Monday, 30 May 2011

BBC go muckraking Media Lens

The BBC Empire - or, at least, one of its outposts - it seems, is striking back, and in rather cheap and desperate form judging by the responses of BBC Middle East Bureau Chief Paul Danahar.

Following Bad News From the BBC, Part 1, a Media Lens charge sheet of BBC imbalance and distortion, Part 2 of the Alert featured a most revealing exchange with Danahar in which he refused to countenance the accumulated evidence of More Bad News From Israel, an updated text from Glasgow University Media Group authors Greg Philo and Mike Berry, or the damning testimony of ex-BBC journalist Tim Llewellyn.

Instead, Danahar resorted to a spurious and diversionary attack on ML co-editor David Cromwell, dragging-up a job held long-ago at Shell. With no moral obligation to do so, Media Lens subsequently offered this comment:
"The BBC’s Middle East Bureau Chief, Paul Danahar, shares senior editorial responsibility for ensuring balanced and impartial BBC News coverage from Israel and Palestine. Rather than provide substantive answers to the serious questions raised in our latest media alert, he apparently first requires a ‘mea culpa’ from David Cromwell making clear that DC ‘deeply regrets his actions, or lack of them’ in working for Shell in the Netherlands between 1989-1993. What could possibly justify such a slippery response from a senior BBC editor?
There's a lot that could be said about this. But the issue of supposed hypocrisy is a red herring based on a fundamental misunderstanding of our argument. Most of us work for corporations, most of us buy their products and services, and most of us pay taxes that feed the war machine. We all began life as infant narcissists. We are all still prone to the self-interested, greedy, egotistic, angry thoughts that are entrenched in our destructive society. We could all be doing more to make the world a better place. None of us is beyond blame. But then blame has never been the issue for us. The issue is that we should all be challenging each other - challenging, listening and changing - in order to make the world a saner, less destructive place. We have to because the world is rapidly going to hell in a handcart.
We are not pretending that we are paragons of virtue and we are not saying that Paul Danahar is a 'bad man' for working at the BBC. We are saying that we believe that BBC News offers a biased version of events favouring the powerful on Israel-Palestine and many other key issues. And we're offering solid and ample evidence, arguments and sources in support of our claims. We're asking Paul Danahar and the BBC to respond rationally to our arguments so that people can make up their own minds on who is making most sense. Then it's up to the public, and indeed BBC journalists, how they want to respond. We don't ask the BBC or readers to respond on the basis that we are teetering on the edge of Enlightenment. We ask them to respond if they think our arguments are reasonable and important. Frankly, we could be complete moral reprobates. But if our arguments make sense, and if people think the oppression of Palestinians matters, then they should still think about how things might be improved to relieve suffering. It is the arguments that matter, and the suffering, not whether DC is a virtuous individual."
As ever, the ML Editors getting to the very heart of the matter.

I'd like to add this.  Whatever our past circumstances, the most important things are what we learn from those experiences and what we actually, if possible, do about the injustices we see and feel therein.

Cromwell's experiences helped him see from the inside just how brutal the corporate monolith can be in its rapacious pursuit of profit.  It provided the impetus for writing Private Planet, a book outlining radical, green alternatives to the corporate plunder of the world and its resources.  Ten years ago, Cromwell had gone on to co-found Media Lens with David Edwards, both giving much of their lives to exposing corporate-establishment power by helping to advance a new, unconstrained and humanitarian media.   

Danahar, by contrast, continues to work for an organisation which protects the establishment line and, in his particular role as Middle East bureau head, approves an output that, in its consistent falsifications and denials, actually contributes to the suffering of occupied and brutalised Palestinians.    

