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BBC's Pro-Israeli Bias

by Stephen Lendman
BBC views the conflict from an Israeli perspective. It features government officials to explain it, and reports whatever they say as fact. This turns reality on its head.

In its near 86 year history, BBC has a long, unbroken and dubious distinction. Today it's little different from its corporate-run counterparts in America, Britain and throughout the world. In fact, on its tailored for a US BBC America audience, what passes for news matches stride for stride what people here see every day - mind-numbing commercialism, shoddy reporting, pseudo-journalism, celebrity and sports features, and other diverting and distracting non-news that should embarrass correspondents and presenters delivering it. It offends viewers and treats them like mushrooms - well-watered, in the dark, and uninformed about the most important world and national issues affecting their lives and welfare.

That's the idea, of course, and has been since BBC's inception. John Reith was its founder and first general manager. Reassuring the powerful, he set the standard adhered to thereafter: "(You) know (you) can trust us not to be really impartial." BBC never was and never is.

Impartiality has no place on BBC nor does its claim about "honesty, integrity, (and being) free from political influence and commercial pressure." How can it? Its Director-General, Executive Board Chairman, BBC Trust Chairman and senior managers are government-appointed and charged with a singular task - to function as a "propaganda system for elite interests." On all vital issues - war and peace, state and corporate corruption, human rights, social justice, or coverage of the Middle East's longest and most intractable conflict, Westminster and the establishment rest easy. They know BBC is "reliable" - pro-government, pro-business and dismissive of the public trust it disdains. Now more than ever.

This article covers one example among many - BBC's distorted, one-sided support for Israel and its antipathy toward Palestinians. In this respect, it's fully in step with its American and European counterparts - Israeli interests matter; Palestinian ones don't; as long as that holds, conflict resolution is impossible. Therein lies the problem. With its reputation, world reach, and influence, BBC's coverage exacerbates it.

Key BBC Terms In Its Israeli - Palestinian Coverage

In October 2006, Electronic Intifada.net listed BBC's "key terms" in its conflict coverage - to "find a balance" that, in fact, tilts strongly toward Israel. For example:

Media "Rules of Engagement" in Covering the Middle East

In June 2002, Robin Miller listed "The Media's Middle East Rules of Engagement." BBC's Israeli-Palestinian coverage adheres to them rigidly:

Add one more rule for good measure. Repeat any lie often enough and most people will believe it. It's foolproof and works every time.

Independent Analysis of BBC's Israel - Palestine Coverage

In 2005, the BBC commissioned a study to review the impartiality of its Israeli - Palestinian coverage. It consisted of an independent panel, the Communications Research Centre at Loughborough University, and British - Israeli international lawyer Noam Lubell. Their published April 2006 findings weren't what the broadcaster wished. Highlights from them showed BBC coverage:

Glasgow University Media Group Study of Middle East News Coverage - It's "Bad News from Israel" and BBC

Researchers Greg Philo and Mike Berry conducted the study between 2000 and 2002, and their above quoted 2004 book title discusses it. Little has changed from then to now, BBC's reporting highlights it, and it's "bad news" for kept-in-the-dark viewers of major UK news and current affairs coverage.

Former BBC Middle East correspondent Tim Llewellyn agrees and explained in his unsparing comments about his former employer. He called it "dishonest - in concept, approach and execution....(it) favours the occupying soldiers over the occupied Arabs, depicting the latter, essentially, as alien tribes threatening the survival of Israel, rather than vice versa." It depicts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "as a battle of two (equal) forces (with equally) right and wrong responsibility. It is the tyranny of spurious equivalence." As the UK and world's leading broadcaster, BBC is justifiably blamed.

"Bad News from Israel" explains how - by consistently showing pro-Israel bias in virtually all its reporting and at times in the extreme. Beyond the book's timeline, correspondent Chris Morris' January 2004 "Lost hope in Mid-East conflict" report is a case in point. It's about an expectant Palestinian woman confronted at a checkpoint. Prevented from passing, she gives birth and miscarries.

