Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Points to the BBC: rejected and referred

The BBC have been in defensive mode again this past week over their coverage of the Gaza flotilla attack, as in this exchange with BBC Diplomatic Correspondent, Jonathan Marcus:

Dear Mr Marcus

I've read the Media Lens Alert regarding Israel's attack on the Gaza aid flotilla and your claims of impartiality in reporting the event.

You note in your piece:
"This was always going to be a high-risk operation for Israel both in terms of reputation and diplomatic repercussions."
Citing your selective emphasis on the PR cost for Israel, the ML Alert responded:
"Imagine if Hamas fighters boarded a ship in international waters and shot dead [9] Israeli civilians. It is inconceivable that you would write:

“This was always going to be a high-risk operation for Hamas both in terms of reputation and diplomatic repercussions." "
Could you please respond to this anomaly and say whether you would ever be inclined to write such a line in any such report involving Hamas.

Additionally, why do you automatically assume that Israel was/is primarily concerned with protecting its 'good reputation' and diplomatic relations? Given the emergency cabinet meeting which determined that a violence-based interception of the flotilla should take place, isn't it reasonable to suggest that the main "reputation" Israel wants to promote is one of outright terror?

This view is consistent with the many witness statements from those aboard the ship, which confirm that the commandos began firing at the passengers before landing on deck.

In short, Israel was more interested in sending a message of fear rather than fearing the PR/diplomatic fallout.

So, wasn't that message of terror sent out by Israel the one that should have been emphasised in your report rather than the assumed 'problem' for Israel of diminished reputation and troubled diplomacy?


John Hilley


Forgive me Mr Hilley but I really cannot see what your complaint is. Everything that has happened since the tragic events on board the Mavi Marmara has surely shown that this was a disaster for Israel's reputation and diplomacy. Coming so soon after the much-publicised misuse of foreign passports by the Mossad it has surely added another set of questions about the behaviour of Israel's government and the legitimacy or otherwise of its actions. I fear you and your colleagues seem so blinkered by your own prejudices that you cannot see this for what it is - a factual description of the current state of affairs.

I see no purpose in continuing this "dialogue". You have writtten in and complained. I believe that your complaint is unreasonable but you presumably have strongly held views on the Middle East crisis and you are obviously entitled to your opinion. Thank you for getting in touch.


Dear Mr Marcus

Yes, it seems that Israel is, indeed, reeling, reputationally, over the flotilla attacks. That's not really in question, given the widescale outrage that's taken place.

The issue here concerns the principal context in which you and others report the story. The fact that the primary take concerns Israel's damaged reputation, rather than the killing of activists per se, helps illustrate the kind of loaded perspective you bring to the story.

The ML editors asked specifically whether you would use the same kind of language regarding the PR factor if Hamas had carried out such an attack. We can be reasonably sure that the context and language would have been very different: namely, one of 'terrorists attack boat', rather than any speculative lead about the damage done to Hamas's reputation.

Your failure to answer the point is duly noted.

Doesn't the fact that 1400 Palestinians were deliberately killed by Israel during Cast Lead - see the Goldstone report, concluding that this was a pre-planned exercise inrtended to target all Palestinians, not just Hamas - suggest that the flotilla atack was a similar exercise intended to kill and terrorise - as was the Dubai assassination?

That being the case, why don't you explore a little more thoughtfully just what kind of reputation and PR Israel is really trying to convey?

Mr Regev may be touring media studios talking-up Israel's 'good name'. That's the standard course of spin and denial. But the real message being sent out by Israel is one of outright terrorism: we can and will kill anyone who resists, including international activists.

Why don't you centre your reports on that premise?

The reason you don't is that the BBC can't entertain the truth of state terrorism. So, instead, we get this ersatz reportage dwelling on the fallout of 'errors' and 'mistakes' committed by an otherwise 'respectable' state. There's no consideration of how Israel thought it could get away with such an outrage.

Think, likewise, about the Dubai klling. This most intelligent of intelligence agencies and its state masters must surely have known that multiple stolen passports and numerous CCTV images would put Israel squarely in the frame. Why were they so seemingly careless? Again, could it be that the terror message - and notoriety deriving from it - was/is more important to them than dealing with the 'PR problem'?