Danahar's refusal to engage the serious questions put by Media Lens prompted many letters.   Here's my own: 
Dear Paul
How regrettable to see you engage in this petty point-scoring diatribe against David Cromwell when all he's done is ask some civil questions about your organisation's reporting.
Don't you have some public duty to consider the weight of these issues, not least for those suffering in the conflict? You are the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief, after all.
Nor is it remotely relevant to claim that the issues precede your own tenure - or that those not having visited the region can hold no informed view.
Are you seriously claiming that there's no substance at all to the mass of documented evidence now showing BBC bias by language, omission and institutional constraints?
It's not just the bombing and siege of Gaza or the murder of those aboard the Mavi Marmara. It's the daily oppression of Palestinians across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that never gets any mention.
That's right, Jerusalem, same city, different part, where your bureau sits, its editors and journalists seemingly oblivious to the persecution and apartheid going on all around.
Not long ago, returning from the West Bank/East Jerusalem, I wrote to the BBC asking why they had failed to report the plight of a Palestinian family being evicted from their home in Sheik Jarrah, while noting the multiple other brutalities against Palestinians that go unreported by the BBC.
It went, tortuously, up to the BBC Trust for further consideration before being, predictably, dismissed. Most complaints never even get a response.
Tim Llewellyn has just outlined that labyrinthine process alongside key examples of loaded BBC coverage and institutional placation of Israel, receiving a terse little smear on his good character for doing so.
Like your responses to Media Lens, it's a sign of the BBC on the back foot, in blatant denial, stooping to cheap riposte rather than answering the serious charges levelled against it.
As documented by Philo and Berry, by Media Lens and many others, the evidence of BBC bias and fear of Israel is obvious to anyone who cares to see. It certainly should be to you.
You've expressed your opposition to past apartheid injustices. Why don't you permit the same open, ethical examination in this case?
Kind regards
John Hilley
No answer has come.  As ML say, Paul Danahar is not a 'bad' person in working for the BBC.  Nor are my own points to him meant as personal or moralising.  It's about trying to show how such people come to defend indefensible bias when their careers and ego depend on it. 

On which note, readers here at Zenpolitics might also be interested in this latest sample (30 May 2011) of BBC distortion from Radio 4 Today presenter Kevin Connolly (as cited by the ML Editors) eliciting another of my responses: 
Dear Mr Connolly
I heard your piece today discussing the apparent anxieties Israel feels towards its neighbours Egypt and Jordan, while considering the Arab Spring as a catalyst for Palestinian action.
I'd be very interested to learn who was involved in writing such a loaded report, with its 'democratic Israel surrounded by hostile Arab forces' theme.
Did it ever occur to you or your fellow producers that Israel is the most dangerous, militarist state in the region, the one deliberately preventing peace through its expansionist occupation and inhuman siege? 
Did you for a moment think to question Israel's own claims to being a democratic state given the (UN-documented) apartheid treatment of its Arab 'others'?
Did your conclusion, Israel "always cautious in these matters, will simply become more cautious still", never strike you as a resort to BBC caution in itself, ensuring, as with the rest of this grossly unbalanced report, that Israel is not presented as a calculating aggressor?
The production of such output, alas, reveals nothing about Israel's nuclear militarism, its anti-democratic fear of a democratic region or its wilfully-crafted repressions.  But it surely does say much about your own cautious appeasement and BBC-trained mindset.
I (incautiously) await any response.
Kind regards
John Hilley
Can the BBC ever be redeemed?  Is it worth sending these letters?  Do such criticisms make a difference?  I'd say the answers to these questions are, no, yes and yes.

The greater, long-term aim is the diminishment, rather than redemption, of 'statemouth' news services like the BBC.  The point of sending emails is to help expose the distortion and propaganda.  And the difference all this can make is two-fold: it helps victimised people in immediate ways by serving to inform and build public support for their cause, while suggesting model alternatives for a truly independent citizen media to come.

All very large undertakings and aims, perhaps, but why think small when the consequences of corporate power and establishment lies are so dismally and dangerously big.   



David Cromwell said...

Thanks John - all good points, very well expressed. And thanks for picking up on the 'balanced' R4 Today piece by Kevin Connolly. It might just make him think twice the next time he prepares a report for broadcast...

Best wishes

David C

John Hilley said...

Thanks David. Great work with the Alert and well-contextualised responses. Looks like you might need to keep the ML flak jackets on a handy peg!

All the best


Harry Fear said...


"It's about trying to show how such people come to defend indefensible bias when their careers and ego depend on it. "

John Hilley said...

Thanks Harry.

Good to see all that thoughtful and challenging output at your blog/film sites - proving that there are viable and gathering alternatives to the mainstream media.