The headline for the BBC’s Radio 4 program From our own Correspondent earlier this month was “Come to sunny Gaza!” Below it, on the program’s web page, were the words: “Why might our man visiting the Gaza Strip be considering going back there, with his family, for a holiday?”
And so the scene was set for a cheery, holiday-style report from Gaza by BBC journalist Simon Cox.
Cox, who seems to be on his first visit to Gaza, says he had “come prepared for trouble,” kitted out in flak jacket and helmet, only to discover that “Gaza was not such a scary place at all.”
And so he ditches the protective gear to visit pizza restaurants and ice-cream parlours, before filing his radio report and corresponding online article back to the BBC.
The online article is exactly the same as the radio item but the headline has been changed to: “Discovering Gazans’ resilient side.” And there is no problem in reporting on just how resilient Palestinians are.
But what exactly are the Palestinians in Gaza withstanding? Cox does not say. At no point in his reports does the BBC journalist explain, or even mention in passing, that Gaza is under Israeli occupation and siege.
In fact, he seems to be blissfully unaware of this painful reality. Standing at his hotel window, he describes the “spectacular view of the Mediterranean lapping gently at a curve of golden sand” and says this is not what he was expecting from Gaza.
Somehow he manages not to see, as he admires the view, the Israeli gunboats that are ever present on the horizon, waiting to shoot at Gaza’s fishermen as they struggle to make a living for their families.
Nor, at any point during his visit, does he spot the Israeli warships which patrol the waters. And he fails to see or even hear the drones which constantly buzz in the skies above Gaza, causing fear and uncertainty in those below.
Or maybe he does see them. But to report on them would ruin the holiday vibe of his piece. Cox’s Gaza is not one of food shortages, blackouts and desperate overcrowding but a place so delightful that he ends by saying he’d like to bring his wife and children back for a holiday.
It would be interesting to see him try. Gaza is sealed off from the rest of the world, its land borders with Israel and Egypt closed, and its sea and air space blocked by Israel. Cox fails to explain this to his audience, leaving the uninitiated to assume that everyone enjoys unrestricted entry and exit.
His own visit, crossing from Israel, would have been facilitated because he is a journalist. But that facilitation is not guaranteed. Israeli journalists, for example, are barred by their government from entering Gaza.
So, just how realistic is it for the BBC to introduce Cox’s radio item by saying that he’s “considering going back there, with his family, for a holiday”? The answer is, not at all.
But surrealism and appalling triteness are not the only themes of Cox’s reporting. His item mirrors the BBC’s consistent theme of reporting on Palestine — it is written with absolutely no context or facts whatsoever.
The siege and occupation are absent and so is any mention of their instigator, Israel, other than at the beginning when Cox says he’s been driven into Gaza from Israel. He gives a nod to the lack of electricity and high unemployment but these could be the result of mismanagement on Gaza’s part as far as his audience is concerned. No explanation for the power cuts or shortage of jobs is given.
The result is a construction which will lead BBC audiences to believe the situation in Gaza is far better than it really is. In other words, it is a deception.
The reality is that decades of Israeli occupation, compounded by the seven-year siege, have put Gaza on a terrifying trajectory which is leading to it becoming unliveable by 2020, according to a 2012 United Nations report.
The report’s damning warnings were echoed in the British Parliament recently, with MPs from all sides painting a grim picture of the situation in Gaza.
In a debate on 22 January, Britain’s aid minister, Alan Duncan told MPs: “It is no exaggeration to say that, come the autumn, Gaza could be without food, without power and without clean water.” It was a place, he said, that “risks becoming unfit for human habitation.”
Like the BBC’s Simon Cox, Duncan had just returned from a visit to Gaza. It would appear that, unlike the journalist, Duncan noticed that only salty water comes out of Gaza’s taps, saw the refugee camps and the destroyed buildings and gained a real understanding of life there for Palestinians.
The second debate was on 5 February and this debate also made a mockery of Cox’s BBC report. MPs lined up to condemn Israel’s siege — the siege that Cox did not even see fit to mention.
Conservative MP, Sir Tony Baldry, told the House of Commons that, when he returned from Gaza he told his children he had been to “hell.” He added that he could not imagine a “purgatory” of such total hopelessness as Gaza.
Unsurprisingly, he did not say he would be taking his children back to the BBC’s vision of “sunny Gaza” for a beach holiday.
Just days after the BBC broadcast Cox’s singular view of Gaza, its rival broadcaster, Channel 4 ran two items over two days on its evening news program focusing on the Strip.
The difference between the BBC’s report and Channel 4’s reports is shocking. Presented by foreign correspondent, Jonathan Miller, Channel 4 News’s first report examines the destruction of Gaza by telling the story of one family, the Dolas.
His second report looks at Gaza’s health crisis, highlighting the case of Abdel Karim, a three-year-old with a brain tumor, whose parents have been refused travel permits by the Israeli authorities. As a result, their son cannot leave Gaza to access radiotherapy treatment and is dying.
“Running on empty”
Both reports are set in the context of Israel’s blockade and of UN reports on Gaza. “Gaza,” says Miller in his first report, “is running on empty.”
So, we have two journalists — one producing hard-hitting, fact-laden reports on a “cruel and shocking” siege, and one who won’t even tell his audience that there is a siege. Whose reports would you believe?
The irony of Cox’s inability — or unwillingness — to write in context is that he was in Gaza to train young Palestinian journalists. Journalists, it should be pointed out, as Cox didn’t, who will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to leave Gaza and report on the outside world.
Who knows what they learnt from Cox? What we do know is that a BBC journalist went to Gaza and saw a happy, holiday destination, utterly at odds with the grim experience of British MPs, UN workers and fellow journalists.
From which we can learn that, if you’re looking to the BBC for truth, facts and objectivity in its content, you won’t find it in its reporting on the Israeli occupation.