Given what we now know about the deliberate shooting on the Mavi Marmara, shouldn't the BBC be exploring the possibility that Israel is engaged in an outright terror campaign? Shouldn't this very obvious possibility be part of your discussion on Israel's 'reputation'?

Or are these logical questions just to be dismissed as more "unreasonable" speculations from someone with "strongly held views"?

Having strong views in support of oppressed people is not inconsistent with engaging in serious analysis of that oppression and what's driving the oppressor.

Beyond repeating the standard line on Israel's diplomatic "disaster", where's your investigation of Israel's actual motives?


John Hilley


Alas, no further reply came back.

But it's worth quoting what independent journalist Jonathan Cook said in an email
to the Media Lens Editors (published at the ML message board) on such correspondence with Marcus:
"Dear Davids,

Your exchanges with Jonathan Marcus (and subsequent ones with media lensers) are interesting and in many ways prove very clearly the point you've been making for so long that the problems of the corporate media lie chiefly in structural limitations rather than the fault of individual journalists. I can't help but find myself sympathising with Marcus in these exchanges if only because, as a journalist, I know that, were I working in his position for a media organisation like the BBC, I'd have been expected to write, and would have written, much the same. A diplomatic correspondent's job is to write this kind of propaganda, in which "our" crimes are about mistaken perceptions or public relations fallout and their crimes are, well, crimes. In a way, criticising him for it, and watching him respond with bafflement, is to underline your - and Chomsky's - point that his job depends on his not understanding. Were any of you to "convert" him, he'd want to walk away from his nicely paid job. But probably that would not happen. My fear is that, all you would achieve is to transform a sincere cog in the corporate wheel (ie a nice bloke who tries to answer your emails as best he can) into a cynical cog (ie a bloke who doesn't answer them or responds with abuse).

I wonder whether a more fruitful target for criticism for this kind of story (assuming any of it can be fruitful) is the news desk editors, who in knee-jerk fashion make this kind of storyline the dominant one every time "we" committ a crime. Marcus has a defence, and a good one at that, that he is simply fulfilling his job description. The editors, however, are on shakier ground - both professionally and ideologically - for making his "diplomatic" line on the story the chief one. All best, Jonathan
Which reaffirms previous points made here about structural powers, editorial expectations and journalistic understandings over final output. So, beyond people like Marcus, there may, indeed, be a case for targeting those desk editors and others who frame the agenda. Yet, it's still important that journalists themselves be challenged and asked to recognise the rules of control they work under.

On which related note, allow me to mention the BBC's rather curious decision to have a comment I posted at Mark Urban's blog referred for further consideration. It's now been six days since the piece was halted and passed on. The caption simply reads:
Despite emails to Mark Urban, Helen Boaden and the BBC complaints department requesting to know why, I've received no reply or explanation.

My points were in response to Urban's feature article on West Bank development, in which he talked-up the work of the Palestinian Authority, the 'improving' situation there and
Tony Blair's 'interventions'.

The comment wasn't rejected for being abusive (it wasn't abusive), so why, one wonders, the decision to refer it for further moderation and take so long in giving a reason?

All, I (dis)trust, will be revealed.....




BBC finally publish my comment (point 12) at Mark Urban's blog.

I'm still none the wiser as to why it was referred and held back until 21 June. Maybe this second email to Ms Boaden helped concentrate minds a little:

Monday, 21 June, 2010 14:41

Dear Ms Boaden

Further to my previous message, I really must ask you now to explain what has happened to my comment (number 12) of 10 June at Mark Urban's blog.

Whatever the reason for referral, it's quite disgraceful that I've received no reply from the complaints unit, Mark Urban or yourself on the matter.

There's a basic issue of free speech here and the right to be informed about any curtailment of comments. Please provide the reason for removing mine, otherwise I'll be compelled to write about the matter to the BBC Trust.


John Hilley



This message from the Editors at the ML board gives rise to a little more suspicion over the BBC's referral of comments:

Well done John - excellent comment (finally) posted on Urban's blog.

I've had a comment "referred for further consideration" since appearing for less than 24 hours on 7 June (item 2 at link below). No explanation given either, despite prompting.



No comments: