At present, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is ongoing
and systematic, yet it is difficult to find any reference
to this crime against humanity in most news media.
The issue is not so much slanted coverage as scant
or selective coverage of the misery Israel is inflicting
on the Palestinians. Although the BBC has a reputation
for fair and balanced reporting, when it comes to
Israel-Palestine a different standard seems to be
applied, as even gross violations of human rights
are not reported.
1. There are precedents
We have recently witnessed some cases of disjunction
between the reality and the reportage generated by
the main news media. For instance, the war in former
Yugoslavia was portrayed as one of a Serbian ogre
attacking innocent victims. Alas, reality diverged
from this typecasting by the main networks, including
the BBC . The latter rarely
mentioned uncomfortable facts, and its reportage usually
supported the official version of events – it
remained propaganda-compliant .
Similarly, the BBC portrayed the war against Iraq
in a way that paralleled Anglo-American policy. Although
some revelations appeared through the cracks questioning
the rationale behind the war, on the whole, the BBC’s
output did not challenge the official stance on this
war . It integrated into the
embedded system without a peep from its journalists.
The BBC’s coverage actually supports Anglo-American
policies by what it chooses to omit from its main
news broadcasts. There is virtually no mention of
the war in Colombia, or the attempts to destabilize
Venezuela; if events in such countries are at odds
with official policy, the BBC avoids them. The BBC
marches mostly in lockstep with Anglo-American policy.
The situation with BBC’s Israel-Palestine coverage
is similar to the previous examples; there is a disjunction
between what is happening on the ground and the BBC’s
coverage. If anything, the situation is more galling
because of the long history of ethnic cleansing, the
chronic mass human rights violations, and a recent
accelerated land grab, entailing a new wave of ethnic
cleansing. Given that the UK has been deeply involved
in this sordid situation historically, by enabling
mass Jewish migration into Palestine, it is curious
how distorted and context-less the news presented
by the BBC today are. Just like the official Anglo-American
policy, Israel is treated as an official ally, and
Palestinians as the “accepted enemy”.
2. Mostly scant, but also slant
If a propaganda organ sought to portray an “official
ally” in better light, then one would expect
some of the following bias and tendency in its coverage
(see table below).
an accepted ally is the aggressor, portray them
as acting in self-defense or responding to violence.
Never indicate that they may be the aggressor.
The victims’ violence is always unreasonable,
criminal, or terrorism.
of Negative aspects (e.g., killings)
coverage of the violent acts of an accepted ally
will be a fraction of what is happening on the
ground. In contrast, the official enemy’s
violence is covered fully. The ally’s victims
of violence are covered showing emotional scenes;
the enemy’s fatalities are just “facts”
if mentioned at all.
facts and key incidents, e.g., murders, acts of
official ally’s egregious attacks, or the
spate of mass violence are barely mentioned, and
then without looking at the consequences. Use
exculpatory language like: “the attack was
not a massacre” or statements minimizing
the scale of purported atrocities.
of Positive aspects
the official ally’s society does something
that is considered positive, then highlight it.
Positive aspects of the official enemy’s
society are ignored.
is always an explanation for the official ally’s
actions. Explanation for official enemy’s
actions doesn’t incorporate the relevant
vs. relating own story or explanation
enemy’s spokespersons are given leeway to
explain their version of events. The official
enemy’s version of events is mediated, and
their voice is rarely heard.
by expert journalist
the propaganda organ may have experts in the area,
they seldom venture to offer an interpretation.
Their reportage is presented as: the official
ally says “x”, and official enemy
say “y”. Journalists tend to explain
away negative aspects and allow the ally to put
forth their version of events.
generalities when they help bury specific actions,
and refer to specifics when it is necessary to
hide wider trends. When an admission is made of
a specific incident, then mention it without reference
to the general pattern.
to aspects of the ally’s society, but present
them unrelated to the enemy’s reality. The
implication is that the official ally doesn’t
have anything to do with the enemy’s plight.
official ally-centric words to describe actions
or conditions, e.g., don’t use “illegal”,
but use “disputed” or “controversial”.
of the leadership
ally’s leaders are presented as centrist,
reasonable, “man of peace”, accountable
to parliament. The official enemy’s leaders
are demonized; “is he relevant?”,
ally’s gov’t is portrayed as a democracy;
the official enemy’s as corrupt, inept,
and “they must reform”.
leadership or settlers in a family setting, smiling
and playing with the kids. Portray the official
enemy protagonists as hooded “militants”
and suicide bombers – no family scenes.
the US or UK gov’t officials about actions
of the official ally.
and UK are portrayed as not responsible for the
official ally’s actions. When it comes to
the official enemy, then clear indications are
given that something will be done and pressure
Of course, this matrix would apply to any propaganda-compliant
medium. However, the remainder of this article shows
that much of the BBC’s output is consistent
with the indicated matrix of actions and emphasis
in its reportage. The BBC’s news from this area
is mostly Israeli-centric, and it must be emphasized
that the BBC’s bias is evident primarily in
terms of omission.
3. Establishing an important fact
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is reality today,
and it is a systematic Israeli policy. This is what
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a human rights advocate, had
to say about the events in Gaza :
can be no doubt that Israeli policy in Rafah amounts
to a process of ethnic cleansing, and, as has been
so often the case throughout history, a humanitarian
catastrophe is being allowed to continue unimpeded.
The grotesque land grab wall being built in the West
Bank entails a massive ethnic cleansing operation.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and up to 38%
of the West Bank population are being thrown off their
land, their means of livelihood put off limits, or
their access essential services cut .
Villages have already been cleansed, e.g., Abu Farda
, in the “seam area”
West of the wall. Even on the Palestinian side of
the wall, villages such as Yanoun or Numan are constantly
intimidated or ravaged by settlers or the Israeli
army violence, forcing their evacuation .
