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BBC Trust: 'Death in the Med' was 'Accurate and Impartial'

The BBC Trust ruled Tuesday that the BBC documentary Panorama: Death in the Med was "accurate and impartial" despite 3 editorial breaches.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 4/20/2011, 9:59 PM / Last Update: 4/20/2011, 11:27 PM

The BBC Trust ruled Tuesday that the BBC documentary Panorama: Death in the Med was "accurate and impartial," the Guardian reports.

Death in the Med: Part One

 Death in the Med: Part Two

The documentary presented by Jane Corbin, was broadcast on BBC1 in August 2010, examined the boarding of the Mavi Maamara by Israel's Shayatet-13 Naval Commandos in 2009 when it, along with other ships, tried to break Israel's blockade of Gaza.

During the May 31, 2010, boarding action, which was done in accordance with international maritime law, self-proclaimed 'peace activists' on the Mavi Maamara tried to lynch the commandos, forcing their comrades to open fire killing nine.

Death in the Med proved controversial because of its unusually balanced tone vis-a-vis Israel's actions during the raid, prompting 2,000 calls to the BBC. Of those, 72% were critical of the program. A quarter of the complaints, however, were a part of a call-in campaign organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website, the BBC said.

Of the complaints only 19, containing 51 potentially substantive points, were deemed worthy of review by the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee (ESC). Of the 51 issues to review, only three were upheld by the trust – two relating to breaches of editorial guidelines regarding and one on impartiality. These were, "insufficient detail about the circumstances of the deaths," "the omission of allegations about Israeli mistreatment of the passengers after the flotilla was taken over," and "the misrepresentation of the humanitarian aims of the flotilla and of the Turkish humanitarian organisation, the IHH."

Of the claim that the manner in which the nine people killed was fundamental to the accuracy of the documentary, the Trust agreed because there was no clear video footage of the deaths. As a result, it decided, the details from the preliminary autopsy reports would have, "given a broader picture and added to the programme's description of how the activists died".

The ESC also said the matter of the treatment of casualties by the Israelis, "the imagery and the accompanying script line ('The Israelis evacuated the badly wounded to hospital') would have left viewers with the impression that the badly wounded were all promptly and appropriately cared for. The committee noted that, although not proven, there are detailed allegations of mistreatment of at least some of the casualties."

None of the noted allegations were ever proven and it was later determined the materials on the flotilla ship did not fit the definition of 'humanitarian supplies.'

Several of the IHH 'activists' on board the ship were found to have ties to terror organizations. Germany banned its domestic IHH due to 'ties with Hamas,' but did not extend the ban other IHH groups, including the Turkish IHH, which was behind the flotilla. Creating numerous legally distinct entities is a common tactic for discretely moving funds by criminal and terrorist organizations.  

A super-majority of US Senators wrote a letter to US president Barak Obama asking him to 'stand behind Israel'  and detailing the IHH role in the incident, but the Obama Administration said it 'could not validate' IHH 'terror ties.' The Senators' letter followed shorty after an Israeli request that the US declare the Turkish IHH as being an organization that aids and funds terror.

Alison Hastings, chair of the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee, despite the editorial breaches, nonetheless lauded the report as "an original, insightful and well-researched piece of journalism."

Hastings concluded, "Despite the three breaches... this Panorama was an original, insightful and well-researched piece of journalism and we commend the BBC for having tackled this issue. It revealed important new evidence in a much-publicised story and, overall, the programme was both accurate and impartial. However, these breaches are a firm reminder that the BBC must take great care over accuracy and impartiality, particularly when the subject matter is as controversial as this." 

The BBC Trusts conclusions come as a second Gaza flotilla with the infamous Mavi Maamara slated to be its flagship looms on Israel's horizon.