Apologists for Israel take top posts at BBC

23 April 2013

130423-israeli-occupation.jpg

Israel’s occupation is airbrushed from the BBC’s coverage.

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

The American poet T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” The phrase springs to mind in April 2013, the month that a new director-general took up his post at the BBC and, within two weeks, had installed a line-up of hardline Zionists at the top of the world’s largest publicly-funded news organization.

Tony Hall, whose role as director-general commenced on 2 April, is a former BBC director of news and can boast a total of nearly 30 years working at the corporation. As such, he is well-versed in the BBC’s values — he knows what the BBC wants.

Soon after his own appointment, Hall named James Harding as the BBC’s new director of news and current affairs. Until December, Harding was editor of The Times, an avowedly right-wing, pro-Israeli paper owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International group.

In 2011, Harding spoke at a media event organized by The Jewish Chronicle, telling his audience: “I am pro-Israel. I believe in the State of Israel. I would have had a real problem if I had been coming to a paper [The Times] with a history of being anti-Israel. And, of course, Rupert Murdoch is pro-Israel.”

Glee

The strongly Zionist Jewish Chronicle reprinted those words with glee as news of Harding’s BBC appointment broke. And it also took the opportunity to remind its readers that, during the Israeli massacre in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, when more than 1,400 Palestinians were slaughtered, Harding wrote a Times editorial titled, “In defense of Israel” (“Signs of The Times at JCC,” 14 April 2011).

Now bringing his pro-Israel biases into the top ranks of the BBC, Harding will be in charge of its flagship news and current affairs programs including Today, Newsnight, Panorama and Question Time. He will also be responsible for daily news bulletins on the BBC’s main television channels and radio stations.

According to the Guardian, Harding now holds “arguably the most important editorial job in Britain” (“James Harding: ex-Times editor could become the story at the BBC,” 16 April 2013).

The news of his appointment to the £340,000 ($518,000) per year post comes just a fortnight after the former Labour Party minister James Purnell took up his new position at the BBC as director of strategy and digital.

Purnell, who was one of Hall’s first appointments, served for two years while in Parliament as chairman of the Westminster lobby group Labour Friends of Israel. Hugely influential, Labour Friends of Israel has drawn support from senior figures within the party, including the former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Unsurprisingly, Purnell subscribes to the Zionist view, often taken in BBC news reporting, that Israel can do no wrong. Rather than as an aggressive occupier, Purnell portrays Israel as a victim of hostile, terrorist Arab neighbors. In a letter to Prospect magazine in 2004, Purnell wrote of the comparison made by campaigners between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa, saying: “I find it hard to reconcile that image to the reality on the ground. Israel is a democracy, suffering terrorist attacks, surrounded by countries that don’t recognize its existence, the victim of well-funded terrorist organizations that preach anti-Semitic hate” (“Judt on anti-Semitism,” 13 December 2004).

Fact-free propaganda

Israel, with more than 60 laws discriminating against its Palestinian citizens in all areas of life, including political and civil rights, can hardly be called a democracy if a democracy is a state for all its people. And two of its closest geographical neighbors, Jordan and Egypt, have long-standing peace treaties with Israel, something which would scarcely be possible if they didn’t recognize its existence.

However, Purnell’s fact-free, propagandized view of Israel will not be out of place at the BBC. The irony of course is that, under the terms of its Royal Charter, the BBC is meant to be committed to impartiality in its broadcasting.

That it is not can be evidenced in Hall’s third appointment — the promotion of former Today editor Ceri Thomas to the post of BBC head of programming. In his last full year as editor of Today, Thomas presided over a program that interviewed a senior Israeli politician or ambassador on average once every two months. Interviewees included Danny Ayalon, then Israel’s deputy foreign minister, and Tzipi Livni, an architect of the 2008-‘09 Gaza massacre.

Airbrushed

During the same period, not a single Palestinian leader or spokesperson was accorded a similar honor. There was no serious recognition, under Thomas’ reign at Today, of the Palestinian viewpoint.