Furthermore, thousands of homes have been demolished
making tens thousands of Palestinians refugees yet
again – just in the Rafah area in Gaza an estimated
16,000 Palestinians have been rendered homeless (in
the middle of winter). In Gaza, areas near the “border”
or the settlements have been confiscated, again forcing
many off the land . The list
of outrageous IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces) actions
that rob Palestinians of their homes, villages and
heritage is very long. A good way to describe Israeli
policy today is one of slow ethnic cleansing.
Israelis have coined a euphemism for ethnic cleansing,
calling it “transfer”. Most of the members
of the current cabinet openly advocate ethnic cleansing,
and in the case of Sharon, Olmert, Effi Eitam and
Benni Elon, they have first hand experience in implementing
it . The topic of transfer
is openly discussed and most Israelis accept a variant
of this “policy” .
protesting against the “Women In Black”,
Jerusalem, 1989. The calls for “transfer”
are overt – they are calling for ethnic cleansing.
Photo ©2004 Paul de Rooij.
Israeli scholars confirm the fact that ethnic cleansing
is taking place. Prof. Jeff Halper recently talked
about “quiet ethnic cleansing”. And Prof.
Adi Ophir said :
a certain extent, transfer is here as well. […]
But under the conditions of Israeli control in the
territories today, transfer is being carried out slowly
by the ministry of the interior, by the civilian authority,
at airports and border crossings, by sophisticated
means such as forms, certificates and denial of certificates,
and by less sophisticated means such as the destruction
of thousands of homes, and checkpoints, and closures,
and sieges, that are making the lives of the Palestinians
intolerable and leading many of them to try to emigrate
in order to survive. Even if the number of new refugees
is small for now, the apparatus that can increase
their number overnight, is already working.”
If ethnic cleansing is evident to human rights advocates,
Israeli academics, and human rights organizations,
then it is pertinent to ask why the BBC hasn’t
mentioned it at all. A search through BBC Online reveals
no reference to “ethnic cleansing” of
Palestinians. The term “ethnic cleansing”
seems to be the exclusive preserve of the former-Yugoslavia.
It seems that the BBC finds it difficult to use a
term coined to demonize the Serbians in the current
context . Although “ethnic
cleansing” is a recent propaganda term, its
meaning is now well understood, i.e., expulsion of
a native population from their homes, villages and
A November 2003 UN conference confirmed that the
situation for the Palestinians is desperate and has
reached crisis proportions .
Its proceedings note that: “a UN committee monitoring
human rights abuses of Palestinians [for the last
35 years] has concluded that the situation in the
Israeli-occupied territories of Gaza and the West
Bank was the worst ever last year.” This situation
is chronic, and indeed, mass abuses of human rights
have been going on for decades. It is obvious that
the BBC coverage of the region is not proportional
to the severity of the situation, and it doesn’t
focus on the victims of this catastrophe.
4. Examples of propaganda-compliant news items.
4a. This is not journalism, it is apologia.
Few articles display the BBC’s bias better
than Chris Morris’s “Lost hope in Mid-East
conflict”. Although not the worst example, it
displays the full panoply of the apologist’s
toolkit . Morris ignores
key contextual information, delves into specifics
instead of looking at the wider context, and offers
a clear example of apologia.
Morris reports on the case of a pregnant woman held
up at a gate by Israeli soldiers, impeded from reaching
the ambulance, and forced to give birth next to the
gate where she miscarried her twins. But Morris doesn’t
tell us that there have been many other cases where
women have been forced to deliver at checkpoints resulting
in dozens of miscarriages. When it suits the propagandist,
the relevant context is ignored.
Equally curious is the fact that Morris only refers
to a mysterious “gate” without mentioning
the wall that is being built straight through the
West Bank village of Deir Balut – where the
incident Morris describes took place. One would almost
think that the gate stood on its own next to the village,
but the key context, the wall, is not mentioned; not
even one of the euphemisms (barrier, fence) is used.
However, from the account of an Israeli peace activist,
Dan Shohet, one would think that the wall being built
would be difficult to miss :
Wall will circle the village from three directions,
will separate it from its lands and from the road
to the south (the road to the east was blocked three
years ago, and was never opened again). The inhabitants
will be pushed into a crowded enclave, a ghetto, together
with a few nearby villages — surrounded by walls,
fences, road blocks, army and settlements.”
Eight houses of the village, most of the arable land
and the chief water source will fall on the “wrong
side” of the wall, and effectively the village
will be eliminated. But Morris mentions none of this.
However, what is astonishing is the way in which
Morris discusses the soldiers who barred the pregnant
woman from reaching the ambulance. Under the heading
“What would you have done?” Morris states:
the perspective in this story and what do you see?
Conscript soldiers wary of attack at a checkpoint
surrounded by darkness. What would you have done,
really? Would common humanity have won through? Would
you have taken the risk? Or would you have played
it safe, fearful of a trap? Who knows? There are no
easy answers. I’d like to think the soldiers
on that checkpoint, on that cold winter night, didn’t
want two new-born babies to die. But die they did,
and Israel is damaged and devalued by tragic tales
such as this. All the talking has led nowhere. And
so it goes on — another week in the Middle East.”
Judith Brown from Exeter University had the right
riposte: “… it was not a question of
’what would you do’ if you were in the
position of the conscript soldier. It should be a
question of ’why did he not uphold the international
law […]’, as he was obliged to do as
a soldier of the occupying power” .
Several photos accompanying the article summarize
the thrust of the piece:
“You can’t blame soldiers for being jumpy
at checkpoints.” This amounts to bald-faced
Caption: “Most roads are blocked to Palestinians.”
Morris sees no reason to explain why this is the case
– no references to the wall or the checkpoints.
Morris throws in this conclusion: “Never mind
whose fault it is — all the talk, all the well-meaning
mediation will come to nought [sic]. I think now that
there is a real possibility that this will simply
drag on and on.” The only thing that the text
doesn’t capture is Morris’s sigh after
the last sentence. Nothing we can do about this, and
we can’t apportion blame. The plight of the
Palestinians is portrayed as a fact of nature.
