Monday, 26 January 2009

BBC Scotland occupied

Last night (25 January) saw our inspiring occupation of the BBC in Glasgow in protest at their decision not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal on behalf of Gaza.

We simply managed to walk in to the lobby of this sleek glass building and unfurl our banners, flags and placards before the police arrived in a panic to seal off the main doors. We also let some other late arrivals in through a side door (pictures here).

Spirited chants filled the lobby as staff and police considered what to do. The message was aired loudly that the BBC are complicit in the war crimes against Gaza, and that their decision not to allow the DEC Appeal shows them in their true establishment colours.

After an hour or so, a senior police inspector announced that we had 15 minutes to leave or be arrested. We refused, explaining that this was a peaceful, moral protest in support of the 1.5 million already imprisoned and suffering in Gaza. Glasgow human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar arrived to offer advice and support to the gathering.

Various media outlets, including the Independent, started calling on mobile phones asking for comments, while others arrived outside the locked doors - such publicity being the principal point of the occupation. Yet, ignoring our calls, the BBC had itself still failed to put any of its reporters on the story. The irony hardly needs stating: no need for the BBC to arrive when they're already in the building.

At this point, Tony Benn called to express his support and his words were read out over a mobile to loud cheers. Other calls of support were received from George Galloway, Stop the War and activist groups all around the country.

Eventually, Ian Small, the BBC's Head of Public and Corporate Affairs was brought in to handle the matter, and our group nominated five people - including myself - to speak with him. Mr Small, I think it's fair to say, offers perfect insight into how such people get to be where they are at the BBC.

During our meeting - which we insisted take place in transparent observation of our group rather than the back room he had demanded - Mr Small was reminded of our movement's previous letter passed to him itemising the BBC's brazenly pro-Israel coverage of the Gaza crisis. No formal response to that 9 point statement has yet been received.

We then asked Mr Small to explain the BBC's decision to disallow airtime for the DEC Appeal.

What we got, predictably, was a set of template assurances that 'our concerns would be registered' with BBC Director Helen Boaden et al - a useful moment to relate, in turn, my own experience of this token procedure. While accepting that the BBC 'doesn't always get it right', Mr Small denied my assertion of deep institutional bias, resorting again to standard claims of BBC 'impartiality'. I also reminded him that many staff at all levels of the BBC are outraged by their employer's decision.

Listening to Mr Small uphold the BBC's statement on the DEC Appeal - while declining my request to have him air his own view on the matter - brings home the quite alarming capacities of such people to defend the utterly indefensible.

Our more pertinent demand was that the BBC come and report the protest occurring inside their own building. Mr Small agreed to convey this request to the newsroom, but could not, he said, guarantee that the protest would actually be covered. It would be "unethical", he thought, to try and exert such influence.

A further meeting with senior BBC Scotland directors was secured. But, personally, I see little purpose in sitting in plush-panelled rooms speaking to power in this way. The real point of this action was, and is, to maximise support for Gaza and shame the BBC over its brazenly partial decision.

Having voted to leave the building, our objectives achieved, a number of press outlets - including the BBC - were waiting outside to cover the emerging, cheering crowd.

This action illustrates the real value of direct, peaceful civil disobedience. It also alerts us to the ways in which organisations like the BBC seek to manage dissent through such sham consultation. And it reminds us, in this desperate time for the people of Gaza - and the West Bank - that all these small protests are having a cumulative effect in drawing the world's attention to Israel's barbaric behaviour and the deeply distorted reporting of it.



Some further reporting of the occupation protest from Glasgow Stop the War:

Over 100 people participated in an occupation of the BBC Scotland headquarters on Sunday, demanding that the broadcaster show the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza. Occupiers entered the building at 5pm, and despite the police threatening mass arrests to remove everyone within 15 minutes, the occupation remained for almost 4 hours.

The occupation was successful in applying additional pressure on the BBC through extensive national and international media coverage, including front-page coverage in the Metro as well as coverage on CNN and CBS. It was announced live on Channel 4 news as well as on Sky TV. Al-Jazeera Arabic ran a live telephone interview from the occupation, and Press TV will today interview Strathclyde University media expert Professor David Miller. Another Iranian television station rang Stop the War at 4:30am to do an interview, and the story was the third item on their morning news bulletin.

Tony Benn also telephoned the occupation to offer his support, saying 'The decision to occupy the BBC in Glasgow must be understood as a plea for the people of Gaza, who are suffering so much and who need our help to help get the money through'.

A delegation from the occupation was elected to meet with Ian Small, Head of Public Policy & Corporate Affairs and member of the BBC's Executive Board, who was called in specially to meet with the occupiers. The BBC agreed that it will arrange a meeting with the delegation with Ken McQuarrie, the Controller of the BBC Scotland, and Atholl Duncan, the head of news for BBC Scotland on Wednesday the 28th of January. Glasgow Stop the War Coalition is asking its supporters and those who support humanitarian aid to Gaza to gather outside the BBC on Wednesday at 4.30pm.

Protestors also promised to return unless the DEC appeal is aired. Glasgow Stop the War also called for others to take similar actions around the UK.

All the occupiers decided to leave the building together, and no arrests were made. By that time, television cameras from SKY TV, BBC, and GMTV had arrived, as well as a reporter from the Daily Record. Numerous interviews were also conducted by telephone from inside the occupation.

Videos from inside the occupation at -

Pictures at -

BBC staff protest over gaza aid appeal – 'fury' at the news desk meeting.

Unions protest over BBC and Sky's Gaza appeal ban

Some of the coverage:

The occupation made the front page of the Metro. There is a 2-page spread about the occupation in the Daily Mail, and reports on Page 2 of the Daily Record and p.8 of the Herald amongst many others. News24 have been covering the DEC appeal protests at the BBC Scotland all day today and Glasgow Stop the War Coalition was interviewed in the early hours of Monday morning on Press TV.

We would like to thank the countless number of people from across the world who have telephoned and texted messages of support and solidarity for the action taken at the BBC Scotland HQ.


Anonymous said...

This morning Thompson, when interviewed on the Today Programme stated the decision was his responsibility.
His performance was a lesson on how not to conduct yourself during an interview, with poor delivery and reasoning, and it was difficult to believe he is the head of bbc.
It is obvious that Thompson, who has a poor record of decision making, is not capable of running such a large corporation.

Tony B said...

Great stuff and I totally support the people who led this dramatic occupation.
well done

Anonymous said...

John, wonderful stuff, the more direct actions the better! It's times like this I wish I was on the mainland instead of on the Socialist Republic of Barra but we are with you guys in spirit - keep up the good work! Neil

Anonymous said...

Well done all of you!

AB said...

I complained yesterday to the BBC re their lack of the protest coverage in Glasgow, though for a follow up, when I eventually hear it would be useful to know exactly the timing of the protest. I had gleaned from press protests it started at 5PM?

Anonymous said...

Everybody, here are some more links to pass around, the first one is an email to the bbc. Please get as many as possible to participate.

"Support UN General Assembly President Brockmann's Call for BDS against Israel"

Neil from Barra

Anonymous said...

What next? Aircraft hijacking!

John Hilley said...

Thanks Neil and others.

Neil, you are indeed here with us in spirit - though the Socialist Republic of Barra sounds pretty ok too. Appreciations for the links and all your support.


Anonymous said...

John, here are some more links for people to use and pass on.

-there are a few petitions on the Amnesty page

Neil from Barra