Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Six facets of bias: letter to the BBC

The BBC's catalogue of loaded language, selective labels and distorted context on the situation in Gaza is now overwhelming. It's almost superfluous to single out given items, given the consistent pattern of misleading reportage.

Peter Horrocks, head of the BBC's multimedia newsroom, recently claimed that special care is paid to the reporting of Israel-Palestine:
"There is an established contentiousness that might mean the language we use is more precise and we measure it more carefully."

There's also, one strongly suspects, an established understanding at the BBC on how to manage that "contentiousness".

Indeed, this claim of 'added vigilance' is an even more damning, if inadvertent, admission of the BBC's studiously-biased framing. It helps explain, for example, how special care is being taken, at the apex of the BBC, to apply pejorative labels like "militants" when referencing Hamas.

Multiple other examples of such institutionally-crafted language abound. As with the BBC's establishment-friendly reporting of Iraq, forthcoming studies will, one trusts, provide comprehensive illumination of the scale and intensity of its deceit in covering Gaza.

For the moment, I want to highlight six notable facets of bias by omission and false context, all of which - contrary to the BBC's Charter to inform - is serving to mislead and misinform the public over the current attacks on Gaza.

1. Israel is still an occupying force in Gaza.

The withdrawal from Gaza's settlements did not end Israel's illegal containment. Any state imposing land, sea and air restrictions of this severity can be deemed to be acting as an effective occupying force. As UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk stated on 9 January 2008:

"Although Israel has contended that it is no longer an occupying power, due to its withdrawal of its forces from within Gaza, it is widely agreed by international law experts that the continued Israeli control of borders, air space, and territorial waters is of a character as to retain Israel status legally as occupying power."


Why is Israel never referred to in BBC reports on Gaza as an "occupying power"?

2. Israel broke the truce.

It was Israel, not the Palestinians, who broke the truce on November 4 2008 when it entered Gaza and killed six Palestinians. Israel's unilateral violation of the ceasefire - a truce initiated by Hamas - was a calculated act and a central part of the Barak-formulated plan of attack on Gaza. Yet, it's almost never noted or caveated in BBC reports. Can you explain why?


3. Israel is targeting all Palestinians, not just Hamas.

Hamas are a democratically-elected government, mandated by the Palestinians to resist Israeli aggression. It is, thus, grossly misleading to continually cite the situation as a conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It is clear from the massive assault on civilians and civilian infrastructure that this is a campaign of violence against Palestinians, not just a purge on Hamas. Israel's purpose in such a selective portrayal is obvious. Why are the BBC continually amplifying that propaganda?

See: An Eye for an Eyelash, Media Lens: http://medialens.org/alerts/index.php

4. Israel and the West promoted/colluded in the destabilisation of Gaza.

Following Arab efforts to establish a Palestinian national unity government, Israel, the US, EU and other Western allies promoted the Fatah-attempted coup to overthrow Hamas. The siege against Gaza which followed was collective punishment on the people of Gaza for electing Hamas. Why is this critical context consistently missing from BBC analyses?


5. Israel's "war aims" are accepted at face value.

Why do the BBC slavishly report Israel's "war aims", as though the targeting of Hamas is their only goal? Entirely missing from this account is Israel's long-term planning and larger objectives: the collective imprisonment of the Palestinians as part of an ongoing project to humiliate and break them as a people and deny them statehood. As Jonathan Cook notes:
"The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years – a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed."

The BBC's failure to question Israel's current 'war objectives' is part of a more conspicuous absence of historical context. The subject of Zionism and Israel's modus operandi - the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through transfer and apartheid policies - are all, presumably, too "contentious" to note.

Instead, the BBC repeats without question the standard calls from politicians on the need for a ceasefire, as though this would return the situation to a state of peace. The context, in effect, becomes one of satisfying Israel's 'defensive' requirements rather than looking at the fundamental problem of Israel's overall occupation and control of Gaza.

Part of this narrative includes constant repetition of Israel's demands that the tunnels be closed as a precondition of any ceasefire. There's no countervailing view that the Palestinians may be constructing tunnels for the purposes of basic survival in the face of Israel's illegal siege.

Why this consistent omission of context and uncritical presentation of Israeli 'objectives'?

6. The BBC focus disproportionately on Hamas's military capabilities.

Why are Hamas rockets constantly being highlighted in BBC reports (as in Frank Gardner's routine studio pieces) while the massive extent of Israel's arsenal receives scant attention? The BBC's seemingly obsessive coverage of rockets from Gaza is as disproportionate as Israel's own violence against the Palestinian people.

Also, why do the BBC repeat without question Israel's demands that Hamas/the Palestinians disarm, while Israel remains a major arms-laden (and nuclear) state. And where are the detailed features on US and UK weapons supplies to Israel?


As this is a formal complaint, I would like a detailed reply on each of these main points.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley


Anonymous said...

Wonderful John.
Would be interested to know the response- do email me!

John Hilley said...

Thanks Asad

Here's what passed for a reply - and my further response:



Unknown said...

To John Hilley: I have just discovered your website and want to express how grateful I am to find someone who has and is exposing the Israeli warped media manipulation and relentless brutal thuggery and savagery that this state of israel that tries to call itself a 'democracy' but is truly a barbaric cruel regime is inflicting on the Palestinian largely defenceless and innocent citizens. Israel is a state of gangsters and it's about time they were brought to justice and true justice finally given to the Palestinians. thank you.

John Hilley said...

Many thanks Jeanne for your kind words and deep humanitarian concern.

Please spread the truth of these barbaric war crimes wherever you can.

Best wishes,