Thomas may well have felt that a Palestinian viewpoint was unnecessary on Today — widely seen in British media circles as the morning program which sets the news agenda for the rest of the day. After all, Palestine itself did not register in any of the aforementioned interviews, which were conducted by the BBC’s heavyweight journalists, including James Naughtie and John Humphrys.

Every single interview focused on a BBC obsession, embodied in Harding and Purnell, and practiced by Thomas at Today, of the “threat” to Israel from its Arab neighbors and Iran. There was no grilling of any interviewee on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, its violence against Palestinian civilians, or its arsenal of nuclear weapons which threaten the whole of the Middle East.

After each interview, the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the Today program to ask why Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, in the face of international condemnation, had been airbrushed from the conversation.

Each time, this reply was received: “It simply wouldn’t be possible to discuss the complexities of the Middle East conflict during such a brief interview.”

So, over the course of six interviews in 12 months, each one about five or six minutes long, the Today program under Thomas couldn’t find a moment to bring up the Israeli occupation with the Israeli top brass it was interviewing. All of that airtime was needed to discuss not Israel’s aggression, but its own perceived victimhood.

One other moment from that year, 2011, stands out. On 23 March, Israel had carried out air and tank bombardments on Gaza, killing eight Palestinians, including two children and their grandfather. This was followed late at night by two rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel, which resulted in no injuries or deaths.

The next morning’s news bulletins on the Today program reported on the rockets which had hit Israel, but there was absolutely no mention of the death and destruction wreaked on Gaza by Israeli forces.

As “journalism,” it was beyond disgraceful. However, the presentation of some facts and the complete omission of others which resulted in the portrayal of Israel as a country under attack, while trying to live peacefully, was entirely consistent with BBC news reporting.

The BBC’s response to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign when questioned on why it hadn’t felt the deaths of eight Palestinians — two of them children — newsworthy, while giving coverage to non-fatal rocket attacks which took place in the same time period, was this: “Choosing the stories to include in our bulletins; the order in which they appear and the length of time devoted to them is a subjective matter and one which we know not every viewer and listener will feel we get right every time.”

This, then, is the history that Thomas brings with him to his new role as head of programming. Harding and Purnell carry with them their dedicated commitment to the Zionist cause. What hope now for Palestine at the BBC? April is indeed a cruel month.

Amena Saleem is active with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK and keeps a close eye on the media’s coverage of Palestine as part of her brief. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza for PSC. More information on the PSC is available at www.palestinecampaign.org.

Comments

I've just complained to the BBC - having made a special effort to be home in time to watch on BBC4 "Jerusalem: an Archeological Mystery Story" tonight, the programme was pulled with no explanation. Asked them why, and whether there will be a future chance to see it.

I confirm I have also complained to the BBC Trust regarding the above subject twice due to the fact that the first reply I received was not satisfactorily explained! I am still waiting for a satisfactory explanation from the BBC as to the reason for this!

I have just read Amena Saleem's article with rising horror. I have complained to the BBC in the past on particular occasions but this is the first time I have known that they operate a deliberate pro-Zionist policy throughout their news departments. It makes me sick to my stomach. It completely undermines my previous belief that the BBC´s main strength is its independence and objectivity. I shall be making an appointment with my MP, David Cameron, and presenting these facts to him. Thank you PSC for doing the research and telling us the truth we might otherwise never know.

Right I'm sure you will make a difference.

1. Israel abuses Palestinian human rights on a daily basis and this has gone on for decades. These are well documented in reports by the UN, EU and umpteen NGOs. So numerous are these violations, PCRC publishes a bulky weekly update of them, and has done so for years. You can read the latest here:
http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal...
2. Israel consistently breaks international law. It has ignored over 85 UN Resolutions. See: http://www.foreignpolicyjourna...
3. Israel discriminates against its non- Jewish citizens, making it a racist state. See the evidence from a Jewish organisation source: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/...

I'm glad you highlighted this fact. As we know Palestinians and Arabs are much less racist than Israelis. They treat all of their minorities quite well! There have never been any problems.

Wrong story pulled out:
http://www.thecommentator.com/...

I drive a truck and every night I hear the feed from the BBC World Service that's played over various local American public radio stations late at night, and the BBC bias toward Israel is pretty obvious over time. Never a Palestinian voice is heard, just like on American public radio.