4b. Terror Tourists.
In Dec. 2003, the BBC reached a new low point with
the broadcast of “Terror Tourists” –
a scurrilous propaganda piece directed by Tim Tate
. The film deals with an
“anti-terrorist training camp” in a settlement
near Hebron catering primarily for Americans who may
be feeling a bit insecure after 9-11. The camera crew
follows the “terror tourists” through
their course, which includes an armed trip through
Al Khalil (known as Hebron to Israelis), a Palestinian
city of 150,000. The army often places the city under
lock-down curfew so that the occupants of neighboring
settlements can go about “in peace”. It
is on such forays that the “tourists”
are taken. Or as Tim Tate stated: the organizers “have
deliberately constructed the course to protect the
Terror Tourists from ever meeting a single real-life
Overall, it is remarkable that such a documentary
ever appeared on the BBC. This is what Sharif Nashashibi,
the Director of Arab Media Watch, had to say
about it: “By any standards it was the most
one-sided, inaccurate, offensive documentary I have
ever seen” .
Nashashibi also complained to the BBC about the use
of the term “disputed territories” throughout
the program, and the reply is worth reading:
make a number of points about the status of the West
Bank. There are a number of different views over the
legality of the occupation itself, and the actions
of both the Israeli government and the Jewish settlers
in the area. The British government does not regard
the occupation itself as illegal (official policy
detailed in the Foreign Office’s website), nor
does the present US administration. Clearly the Israeli
government takes one view, its neighbours another.
I think in these circumstances it is not unreasonable
to use the word “disputed”.
—Fraser Steel, BBC Head of Programme Complaints
[emphasis in original.]
There you have it: the BBC marching in lockstep with
Israel, US, and UK governments. No ifs or buts.
4c. Hectoring within narrow confines.
Kirsty Wark is an interviewer on the main extended
BBC news program, Newsnight. Invariably she
seeks to hector the interviewees so that their statements
remain within the narrow confines of her script; in
general, most BBC interviews are conducted this way.
Wark often puts words into an interviewee’s
mouth or coerces them to the point where the interview
doesn’t make much sense or the interviewees
sit back abjectly, unable to express their own views.
Her bias regarding Israel-Palestine is evident; her
script here is to discuss “Palestinian violence”
and “Israeli moderation”.
In an interview with Diana Buttu (a PLO legal advisor)
and Daniel Taub (an Israeli spokesman), Wark steered
the interview into a discussion of “Palestinian
violence”, and every time Buttu attempted to
add some context she was interrupted .
Wark constantly harked back to the question of Palestinian
violence without allowing the cause of such violence
to be discussed. Furthermore, Wark stated: “Ariel
Sharon says that in a matter of months if there is
no progress he then will go for a disengagement plan
– and there will be separation. Now,
if that indeed happens and if separation appears in
a way to work, then who will care about Middle East
again?” Wark seemed to take it upon herself
to emphasize Sharon’s message, and one wonders
why an interviewer would say that. And then the warning
to the Palestinians that they may be ignored is not
only an Israeli-centric question, but also a Likudnik
one. Overall, Wark forced the interview into a single
topic and treated the interviewee in a hostile fashion
interrupting all of her answers.
The second part of the interview allowed Daniel Taub
to rattle off his points without any interruption.
Taub took the moral high ground, constantly harped
on the terrorism theme, and stated that Israelis sought
a negotiated peaceful outcome. Ms. Wark didn’t
challenge any of Taub’s answers, and the interview
ended cordially. This is considered a “balanced”
interview on the BBC, i.e., Palestinians always have
to face off with an Israeli within a narrow topic,
usually violence or “reform”; Israelis
do not necessarily face a Palestinian for rebuttal.
The reception of the Palestinian speaker is invariably
hostile, and Israelis are greeted with smiles and
4d. The “self-hating” Palestinian
One could easily obtain a series of outrageous statements
from the village idiot, and, of course, such statements
would not constitute news. When it comes to Israel,
then no problem, any dubious story that conveys an
ideological message is fair game. One of the BBC’s
correspondents in Jerusalem, Raffi Berg, reported
on a “self-hating” Palestinian, Walid
Shoebat, who sometimes wears a kippa and utters nonsense
such as “I am a Zionist” .
In the article Walid Shoebat is quoted as saying that:
(1) Palestinians hate Jews, and (2) “…
Then I started thinking, really the Jews didn’t
do us any harm but we hated them…”. So,
this is a nice means to suggest that Palestinians
are anti-Semites and that Israelis never did anything
horrible against Palestinians. These two key features
of the article appear as inline highlighted quotations.
The fact that Shoebat broadcast from a settler radio
station near Ramallah, or that he has stated and done
some ridiculous things should have disqualified this
as an article for any reputable organization –
not the case with the BBC.
4e. Oh, his emotions…
A BBC journalist riding a bus in Jerusalem and discussing
his anxiety in doing so is considered news .
Martin Asser’s “Diary: Jerusalems bus
roulette” is self-referential, discusses “his
feelings”, and thus doesn’t constitute
news. Of course, there are no articles on the BBC
commenting on what it feels like when a Palestinian
family is about to lose their home – such accounts
are not of interest to Asser.
4f. The Siege… from an Israeli perspective
The BBC broadcast “The Siege of Bethlehem”
in June 2002 by its premier news documentary program,
Correspondent. It is a “fly on the wall”
style film where the camera follows Israeli soldiers
attempting to end the siege of the Church of the Nativity
in Bethlehem. This is what a former BBC correspondent
had to say about it:
Israeli TV team gained access to the army negotiators
at the siege of the Church of the Nativity, and the
BBC ran the film without caveat, context, explanation
or the necessary distancing that an insider project
of this nature demands. The Palestinians in the film
were under-represented and inarticulate. The general
effect was to suggest that Israeli soldiers were doing
everything they could to make life easier for terrorists
inside the church.
