Could Israel be so determined to muzzle criticism of its crimes against the Palestinian people that it would flex its diplomatic muscle against a small Irish radio station? My inability to broadcast a regular international politics show on Dublin’s Near FM this month indicates that is indeed the case.
The decision to censor me stretches back to a program I presented on 26 March this year, which addressed the Israeli siege on Gaza and the question of whether Israel can be considered an apartheid state.
After this show, Near FM received a raft of complaints from pro-Israel activists and the Israeli embassy in Dublin. The Israeli embassy’s complaint was the most comprehensible, so it made it through to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the country’s regulator for television and radio.
It is true that opinions of the contributors to this show went broadly unchallenged — they were respected authorities on Palestine and international law. They included Desmond Travers, a retired Irish colonel, who was part of the United Nations team that investigated Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008 and 2009. A detailed paper issued by that team — known as the Goldstone report — concluded that Israel committed war crimes.
Redressing the imbalance
The argument that the program lacked balance is, in my view, false. The mainstream media routinely present the Israeli version of events as facts, even when Israeli spokespersons tell blatant lies. Having visited the occupied West Bank in 2011 and read much about the Middle East, I have concluded that there is a built-in imbalance against Palestinians in our media. The March show went some small way towards redressing that imbalance.
That, in my view, is what journalism should be about.
In its complaint to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), the Israeli embassy denied that it “covets gas and oil deposits” off Gaza and described a claim made by one of my contributors on this matter as a “blatant falsehood.” The embassy also denied that Gaza was an “open prison.”
The embassy went on to claim the show “lacked fairness, objectivity and impartiality,” that it didn’t have any contributors “reflecting the views of the State of Israel” and that I had endorsed the “biased” comments of my interviewees.
The BAI committee that handled the embassy’s complaint upheld most of the points made in it but rejected the assertion that my show was “a forum for hatred against either Jewish people or the State of Israel.”
According to the BAI, “the program included comments that were highly critical of the impact of the State of Israel on Palestinian citizens. While noting that criticisms of the foreign and domestic policies of nation states can be appropriate, it was the view of the committee that this program provided no alternative voices to counterbalance the criticisms of the State of Israel expressed by guests on the program.”
The BAI also stated that some of the comments I had made during the program “would have reasonably left listeners with the impression” I endorsed the views of my guests. It concluded that the show was not in keeping with requirements of Ireland’s 2009 Broadcasting Act that current affairs programs be “fair, objective and impartial.”
Near FM was instructed by the BAI to broadcast details of its findings ahead of my show that was scheduled for broadcast on 6 November. Yet the station did not give me details of this instruction until ten minutes before I went on air.
When I made some colorful remarks about the BAI on the 6 November broadcast, Near FM took down the podcast of the show from its website.
I then put the podcast on another website, only to be threatened with suspension from the station. Although I removed the podcast, I was suspended anyway.
I have still received little explanation as to why exactly I was suspended.
Additionally, Near FM has refused to broadcast an interview I conducted with Shawan Jabarin from the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq. The reason given was that Jabarin was not “challenged enough.”
I feel betrayed by the station. From the time the complaints began in early April to the beginning of November, Near FM had appeared to relish the controversy.
One senior member of staff stated that it had generated “great publicity” for us. Other colleagues sent text messages applauding the station’s team of “rebels.”
On 29 November, this attitude changed. Near FM disowned me in the press, causing much embarrassment and stress at work and in my private life. The station gave little or no assistance on complex matters like handling complaints from embassies and replying to regulatory bodies such as the BAI.
Then it unjustifiably and inexplicably suspended me and banned me from the premises. Such punishments are normally reserved for thieves and bullies.
Over the past few years, the Israeli embassy in Dublin has faced some embarrassments of its own making. In 2012, it was revealed that Nurit Tinari-Modai, the deputy ambassador, had recommended to the Israeli foreign ministry that efforts be made to “humiliate and shame” Palestine solidarity activists by alleging they suffered from sexual and psychological problems.
The same embassy has proven itself inept at using social media websites for propaganda purposes. In August this year, it issued a tweet claiming that “the UN had become a tool against Israel” and that “Hitler wouldn’t have been happier.”
That followed a message posted on the embassy’s Facebook page last Christmas, claiming that “if Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians.”
If Near FM had any real courage, it would have stood up to the pressure from the bullies in this embassy. It would have taken pride in giving a voice to those who are, too often, silenced.
What a shame that it has succumbed to this blatant attempt to suppress the truth.
Peter Kearney is an Irish journalist and radio producer.