Richard MatherRichard Mather writes and edits for Israel News Online. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel and Chabad Lubavitch’s Holiday Times Magazine. He lives in Manchester, England.
At a time when the BBC is under intense scrutiny following revelations about its shoddy journalism and serious errors of judgment, it is disconcerting to discover that the broadcaster has once again breached its own guidelines concerning impartiality and honesty.
Within twenty-four hours of the start of Operation Pillar of Defense, the BBC had been caught out by media watchdog Honest Reporting for broadcasting footage that shows an apparently injured Palestinian man being carried away by his neighbors. Thirty seconds later, the footage shows the same man walking around in a state of complete health.
A miraculous recovery or yet another example of a Western news company broadcasting Palestinian propaganda?
The footage broadcast by the BBC on the evening of November 14 is, of course, in the grand tradition of Pallywood in which Palestinians on stretchers suddenly come back to life and children in the so-called West Bank leap in front of moving cars for the cameras. Such deception is promoted in the Quran and Islamic literature. Taqiyya (saying something that isn’t true) and kitman (lying by omission) are acceptable methods of deceiving non-Muslims.
The Palestinians are well aware that news consumers in the West are lost in a nebulous realm of doctored photos and contrived news stories. Far from being concrete or objective, “reality” is mediated by television, newspapers, films and especially the internet.
As far as the BBC and other media outlets are concerned, faked events are no less real than reality itself. Indeed, they may be more real because they serve a “higher cause,” i.e. the demonization of Israel.
The manipulation of the media is not the BBC’s only problem. Even when it attempts to be fair-minded, the BBC is actually legitimizing terrorism. Switch on BBC News 24 (or any other news channel in the UK) and you will see Hamas representatives being given just as much – sometimes more – air time than Israeli spokespersons. War criminals like Hamas should not be allowed to justify their actions on the BBC or Sky. Giving Hamas a platform to espouse their absurd rhetoric only legitimizes their genocidal hatred. Would the BBC have allowed the Nazis to air their revolting views on BBC Radio during the Second World War?
Would the BBC have allowed the Nazis to air their revolting views on BBC Radio during the Second World War?
Actually, the Nazi comparison is not that far-fetched. In the past few days it has come to light that the BBC's Hungarian Service during War World War chose to withhold information about the mass extermination of Jews in Europe. During the dark days of 1942, the BBC broadcast news to the people of Hungary but omitted to mention news of the unfolding Holocaust in case it upset Hungarian anti-Semites who were needed to fight alongside the Allies. In fact, there is a disturbing BBC memo from 1942 that states: "We shouldn't mention the Jews at all."
Fast forward to the 21st century and we find the BBC focusing rather too much on “the Jews.” Earlier this month, the BBC’s Washington correspondent Katty Kay said that “no one running for President [of the USA] wants to alienate the power and money of the Jewish lobby.” Despite complaints, the BBC refused to acknowledge there was anything wrong with Kay’s statement, which perhaps speaks volumes about the BBC’s innate bias against “the Jews” and Israel.
For years, the BBC has favored the Palestinian narrative, even when that narrative is driven by Hamas. Although the page no longer exists, the BBC News’ online profile of Hamas failed to mention the terrorist group’s genocidal intentions toward Israel. More famously, the Balen Report (2004), which contains the findings of a report into alleged bias against Israel, continues to be suppressed. A request by Honest Reporting to publish the findings has been turned down by the BBC on the grounds that the information requested is excluded from the Freedom of Information Act because it is held “for the purposes of journalism.”
Last year, British politician Louise Bagshawe berated the BBC for failing to cover the brutal murders of the Fogel family in Itamar, accusing the broadcaster of a “lack of care.” Writing in the Telegraph, she said, “Horrified, I went to the BBC website to find out more. There I discovered only two stories: one a cursory description of the incident in Itamar […] and another focusing on Israel’s decision to build more settlements, which mentioned the killings in passing.” Obviously, the construction of houses was more important to the BBC than the horrific murder of an entire Jewish family by a pair of deranged Palestinians.
The BBC’s journalistic standards have been below par for many years, which is why the broadcaster is in so much trouble at the moment. In the past few weeks, the BBC has been embroiled in an embarrassing series of scandals, including the suppression of an in-house report that revealed systemic child abuse by one of its most famous presenters. The BBC’s former director-general, George Entwistle, has admitted there have been “unacceptable journalistic standards.” It would be nice if the BBC also acknowledged – and amended – its poor-quality Middle East reporting.
To its credit, the BBC has occasionally come down hard on journalists who unfairly criticize Israel. In 2009, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen was censured by the broadcaster for breaching its rules on accuracy and impartiality in two reports about the Arab-Israeli conflict. An inquiry found that a reference to “Zionism's innate instinct to push out the frontier” breached guidelines, while the suggestion that Israel was “in defiance of everyone's interpretation of international law except its own” was said to have been “imprecise.”
According to the BBC’s six core values, “trust is the foundation of the BBC: we are independent, impartial and honest.” If the BBC cannot be trusted to be these three things, then the organization no longer deserves its yearly income of £3.6 billion from the millions of British license payers who have no option but to fund the BBC’s newsrooms.
As the BBC ponders its future, now is a good time for it to come clean about the Balen Report and radically improve its Middle East reporting. Deciding to ditch the pro-Palestinian narrative in favor of something more fair and balanced would be welcome news indeed and may go some way in restoring trust.
In the meantime, the BBC ought to be more careful about broadcasting footage sourced from Gaza. The BBC, along with Sky and other news outlets, must check and re-check every bit of footage before broadcasting it to the world. And instead of wasting air time on Hamas spokesmen, the BBC and others may want to spend more time exploring what life is like for Israeli civilians who live under constant threat of missiles, which, after years in which Israel did not respond to daily rockets on its southern communities, are now falling on the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.