The 11-month-old son of BBC Arabic’s picture editor Jihad Misharawi was killed in Israeli tank shelling last night, along with his sister-in-law, according to BBC journalists on Twitter, and one report online (which didn’t even name him).
11 month old son of BBC colleague killed in #Gaza. Sister-in-law killed, brother critically injured. Civilians always casualties of conflict— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) November 14, 2012
Thoughts are with my BBC colleague in #Gaza, Jihad Misharawi who’s 11 month old son was killed yesterday. Civilians suffering on both sides.— Jon Donnison (@JonDonnison) November 15, 2012
But these killings were totally ignored on the BBC News at Ten last night, the flagship TV broadcast on the BBC’s most popular domestic channel.
The focus, as always, was on Israel’s false narrative that is it responding to Palestinian rocket fire. The extra-judicial murder of Hamas military leader Ahmad al-Jabari was the emphasis, with the killing of “eight other people” mentioned only in passing.
It was stated that there were “more casualties this evening, among them children and at least one baby,” but this statement was accompanied by footage of a injured (but thankfully alive) child being taken to hospital. So “casualties” seemed to be a reference to the injured, not the dead.
@JonDonnison Jon, on News at 10, why did you not mention your colleague’s baby son killed by Israel last night? WP put on front page— Asa Winstanley (@AsaWinstanley) November 15, 2012
Donnison did not reply (he is currently reporting from the highly dangerous situation in Gaza), but (to his credit) he did mention Misharawi’s loss during a live dispatch to today’s BBC News at One, speaking of civilian casualties “on both sides.”
Meanwhile, this morning’s Washington Post featured Misharawi’s raw grief on its front page.
This slight by the corporation is just the cherry on top of the bitter cake of the BBC’s terrible coverage of Palestine.
Consistent with its previous woeful coverage, the News at Ten program ignored the fact that, once again, Israel has deliberately broken an effective truce with Palestinian armed groups.
One cannot possibly imagine the BBC underplaying the death of family of its own staff in a similar way if they had been killed by, say, Palestinian rocket fire. The blanket coverage given to the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in 2007 demonstrates that (he was eventually rescued by Hamas).
The very first words out of the mouth of the BBC anchor on News at Ten last night was that yesterday’s attack was a “sudden escalation.” But the murder of thirteen-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa a week ago today was not mentioned — the murder of Palestinians does not count as “sudden escalation” to the BBC, in common with other mainstream media.
The wider narrative was of course completely absent. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, in the six days before this new orgy of Israeli violence, Israel killed six Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including three children, and injured 52 others, including 12 children and six women. All reasonable timelines of events, easily checkable by BBC journalists, demonstrate this, as well as Israel’s habitual contempt for ceasefires (EI’s own timeline is here, written by Ali Abunimah)
By way of implied criticism, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen would only mention that “questions are being asked about the timing of the assassination two months before an [Israeli] election.” Donnison had similarly stated that “there will be questions about the timing of the action.”
In other words, for the mainstream British media, the right of Israel to bomb Palestinians at will is not under question, merely whether its actions are effective or not.
Channel 4 News, usually regarded as quite liberal in the UK, claimed the new Israeli onslaught was a “response” to weekend Palestinian rocket attacks. The presenter challenged Israeli government propagandist Mark Regev only on the effectiveness of Israel’s actions: will this really achieve the peace you want? he asked with faux naivety.
Al Jazeera English has been little better. In his appearance the Qatari state channel last night (see video above), EI’s Ali Abunimah criticized the channel: “I know al-Jazeera doesn’t report it every day” he said of their lack of coverage of frequent Israeli attacks on Gaza’s fishermen.
The channel last night also featured Israeli army propagandist Avital Leibovich twice in less than two hours (not counting recorded repeats) and her lies were allowed to pass largely unchallenged. Meanwhile, anchor Folly Bah Thibault dismissed as “claims and counter-claims” Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan’s perfectly reasonable statement it Israel was responsible for this upsurge, not Hamas (she did not challenge Leibovich in a similar way).
The BBC’s deference to power
The problem is not one of individual journalists, but rather the institutional BBC deference to power and conventional wisdom — which in the Middle East means Israel, to the British, European and American establishments.
The BBC has recently been affected by a story about an alleged massive British establishment cover-up of a ring of child rapists that (according to MP Tom Watson) once went as far as Number 10 (the office of the so-far unnamed prime minister of the time). Yet instead of focusing on this story, and uncovering alleged wrongdoing at the highest levels of power, the BBC has managed to transform the story into a self-indulgent torrent of ongoing coverage of problems … at the BBC.
Don’t tell me they were not able to broadcast a single item about the murder of Jihad Misharawi’s 11-month-old son.
29 November: On Twitter today, the BBC’s Jon Donnison took exception to this article. Although saying I should have called him for comment, he did not specify anything incorrect in the above. But the point of my post was not to criticize Donnison or any other individual BBC journalist. As I wrote in the original article, it is about the emphasis and editorial selection of the BBC’s reporting on Palestine (those interested in how exactly this happens should read the seminal critique of UK TV media coverage of Palestine in the book More Bad News From Israel).
The fact remains that the BBC, on its main UK TV news broadcast the night after, totally ignored the killing by Israel of 11-month-old Omar Misharawi, the son of one of its staff members. Presumably, this was not Donnison’s decision to make and I never wrote that it was.
More recently Donnison has done an excellent and heart-breaking radio report about his friend Jihad and his late son on the Radio 4 and World Service program, From Our Own Correspondent. You can listen to it on the BBC website here or read the transcript here.