Morris is sympathetic but sides with the soldiers. "You can't blame (them, he says) for being jumpy at checkpoints....because there are Israeli victims too, children among them, killed by snipers and suicide bombers from the West Bank. What would you have done? Would you have taken the risk? Or would you have played it safe, fearful of a trap? And so it goes on - another week in the Middle East."

Even worse, the greater issue is ignored - an instance reflecting daily life in Occupied Palestine plus regular killings and abuse. Morris turns a blind eye. He highlights suicide bombings instead - "A Palestinian mother in her early 20s blows herself to bits and takes the lives of four young Israelis, after tricking them into believing she was ill." He continues - "A Jewish settler is killed on the West Bank, leaving five children without a father, including triplets just three months old." Reports like his are commonplace on BBC. Israeli lives matter. Palestinian ones don't. Philo and Berry document the evidence.

Their study covers what media should report, a content analysis of their coverage, and how focus group interviews show how viewers are ill-served and left uninformed. Below are some results that apply to today:

BBC's Coverage of Gaza Under Siege

BBC reports little about Gaza under siege and the humanitarian crisis it caused. Instead, accounts like its January 2008 one are common. It's headlined "Gaza's rocket threat to Israel" and highlights homemade Qassams "fired by Hamas and other Palestinian militants at Israeli population centres near the Gaza Strip." They've "killed 13 people inside Israel, including three children. In some months, more than 100 launches have been recorded by the Israelis."

No mention is made of Israeli incursions, their frequency, the use of F-16 air-to-surface missiles, their accuracy and destructive power, high-tech battle tanks in civilian neighborhoods, and other sophisticated weapons freely used, including illegal ones. Nor is there mention of hundreds of Palestinian deaths, injuries, inflicted Israeli destruction, and use of Palestinians as human shields. Instead, the Israeli town of Sderot is highlighted because it's "the only large Israeli population centre within the original Qassam's range." BBC describes them in detail to over-hype their destructive potential. In fact, they're crude, inaccurate and limited in range. They hardly compare to Israel's high-tech weapons that when unleashed against a civilian population are devastating.

Later in BBC's report, it admits "Qassams are very primitive missiles and their main effect on Israelis in the area is psychological torment (and that) Israeli casualties have been relatively light." In contrast, Israeli attacks on Palestinians kill and injure many hundreds and inflict immense psychological terror against a civilian population. It's gone on for six decades, shows no signs of ebbing, but BBC won't explain it.

Nor does it report on Gaza under siege, the collective punishment of its people, the humanitarian crisis it caused, and Israel's lawless act that BBC should expose and denounce. Instead it features reports like a May 10 one about a "Gaza mortar attack kill(ing an) Israeli." Israeli air strikes followed, five Hamas members were killed and four others injured. BBC featured an Israeli government spokesperson saying "We hold (Hamas) accountable for today's attack and the murder of civilians." No Palestinian response was aired, and BBC merely ended saying that "The Gaza Strip has been controlled by Hamas since last June when they ousted their rivals from the Fatah movement." No context, no background, no fair and impartial reporting, no truth, and no possible way for viewers to understand.

BBC suggests that Palestinians are responsible for their own condition, that a humanitarian catastrophe is their fault, and that Israel has every right to terrorize and starve them to submission for its own security and self-interest. By BBC's standards, Israel may rightfully lock down 1.5 million people, collectively punish them, continue a repressive occupation, and refuse to negotiate in good faith, or at all. BBC is dismissive. Palestinian suffering is inconsequential, yet consider its outrage from a single Israeli death. It's also contemptuous of Hamas, ignored its months-long unilateral ceasefire, and refuses to report its willingness to recognize Israel in return for a Palestinian state inside pre-1967 borders.

BBC views the conflict from an Israeli perspective. It features government officials to explain it, and reports whatever they say as fact. This turns reality on its head, makes lawless actions justifiable, results in double standard journalism, and lets Palestinians suffer the consequences. Why not and who cares. They're just Arab Muslims in the land of Israel where Jews alone matter and not a hint of even-handed reporting exists. Now more than ever in the conflict's seventh decade, and BBC's reporting exacerbates it.


Steve LendmanStephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com, and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM—1PM US Central time.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on June 13, 2008.