— Tim Llewellyn, “False Witness”,
The Guardian, Jan. 16, 2003
The documentary didn’t show any Israeli violence,
and at the same time, Palestinians were portrayed
as “terrorists”. This was a singularly
The film producer stated at a public meeting that
the BBC operated a “canvas balance” policy.
That is, the BBC would broadcast a “pro-Israeli”
item as long as somewhere in its output there was
an offsetting “pro-Palestinian” item,
and he stated that his film had been approved on this
basis. When the producer was asked to confirm this
statement he refused, and referred this author to
the BBC editors who in turn lacked the courtesy to
answer my queries. Assuming for a moment that the
“canvas balance” policy were in effect,
it is evident to any analyst of the BBC’s output
that there are pro-Israeli news items appearing on
prime time, but one is hard pressed to find any “pro-Palestinian”
items or even pieces which investigate the reality
of Palestinian life under occupation.
4g. Account from the terrier…
James Reynolds is one of the batch of young inexperienced
BBC reporters in Israel; they are also known as the
snippeteers, i.e., they specialize in the 1.45 minute
news snippets. Reynolds stands out for his terrier-like
eagerness to read out the latest press release his
Israeli handlers have given him. His piece, “Israel
wants Washington to add Syria to its to do list,”
stands apart from the BBC’s propaganda pieces
because of the sentimental violin music played in
the background. Anyone’s propaganda alarm bells
should go off when viewing such a report; the music
accompanied the following statement :
for more than half a century. Their fight set amidst
the snows of the Golan Heights, the coldest corner
of the Arab Israeli conflict. There have been many
attempts in recent years to make peace between Israel
and Syria. So far these efforts have failed…”
The remaining account is cliché-ridden, and
it was scripted in an entirely Israeli-centric fashion.
Reynolds saw no need to explain why land conquered
in a war of aggression is illegal and any claims to
it illegitimate. Also, if it is Israel occupying Syrian
land, then it may be worth explaining why Israel wants
Syria included on “Washington’s hit list”.
5. Inanities, banalities and absurdities
Banal and absurd stories play a role in alienating
viewers and put them off from critically understanding
the news . The question now
is if there is a higher incidence of such stories
when an issue is “controversial” and it
pertains to an “accepted ally”.
If a possible aim were to distract or put off viewers
from following the situation in Israel-Palestine,
then one would expect to find a dosage of items qualifying
as inanities, banalities and absurdities. Sure enough,
there are quite a few, and here are some examples
. One finds stories like
a rabbi offering prayers for Orthodox cyber crawlers
who may unexpectedly have entered a porn website .
There are stories of an Eskimo and an AIDS infected
young man joining the IOF .
The latter are absurd stories considering that the
IOF is engaging in some nasty business every day.
An analogy may clarify the objection: one would rightly
ridicule a story discussing how the US Army dealt
with flatulence in its tanks in Iraq – it is
a trivial issue compared to the occupation it is enforcing.
However, Barbara Plett, the BBC writer of the AIDS
story, stated: “Frankly, given the devastation
AIDS has wrought throughout the world and the discrimination
faced by AIDS sufferers, including within Israel,
do you honestly think this phenomenon is a trivial
issue?” In this author’s opinion, this
is a trivial aspect of the IOF today and it hardly
highlights key issues about AIDS, and for this reason
this article amounts to a trivial story.
All told, these inane or trivial stories have all
to do with deflecting attention from uncomfortable
aspects of an official ally. And the BBC loves this
type of stories because they are so cheap and easy
6. Horror, horror!
As soon as a “suicide bombing” occurs,
it is immediately broadcast on the BBC. The insufferable
correspondent Orla Guerin often appears at the scene
of the latest bombing giving an account full of pathos.
The only thing that is missing is that she would pick
up one body part or another.
Soon after the Jan. 29th attack on a bus
in Jerusalem regular programming was interrupted to
show the scene of the attack. The curious aspect of
these reports is the amount of emphasis such a foreign
story is given – it is almost treated like a
local story. In contrast, the week before this incident
several Palestinians were killed, many houses were
demolished, and yet nowhere is Guerin to be found
to relate what is happening to them. The BBC coverage
of carnage is lopsided, and usually ignores the much
greater Palestinian death toll.
The Israeli government is also acutely aware that
images of the bus bombings are important for its propaganda
campaign. It recently made available footage showing
gory scenes after a bombing .
Of course, similar scenes after an Israeli air strike
on Gaza are not shown on the BBC – maybe it
is difficult to reach such a location, and the Israeli
minders may disapprove. In essence, the coverage reinforces
the image of Israelis as victims, and it demonizes
for Orla. House demolition in the Aida refugee camp
near Bethlehem on Jan. 31, 2004. Several houses in
the neighborhood were also damaged in the explosion.
Photo: Musa AlShaer, © 2004.
There is a full list of the “suicide bombings”
on BBC Online , but nowhere
does one find a similar list of the atrocities committed
against Palestinians. So much for the BBC’s
7. Such a nice guy…
Ariel Sharon has blood on his hands and would best
be brought in front of a war crimes tribunal. However,
there are very few references to his criminal past
in the BBC. His photo usually has him smiling or looking
portly and statesmanlike. His “profile”
has a few references to his sordid deeds, but not
in terms that state that war crimes were committed
. Of course, if the BBC considered
him an official enemy then we would have been offered
a very different treatment, e.g., witness the demonization
of Miloševic. It is obvious from the BBC output
that Sharon is treated as an official ally, and all
references to his bloody deeds are mostly expunged
this photo portray Sharon in a way that reflects his
criminal deeds? BBC Online, Jan. 18, 04.