During the early stages of the last big sustained air assault on Gaza in November, 2012, I mentioned the BBC's coverage of it in a Nov 16 post on my own blog. They would bring the story up every 30 minutes or so, and every time they'd read the same basic introduction, about three Israelis being killed. They never mentioned anything about Palestinians being killed, and that was known at the time. They may not have known at the time what had brought about the situation, which was Israel's latest breaking of the latest cease fire, but that wouldn't be surprising. Still, it's a willful decision, nowadays, to not know something like that. You have to limit yourself to Israeli news sources and ignore Palestinian news sources.

But during the assault, I remember distinctly, they'd give an update every half hour or so, and sometimes former Israeli officials and people like that were being interviewed, and after a couple of hours, one of the presenters finally interjected on his own, at the end, the fact that Palestinians had been killed also. It was strange, because he had to quickly squeeze that fact in just before the segment ended. It wasn't part of the official script everyone was going off of.

Throughout my life I have been very conscious of the oppression of Jews in history. As a younger person, I was sympathetic with the robust defensive attititude of Israel and cheered Israeli military successes. That support was challenged by the horrific events in the Sabra & Chatila camps in 1982 but I still hoped that a humanitarian majority might prevail. Sadly, though, I am now forced to recognise that Israeli leaders have not only learned from their historical oppression, but have developed oppression as a major political tactic against their perceived enemies. And unfortunately, like their own oppressors, they seek to control media messages that challenge their propaganda. My own commitment to consensus politics drew on the now cliched lessons of history, believing that we would never tolerate the politics of hatred, relying on media stalwarts such as the Times and BBC to accept that I was intelligent enough to analyse politica situations by providing me with the unbiased information I need to arrive at an informed opinion. The Times fell into the clutches of the Murdoch empire but the BBC seemed stronger. Now it appears that even the BBC has succumbed to the insidious tendency of the more popular press to peddle propaganda at the expense of truth.

It has finally come to light why the BBC corporation gives a biased view of the Israel/Pelestine conflict and chooses to 'airbrush' the abuses of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people! For shame on the director-general of the BBC appointing hard-line Zionists to the top echelons of the corporation! No wonder the BBC has lost a lot of respect from the citizens of this country!

I see nothing has changed at the BBC. It was ever thus.

I complained to the Observer about similar bias recently. The headline highlighted rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. However, the article that followed revealed that the rockets were fired two hours AFTER an Israeli air-strike and were, in fact, a response to Israeli aggression. When I checked later in the day, the story had changed to say that the Gazans had fired first. The Observer deputy editor replied to me that they revised the story as new information came in - from the Israeli embassy, I have no doubt. But, even if it were true that they got it wrong first time and had to revise it, the default bias was still glaring, since they headlined Gazan rockets, even though their own article then revealed that it was a response to Israel not a provocation.

In relation to the pro-Zionist bias of the new appointments at the BBC, the previous DG, Mark Thompson, was thoroughly biased. One of his first actions on appointment was to fly out to visit the butcher of Sabra and Shatila, Aerial Sharon. Why does the DG of our state broadcaster need to make that a priority? We remember, of course, that he, personally, would not allow the Disasters Emergency Committee to broadcast their appeal on the behalf of the children of Gaza after the Israeli attack, concluded just before Obama was elected. This was on the grounds of maintaining the BBC's reputation for neutrality.

The BBC is a disgrace, like most of the British media. We are forced to pay for this organ of Establishment propaganda. If anyone says,"Don't watch it then", I would reply "I've been made to pay for it, dammit".

Este diretor da BBC é um CANALHA. Diretor de uma mídia que deve, por obrigação moral e ética manter uma linha neutra de notícias ou equilibrada, ao menos, admitir que é totalmente favorável aos Israelenses é jogar na lama todo o passado histórico de lisura editorial da BBC. Definitivamente é um CANALHA.

The BBC have lost all credibility as a news provider. People should now refuse to pay the TV license en mass, because the BBC has failed to live up to its Charter obligations. The choice for the people? Either do something or continue to be treated like sheep and be lied to at every turn!