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Everyone it seems is angry with the BBC. For many on the Palestinian side the Corporation appears like a vassal of the imperial West and assists in the latest manifestation of colonialism which subjugates them. Context is king for Palestinians and removing it aids their removal.
For example, a recent article on the BBC News website explaining the history of the conflict reads; “To Jews, Palestine was their ancestral home, but Palestinian Arabs also claimed the land and opposed the move.” This sentence makes it sound as if the Palestinian Arabs came from without and suddenly laid claim to a piece of land instead of the fact that many of them are born from people who inhabited the Levant for thousands of years before the Aliyahs from Europe arrived.
This delegitimizing of their cause and history through omission allies with the minimisation of their lives compared with those of their enemies. Headlines scream how Israelis were “killed”, but the Palestinians just “died.” A dichotomy which removes the acting party when the lives of Palestinians are taken.
And when space is found for those wanting to shout for their freedom. a mere 25 seconds is what the BBC News at 10 gave to one of the ten biggest marches seen in British history when over 100,000 marched in London for Palestine. The broadcaster did find the time, however, to mention the approximately 0.0001% of people arrested.
This all followed two of its newsreaders accusing the protestors in London of “backing Hamas” a description it later acknowledged was “misleading.” And when the Commissioner for Countering Extremism, who has a history of affiliating with Islamophobic individuals, branded many of those marching for Palestine as pro-Iranian agents, extremists and anti-Semites, there was no challenge by the BBC Presenter.
BBC Verify which aims at making the unclear clear, alleged that the most likely cause of the Al Ahli hospital bombing was a rocket from inside Gaza. This is on the say-so of three security experts from think tanks aligned with military apparatus in the West, one of which has a Mossad Chief on its board.
Nora Erakat the Palestinian author summarized the BBC’s coverage by accusing the Corporation of being “complicit” in genocide against the Palestinians by allowing, language from Israeli ministers on its channels where Palestinians are described as “Human Animals” among other things. And some BBC staff have been left in tears over what they say is the dehumanizing of Palestinians by the Broadcaster.
However, none of this coverage has convinced Israel and many of its supporters in Britain that the Beeb is on their side. On the contrary for them the BBC is blatantly pro-Palestinian and by extension “pro-Hamas.” That’s the charge against the beleaguered broadcaster whom the British right-wing Media along with government ministers, public figures and legal bigwigs have all accused of being anti-Israel.
In the preliminary analysis of media coverage of the ongoing war, I have found that the BBC has referenced Israeli talking points and claims almost three times as much as Palestinian ones.
This suggests that the overarching narrative is an Israeli one. Israel “says” or “claims” or “denies” punctuates almost all coverage. The clear statistical bias has not placated the pro-Israel voices as the BBC’s initial consistency with its editorial guidelines in calling Hamas “militants” and not “terrorists” as the Group has been designated by many Western Governments has left it open to attack.
Such is the ferocity of the campaign that Israeli President Isaac Herzog lamented before the world media about BBC’s “distortion of facts” whilst also hinting to the British Prime Minister of some possible action to bring the broadcaster into line. A line that was possibly suggested by a pro-Israel spokesman on BBC Politics when he said “”if you don’t call it that (terrorism) the scenes that are about to unfold in Gaza are more difficult for people to understand why it’s occurring.”
And these voices have been backed up by a voraciously anti-BBC right-wing Press with the Times, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and Daily Mail newspapers as well as their fellow travellers in the current affairs magazine space all castigating ‘Auntie’ for once more being PC and not saying what they know is true.
Some of these articles have a point. The BBC is not consistent in its use of the phrase/s “terror, terrorism or terrorist.” BBC editorial guidelines suggest the word terror should not be used when describing an attack, however, research has found recent terror attacks in Christchurch, Sri Lanka and El Paso are all examples of BBC broadcasts which refer to terror.
But to single out the BBC for this inconsistency is blatant hypocrisy. British newspapers have long chosen where the label of terror applies, and it is normally reserved for those of darker skin shades or those affiliated with a particular religion, namely Islam.
During the period 2015-2019, over half (51%) of individual online news pieces in 31 of the mainstream British news websites, magazines and newswires which mention the term terror, terrorism, terrorist(s) one or more times, also mention Muslim(s) and/or Islam, Islamic, Islamism or Islamist in the same piece. The equivalent total for far-right, white supremacist, right-wing and neo-Nazi terrorist(s) is 6%.
It would however be a mistake to simplify this as an issue of Israeli rage against Britain’s national broadcaster. The attacks are a part of a long war waged by various factions including some on the Left and the Conservative Party over the 13 years since it ended New Labour’s hold on power.
In 2013 Grant Shapps launched a broadside against the BBC whilst he was the Tory Chairman, writing in the Sunday Telegraph that It had “a culture of secrecy and waste.” Ten years on the same Shapps despite being asked 10 times by BBC presenter Mishal Husain as to whether our government thought it right that the Israelis had asked Palestinians in Gaza to flee the Northern part of the occupied enclave within 24 hours, dodged the question ten times before castigating the Broadcaster for not calling Hamas’ terrorists. Matthew Paris described the episode in his Times column as “disreputable.”
The attacks on the BBC intensified when ONE of its reporters made a presumption of the attack on the Al Ahli Hospital where he speculated in the immediate aftermath that damage was consistent with Israeli firepower.
As the former editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger revealed on his media podcast many other media outlets were more emphatic including the Mail Online which produced eight headlines saying “Israeli Strike” or indicating IDF bombing. This from the online arm of the Daily Mail which had two front pages attacking the BBC. As Rusbridger surmised quite correctly, “The agenda behind a lot of the attacks on the BBC are from people who just can’t stand the BBC.”
It is no secret that proprietors of right-wing newspapers and publishers believe the BBC to wield inordinate power over Britain’s media landscape. And It hasn’t helped itself in the recent past over the perceptions of its cosying up to the government, with revelations such as former Chairman Richard Sharp playing a role in helping Boris Johnson’s personal finances at the same time as he was seeking to secure the BBC job.
But despite this episode involving the right-wing’s favourite blonde bombshell, the attacks have continued. From the pages of newspapers to the round-the-clock coverage where regular barbs are thrown at the Beeb because it won’t broadcast the mixture of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim propaganda that the likes of GB News regularly churn out.
Just this week political commentators reported that the Director General of the BBC Tim Davie attended a meeting with the influential 1922 committee which represents backbench Conservative MPs where there were a “frank exchange of views” over the Israel-Gaza coverage and much desk-banging when the BBC’s coverage of small boats was questioned.
The frustrations show that even the BBC’s enemies seem to acknowledge the power it wields as a news broadcaster. It should therefore stand its ground in the face of attacks by those who want it to share its particular truth. Even more so when those calls come from the head of a foreign state and members of the British Government itself. The BBC would be wise to adopt the dog and lamppost approach to journalism in these instances, given the demands made of it by the powerful.
The Israeli drive to present the issue with the Palestinians as a Good vs Evil or Darkness vs Light narrative is convenient precisely because it succeeds in removing context. Context shows a long war on Palestinians, including, displacement, theft of land and murder of innocents currently ongoing in both the West Bank as well as Gaza. Context matters and it is not for the BBC to partake in the festival of lies or ‘fog of war’ that seeks to dehumanise Palestinians and aid in their oppression.
Solid and brave reporting would expose the evils of Hamas, not any political label which not only appeases one side but kowtows to domestic enemies on the right-wing of Britain’s culture wars.
They care less about how Hamas are described and more about how to bring the BBC down.