8. Where is the wall?
BBC reportage invariably refers to the “security
barrier”, and emphasizes the fact that it has
fence sections, and thus justifies its use of the
term “barrier”. The descriptor “security”
is an Israeli-centric term that has all to do with
prejudging its purpose. What is also curious is the
lack of coverage of such a massive structure being
built with the use of about 500 bulldozers and an
estimated cost of US$4bn. The length of the wall is
more than 750km, but it is constantly increasing.
It is one of the largest construction projects in
the world today, and it certainly is Israel’s
largest ever. If so, it is odd that the wall barely
features in BBC coverage, and when mentioned there
is no reference to the misery it is causing. A camera
crew only needs to go to Abu Dis, next to Jerusalem,
to determine the implications of this construction.
A village is being split in two in an arbitrary fashion,
and here it is clear that the wall has nothing to
do with security.
to miss. Abu Dis wall Jan. 31, 2004.
Photo: Musa AlShaer, © 2004.
Finally, one of the most grotesque manifestations
of the wall is the encirclement of Qalqilya by an
8m tall wall leaving only a small exit for a town
of 40,000 people. This gate is only open at odd hours
of the day, so the whole city is only able to move
at the whim of the Israeli soldiers operating the
gate. The town has been transformed into a giant prison.
Israelis are acutely aware that this is a very embarrassing
image, and thus require journalists to obtain permits
to visit the town. The BBC duly seems to accept such
restrictions and will not even film this from the
Israeli side of the wall. Alternatively, satellite
images are available that also could show what is
happening here. In BBC reports, there are text references
to Qalqilya and the wall, but the BBC has not broadcast
images that would make the point more forcefully.
9. The portrayal of settlers and settlements
A search through BBC Online reveals an interesting
portrayal of the settlers. They are usually shown
with their children, and often smiling. The settlers
are never portrayed as violent armed thugs, although
this is the reality confronted by Palestinians. Settlements
are “neighborhoods” perhaps in “disputed”
territories. If the settlers have gone a bit over
the top in terms of violence, then the settlements
where they come from become “controversial”.
When Palestinians attack the settlers – who
incidentally are usually armed – then the violence
is portrayed as terrorism, and the settlers are allowed
to state as much when interviewed. Settler spokesmen
will always harp on the same theme: Palestinian “terror”.
However, the BBC seldom seeks to query what settlers
have done to Palestinians by asking the latter directly
10. Portrayal of the checkpoints
It is instructive to examine the BBC’s “Guide
to a West Bank Checkpoint” by Martin Asser .
It portrays a checkpoint on the “border”
because there are “Israeli” and “Palestinian”
sides. Never mind that the grand majority of the checkpoints
are entirely within Palestinian territory –
there are even “flying checkpoints” set
up at the whim of local IOF officers. Furthermore,
it portrays the checkpoints as something resembling
airport check-in areas, even with medical facilities!
Perhaps Asser could have inquired why so many women
are forced to deliver their babies next to the checkpoints
instead of in these “medical” areas, or
let alone get on the ambulance on the other side of
the checkpoint. The humiliation, degradation and the
abusive behavior of the IOF soldiers is not part of
the picture. Again, this is a palliated version of
a reality that entails far more misery and violence.
Asser is a journalist best known for missing the obvious,
but never mind, he is continues to produce his “analysis”
columns for BBC Online.
only checkpoints were so… BBC Online, Aug.
11. Explanation for the BBC bias
It is important to attempt to explain why the coverage
of Israel-Palestine is biased. There are several reasons,
but as outsiders one can only point to the dynamics
of the “corporation” and the successful
11a. Backdoor privatization
There is much pressure to privatize the BBC and to
enable Murdoch or pliant media to become dominant
in the UK. Politically it is not possible to disband
this public broadcaster, and therefore underhand means
have been applied to undermine its independence. The
key manifestation of this is the fact that much of
the BBC’s production is being spun off to third
parties. Astute BBC journalists saw the writing on
the wall and have set up their own production companies.
These companies know that most TV programs produced
to given specifications, and possibly with the gentle
assistance of the old boy network, will be bought
by the BBC. There will be an added bonus if the production
can also be sold to the American networks, but these
in turn will demand certain editorial restrictions
. The result is “market
driven” programming produced subject to the
bias preferred by these external producers. The “Terror
Tourists” falls in this category, i.e., a production
company owned by former BBC journalists produced a
slanted program directed by someone with a dubious
reputation. (This also raises questions about journalists
currently employed by the BBC who also own
such companies). The days when veteran and expert
BBC correspondents produce top-notch news programs,
let alone documentaries, are numbered – the
market imperatives are driving these people out of
The implications for the coverage of Israel-Palestine
are also stark. Taking advantage of the backdoor privatization
is at least one Israeli company producing programs
for the BBC. “The Siege of the Church of the
Nativity” was produced by Israelis, a fact that
isn’t publicized or deemed objectionable by
BBC editors. It also implies that any well-funded
production company could generate programs with their
desired slant, and in all likelihood, the BBC would
buy such programs.
11b. Self-induced market pressures
Successive managing directors have sought to transform
the BBC into a market-driven company. Market imperatives
such as viewer numbers, market share, etc., are driving
the corporation today. The implications are obvious:
a dumbing-down of programming and an emphasis on entertainment.
Of course, a serious overview of the Israel-Palestine
issue “will not sell,” and the justifications
for what amounts to censorship are entirely provided
in marketing jargon.
Thanks to this recasting of the BBC there are pressures
to sell its output to the huge English-speaking markets
around the world. This requires mass distribution
via satellite or cable companies. These companies
also exert editorial control over the programs, and
even threaten media giants like CNN/TimeWarner. If
the Israel-Palestine tune is not to the liking of
these companies, then lucrative markets may disappear.
Again, because of its current market-driven strategy
the BBC has become vulnerable to this type of pressure.
