FULL ARTICLE

THE BBC PRO-ISRAELI? IS THE POPE JEWISH?

The BBC pro-Israeli? Is the Pope Jewish?
By Martin Walker
The Times (of London)
May 11, 2006

www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2174641,00.html

Despite a catalogue of examples to the contrary, the governors insist there is bias against the Palestinians

The official report for the governors of the BBC on its coverage of the Palestine-Israeli conflict found predictably that there was “was little to suggest systematic or deliberate bias” but then went on to list a series of measurements by which the BBC could be said to be biased in favour of Israel.

This produced mocking guffaws in my own newsroom, where some of the BBC’s greatest hits – or perhaps misses – remain fresh in the memory. There was the hagiographic send-off for Yassir Arafat by a BBC reporter with tears in her eyes and that half-hour profile of Arafat in 2002 which called him a “hero” and “an icon” and concluded that the corrupt old brute was “the stuff of legends”.

There was Orla Guerin’s unforgettably inventive spin on the story of a Palestinian child being deployed as a suicide bomber, which most journalists saw as a sickening example of child abuse in the pursuit of terrorism. Guerin had it as “Israel’s cynical manipulation of a Palestinian youngster for propaganda purposes”.

There was the disturbing case of Fayad Abu Shamala, the BBC Arabic Service correspondent, who addressed a Hamas rally on May 6, 2001, and was recorded declaring that journalists in Gaza, apparently including the BBC, were “waging the campaign shoulder to shoulder together with the Palestinian people”. Pressed for an explanation, the subsequent BBC statement said: “Fayad’s remarks were made in a private capacity. His reports have always matched the best standards of balance required by the BBC.”

There was the extraordinarily naive coverage of the London visit of Sheikh Abdur-Rahman al-Sudais, the predominant imam of Mecca, to open London’s largest new mosque. He was described as a widely respected religious figure who works for “community cohesion”, and a video on the BBC website was captioned “The BBC’s Mark Easton: ‘Events like today offer grounds for optimism’.”

The BBC must have missed his sermon of February 1, 2004, that said “the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels... calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs... These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil, and corruption...”

These are isolated examples, but they stick longer in the memory because they are reinforced by a broader pattern of coverage that seems to play down that Israel is a democracy that elects Israeli Arabs to the Knesset and which does not engage in systematic terrorism and suicide bombing of civilians. So it was startling to read the report for the BBC governors finding so much bias in favour of Israelis. This was based largely on the quantitative content analysis done by outside researchers which found “significant differences across BBC news programmes and services in the allocation of talk time”.

The detailed survey found disparities (in favour of Israelis) in the amount of talk time given to Israelis and Palestinians, and that “Israeli fatalities generally receive greater coverage than Palestinian fatalities”.

The methodology of the survey may be a complicating factor. The period analysed went from August 2005, the time of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and January 2005, when Ariel Sharon had his stroke and the Palestinians held their elections. The greater use of Israeli voices in this period seems reasonable when the big stories were the domestic political implications for the settler movement of the Gaza withdrawal and of Sharon’s eclipse. And given the media-wise presence of the Peace Now movement and Israel’s lively democracy, much of that nominally “Israeli” talk time would have been highly critical of the Sharon Government.

Moreover, the terms of reference of the report that the BBC governors commissioned excluded both the BBC World Service and the international TV channel BBC World, although it did include the BBC website. This excluded a large fraction of the BBC’s international coverage along with the often more detailed coverage that the World Service provides.

It is important to consider the context of the report’s finding that Israeli deaths tend to get more coverage is that the Israeli victims are overwhelmingly and deliberately civilians, targeted at random. The Palestinian fatalities vary widely. Some are killed in internal feuds between Hamas and Fatah, and some are executed as “collaborators”, some are terrorists caught in the act and some are the victims of Israeli targeted killings. These tend to be the ones that result in the tragic collateral killing and wounding of civilians and children. And it can be difficult for journalists, even those with the resources and exemplary bravery and professional persistence of most BBC reporters, to establish which is which in time for a news report.

The report on which the governors will now rely to develop new guidelines for BBC coverage tends to skate over some of the professional problems that make even-handed reporting difficult in Gaza and in the West Bank. Journalists have been kidnapped and cameras stolen, and their sources are often intimidated.

By contrast, Israeli politics are easily followed in Israel’s free press, where critics of the occupation and of Israeli military tactics abound and where the Israeli media does sterling work, including the kind of combative investigative reporting that is virtually unknown in the Palestinian press.

There is one piece of good news. BBC reporters will henceforth be allowed to use the T-word to describe “relevant events, since it is the most accurate expression for actions which involve violence against randomly selected civilians with the intention of causing terror for ideological, including political or religious, objectives, whether perpetrated by state or non-state agencies”.

But even here BBC reporters will be faced with a tricky dilemma, since the report goes on to say: “While those immediately responsible for the actions might be described as terrorists, the BBC is right to avoid so labelling organisations, except in attributed remarks.”

So think of the poor hack on deadline in a flak jacket trying to remember whether to say some crazed Jihadist killer was “a terrorist from Hamas” rather than “a Hamas terrorist” while squeezing more historical background and more Palestinian talk-time into the news report. It’s amazing that the coverage is as decent as it is, and that most of us in the business concede privately that, for all its flaws, the BBC still does a better job that any other news organisation on Earth.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.