11c. Israeli pressure
Two years ago, the BBC agreed to use Israeli-produced
video footage, and it uses this without labeling its
provenance. As soon as such arrangements are accepted,
the next step is to pressure news groups to close
their offices in the Occupied Territories, or to curtail
visits to these areas. Once one arrangement is in
place and the argument won, the remaining steps are
relatively easy to implement. The consequence is evident:
most correspondents are based in West Jerusalem, and
the Ramallah bureaus are slowly closing down.
Last year, when Sharon visited London the Israelis
made it clear to the BBC that they didn’t appreciate
its coverage. On several occasions BBC journalists
were discouraged/barred from appearing at Israeli
press conferences, and travel in the Occupied Territories
was hampered. As an outsider one doesn’t know
the details, but the resolution of this conflict was
curious. All the veteran BBC journalists in the area
were pulled out – ostensibly, because their
contracts had expired and they didn’t want to
renew them . In their place
came a contingent of young inexperienced snippeteers,
or journalists willing to produce cliché-ridden
reportage, e.g., Chris Morris. It also seems that
the remaining journalists now act under closer scrutiny
of the Israeli press liaison (a.k.a., minders) –
we know this because the minders sometimes appear
in the video footage!
Israeli minders are assigned to assist the correspondents;
they are smooth PR-people who speak the same language
as the correspondent . A
discussion with an Israeli press liaison revealed
that they aim to establish a very friendly relationship
with journalists, and seek to become the primary source
of information. At the same time, any journalist seeking
to distance themselves from their minders will be
hampered or even harassed. Most requests to the minder
yield ample information; the journalist could easily
reconfigure these materials into a story, and then
spend time at the bar instead of in a dusty refugee
11d. Coy journalists
There are several Israeli nationals reporting from
Jerusalem for the BBC, and there are no Palestinian
journalists with similar responsibilities –
these are just “stringers”. It is curious
that if one asks the Israeli journalists working for
the BBC if they are Israeli citizens, then one obtains
evasive answers – NB: it is only a question
about citizenship! Even after exchanging some emails
with several BBC Jerusalem correspondents, it was
not possible to obtain a confirmation of their nationality.
It would seem that there would be issues of objectivity
and balance when hiring such journalists to write
on Israel and Palestinian issues. The journalist’s
citizenship yields relevant contextual information
to interpret their reportage .
It is also curious that Israeli journalists are allowed
to write on Palestinian issues, and here certainly
there is a case for knowing the writer’s background
and nationality. There are ethical issues of sending
an Israeli national to report on Palestinian issues;
that is, a member of the oppressor nation is sent
to interview the oppressed. Would the BBC send a Palestinian
national to report on Israeli affairs? Hardly, and
that is another reason why there is a problem with
its current batch of “journalists” in
the region. (NB: During the Yugoslav wars, the BBC
did not hire Serbian nationals to report on what is
happening in Bosnia.)
12. Language use
Language is also a battleground; Israelis deem the
usage of words very important as their constant prodding
of journalists on this issue attests. This topic has
been dealt with extensively elsewhere ,
but some common word usage by the BBC merits comment.
Here are some key words used by the BBC (alphabetical
used cliché indicating that the Israeli
and Palestinians “sides” are roughly
for illegal or criminal. The BBC often refers
to the “controversial barrier” or
“controversial settlements”. Since
both the wall and settlements are illegal and
criminal, the use of “controversial”
is a means of neutering language and one’s
appreciation of the wall/settlement. The BBC can’t
possibly suggest that actions could be illegal,
or consult legal experts who could confirm this
used by the BBC only in the case of former-Yugoslavia
or when “official enemies” are involved.
This terminology is deemed crude when it is an
“accepted ally” expelling the population.
NB: The same “ally” engaged in a wave
of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948.
is a euphemism for expulsion.
per cent of Israel’s population is Arab.
They are the descendents of the Palestinians
who remained in the country during the first
Arab Israeli war of 1948 — others fled.”
were ethnically cleansed and not allowed to return,
their villages and cities destroyed.
—Richard Miron, BBC Online, Feb. 6, 04.
recently referred to Qalqilya as a “hotspot”
– perhaps thereby enabling viewers to “understand”
why the city of 40,000 has been transformed into
a giant prison. Settlements where racist and violent
settlers live like Kiryat Arba, Kafr Darom, Shilo,
Itamar or Immanuel are never called hotspots.
democracy or state
ethno-centric democracy (even a Jewish one) is
an oxymoron, but even so, the BBC uses this term.
Given that Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin
comprise 20% of the population then it is similarly
odd to use “Jewish state”. One doesn’t
label the US as a “white state” or
a “Christian state”, so a different
standard seems to apply.
term used to describe the Palestinian resistance.
Even when the IOF kills unarmed civilians the
people involved are referred to as militants.
A young boy was killed near a fence and was justified
because he could be a “lookout for militants”.
battles with militants; clashes
the Israeli army, one of the most powerful in
the world, enters the refugee camps in Gaza with
tanks and helicopters, the BBC deems fit to describe
the resulting slaughter as “pitched battles
with militants.” The Palestinian resistance
has no tanks or any sophisticated weaponry.
that the Israelis are willing to continue negotiating,
e.g., “Sharon stated that he will fully
abide by the road map” (Dec. 18, 03). However,
if the road map is dead then why continue referring
to it or not challenge any such statements?
When recently questioned about the apparent death
of the road map and why he continued to use the
term, the BBC’s Jon Leyne stated: “It
is not up to me to decide if it is dead.”
It is for such insights that the BBC hires expert
BBC has settled on the “barrier” term
because the grotesque wall currently being built
has fence sections. However, its favorite descriptor
is “security”. This prejudges the
rationale behind the wall and fully sides with
the Israeli-centric interpretation of it. Some
months ago, the qualifier was “separation”,
but that elicited nasty comparisons with apartheid,
and was dropped forthwith.
Israel invaded Lebanon in the 1980s it justified
the occupation of South Lebanon in terms of requiring
a “security zone”. Recently Israeli
troops were driven from the area, and invariably
the BBC still refers to Southern Lebanon as a
“former security zone”.
conquered and occupied land, but its continued
occupation or annexation is always due to “their
strategic value”. The BBC usually uses this
description automatically when referring to the
death squad assassinations. When a “wanted”
person is killed, the BBC will state that this
is part of Israel’s “targeted assassinations”
policy. Never mind that most of the time civilians
are also killed and it contravenes international
it comes to the places bombed by the Israelis,
then these are described in inert terms, e.g.,
targets. The BBC doesn’t need to visit the
victims living in such targets. The word “target”
also doesn’t convey the image that people
have been killed or villages bombed.
the defining element of the wall being constructed
by Israel are the wall segments in and around
large population centers, the BBC attempts to
stress the fact that there are also “fence”
sections, thus it justifies using neutral sounding
words like “barrier”. When there is
an article about the wall in BBC Online
or on TV, then the usual image shown is a “fence”.
West Bank Palestinians despair, “can’t
they see this is a 750+km wall costing more than
time Palestinians have been killed, an Israeli
spokesperson is quoted as saying that they were
“wanted”. Never mind if the person
was or wasn’t armed or active in the resistance,
the labeling of the victim is never challenged
by the BBC, neither is the justification for the
killing. Similarly, thousands of Palestinians
are held in prisons without charges, trial, and
with undefined prison terms. These people are
also “wanted”, but do not merit coverage.
13. Ethical doldrums
If the media doesn’t cover the situation in
Israel-Palestine, the pressure for world governments
to act, especially the US or the UK, fades, and we
enter what are known as “periods of calm”.
It doesn’t mean that the killing has stopped
or that the relentless drive to cause mass misery
has halted, it just means that it doesn’t appear
in the “Western” media .
The only thing that stimulates interest by the main
news networks is the onset of “violence.”
It seems that only when a bomb explodes in Jerusalem
that BBC journalists will show up making all the right
clucking noises about the event.
So, here is the fundamental quandary for the Palestinians.
If they do indeed stop the violent aspects of their
resistance, the media spotlight will simply disappear,
and concurrently the drive for the “international
community” to do anything about their
plight will fade. So in order to spark international
attention, it seems Palestinians have to engage in
violence, when they are labeled as terrorists. Damned
if they do, damned if they don’t.
By contrast, Israeli violence, often aimed at upsetting
a declared truce, is not covered commensurately —
there is virtually no on-the-scene type of reporting
of the victims of this terror, and therefore there
is no mounting pressure on Israel for it to mend its
truculent ways. In other words, when the Israelis
bomb or engage in other nasty actions it doesn’t
carry the commensurate public relations cost.
The ethical questions for the media thus pertain
to the vicissitudes of their coverage, and the implication
that the news media is partially responsible for violence.
To avoid this situation the media needs to cover both
Israeli and Palestinian societies, and then not only
cover the elements that are deemed useful by the Israeli
propagandist, e.g., Palestinian violence. Fair reporting
that induces positive action requires in depth coverage
of the implications of Israeli policy, e.g., the ethnic
cleansing, the land grab implied by the wall, the
60 to 70% Palestinian unemployment, the tens of thousands
of maimed victims, and so on.
The core of the problem is that some media have adopted
a non-critical stance vis-à-vis state power,
or worse, actually march in lockstep with it (although
“embedded” is a trendier term). So, when
a state adopts a dubious ethical position, the media
producing propaganda-compliant reportage will be similarly
implicated. If the media were to adopt a more independent
role then there would be fewer overhanging ethical
Where was the Beeb while…
Some Americans prefer the BBC’s reportage claiming
it is more balanced. This appreciation has more to
do with the execrable state of American broadcasting
than with the quality of the BBC’s output. It
is odd to find Americans listening to the BBC to obtain
alternative news, as it is clear that the emphasis
of BBC reportage is virtually identical to most American
media. Some will also quote the BBC non-critically,
and this has to do with its reputation for high journalistic
standards. However, this reputation is no longer merited
when it comes to reporting on Israel-Palestine, the
Middle East in general, and areas considered “controversial”.
Today the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is ongoing,
and Israeli policy is causing much misery and suffering.
Jeff Halper, the Israeli peace activist, has called
this “quiet ethnic cleansing.” The reason
it is quiet has all to do with the fact that the major
media barely mention what is going on. The BBC even
refuses to acknowledge that systematic Israeli policies
are now in place to drive the Palestinians off the
land; it also doesn’t countenance the use of
the term “ethnic cleansing”. The BBC’s
fateful embrace with the stance of various states
implies that there is major disjunction between events
on the ground and the emphasis of its reportage. For
this very reason it bears some responsibility for
what is happening to the Palestinians today.
Paul de Rooij is a writer living in London, and
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(all attachments will be automatically deleted.) ©2004.
- Tim Llewellyn, Why
the BBC Ducks the Palestinian Story, electronic
Intifada, Feb. 6, 2004.
- David Miller (ed.), Tell me Lies, Pluto
- John Pilger, BBC
Machinations, Znet, Feb. 6, 04.
- Paul de Rooij, Worse
than CNN?: BBC News and the Middle East. CounterPunch,
May 16, 2002.
- Diana Johnstone’s Fools’
Crusade, PlutoPress 2002, is a very important
book highlighting the parallel message found in
the media and that portrayed by the various governments
involved in the intervention in the former Yugoslavia.
Media and government propagandists marched in lockstep.
Michael Parenti’s To Kill A Nation: The
Attack on Yugoslavia, Verso Books, 2002, presents
a similar story.
- Facts like these were usually
Tell Me Lies, David Miller
(ed.), PlutoPress 2004, contains an excellent collection
of articles analyzing the reporting of the US-Iraq
Mustafa Barghouti, Hell
walking on earth,” Al Ahram, Feb.
5-11, No. 676.
an Israeli human rights organization, estimates
that 875,600 will be harmed by the construction
of the wall. 16% of the West Bank land is falling
under direct Israeli control due to the wall. Also,
James Brooks provides a good overview of the effect
of the wall here: We Didn’t Know,
Will be No Excuse: Israel’s New War Machine
Opens the Abyss, CounterPunch, Nov. 10, 2003,
Day in the North, PENGON, Jan. 4, 2004. This
is an important document.
Furthermore, many Israelis from
the extreme Kach movement to “centrist”
Israelis, bay for the implementation of “transfer”
— there is nothing secret about it. Please
note that several villages have already been cleansed
or have been affected in such a way that Palestinians
will live under miserable conditions, e.g., Yanoun,
orders land seizures in Gaza. There are many
other such examples.
Olmert implemented several bureaucratic
rules that led to the dispossession of Palestinians
in Jerusalem. For example, building permits, confiscation
of identity cards, outright confiscation of land,
unwillingness to abide by the law when it came to
Palestinian rights, etc. The Tourism minister, Benni
Elon, participated personally in evicting a Palestinian
family, see Like Thieves in the Night.
Neve Gordon, “The Only Democracy
in the Middle East? Most Israelis Don’t Believe
It (or Support It)”, CounterPunch, Feb. 3,
04. Gordon states: “More than half of the
Jews in Israel (53%) state that they are against
full equality for the Arabs; 77 percent say there
should be a Jewish majority on crucial political
decisions; less than a third (31%) support having
Arab political parties in the government; and the
majority (57%) think that the Arabs should be encouraged
to emigrate.” The latter is what they refer
to as “transfer”.
Adi Ophir, Genocide
Hides Behind Expulsion: A Response to Benny Morris,
CounterPunch, Jan. 16, 2004.
This fact was confirmed by Malcolm
Balen, the BBC senior editorial adviser to BBC News.
His main role is to review the BBC’s Middle
Abuses the Worst in 35 Years — U.N. Report,
CommonDreams, November 6, 2003.
Chris Morris, Lost
hope in Mid-East conflict, BBC Online, January
Dan Shohet, “Protest camp
in Deir Balut village”, electronicIntifada,
Dec. 26, 2003
by Judith Brown.
was broadcast on Dec. 7, 2003 on a prime hour-long
timeslot. There is an overview of the film by the
Sharif Nashashibi’s reaction,
Dec. 9, 03, Arab Media Watch.
of the Dec. 18, 2003 BBC Newsnight program.
Raffi Berg, Palestinian
militant turned peacemaker, BBC
Online, Jan. 26, 2004. To see Shoebat’s other
ridiculous statements, e.g., “I am a Zionist”,
Martin Asser, Diary:
Jerusalems bus roulette, BBC Online, August
James Reynold, Israel
wants Washington to add Syria to its to do list,
For a longer discussion of this
topic see: David Edwards, Logical
Media Lunacy, MediaLens, January 12,
To justify this statement, we
have tabulated the entire output of BBC Online during
the second intifada and classified articles
by the type of bias demonstrated. From this research
we can conclude that there is an increase in the
trivial or absurd stories.
issues internet sex prayer, BBC Online, Jan.
Raffi Berg, Israel’s
first Eskimo soldier, BBC Online, Dec. 4, 2003.
And Barbara Plett,
Israeli army confronts Aids taboo, BBC Online,
Nov. 23, 2003.
Justin Huggler, Israel
releases harrowing film of suicide bomb victims,The
Independent, Jan 31, 2004.
Tarik Kafala, Analysis:
Palestinian suicide attacks, BBC Online, Dec.
25, 2003. This is an in-depth discussion of Palestinian
“suicide bombing”, yet there is no similar
report on violence perpetrated against Palestinians.
See for example: Profile:
Ariel Sharon, BBC Online, Jan. 21, 2004.
Martin Asser, Guide
to a West Bank Checkpoint, BBC
Online, Aug. 8, 2003.
In the past, the film director
had the final say in the content and editing of
a film. No more, most TV-film productions have constant
interference by the producer who also have a final
say in the editing and content. TV film directors
state that they felt as if the editor was constantly
looking over their shoulder. Worse yet, some companies
work with a committee of producers – and each
can overrule the director.
Tim Llewellyn, “Why the
BBC Ducks the Palestinian Story”, in Tell
me lies (ed. David Miller), Pluto Press 2004,
One veteran correspondent noted
that the “minder” assigned to him spoke
English with his own accent, and he attempted to
establish friendly relations by talking about the
latest baseball scores of his home team. Another
journalist stated that it was evident that all his
articles had been scrutinized by his minder, and
quibbled with him on the terminology used.
Israel is the only country where
nationality and citizenship are not the same. Thus
even a people of Palestinian origin are Israeli
citizens, but of “Arab” nationality.
A recent Jewish arrival to Israel can be bestowed
the Israeli citizenship and a “Jewish nationality”.
Here issues of nationality and citizenship are tricky.
Paul de Rooij, A
Glossary of Occupation, CounterPunch, Sept.
Ali Abunimah, 117
Palestinians killed, hundreds injured during media’s
“relative calm”, ElectronicIntifada,
Dec. 26, 2003.
- It was the Serbians who bore
the brunt of the ethnic cleansing; the US even
provided military advisors to assist in this process.
- The Croatian, Bosnian-Muslim,
and Albanian-Kosovars represented some of the
most reactionary political movements. In the case
of Croatia, a movement based on the resurrected
the 1940s Ustashe fascist party, a party with
a genocidal history. The Bosnian-Muslims sought
to set up an Islamic state from the start.
- The Bosnian Muslims most probably
targeted their own population in Sarajevo for
propaganda purposes. Ditto the Albanian-Kosovars.
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