The new Middle East online editor for BBC News has been praised by a pro-Israeli website for being “willing to listen to his critics” after he sent internal emails guiding BBC staff to write more favorably about Israel.
Raffi Berg was promoted to head the BBC website’s Middle East desk earlier this month, having already worked as a journalist with that desk. His emails, which have been posted on a pro-Israeli site, were sent during Israel’s eight day assault on Gaza in November 2012, which killed nearly 200 Palestinians.
In one, he asked BBC colleagues to word their stories in a way which does not blame or “put undue emphasis” on Israel for starting the prolonged attacks. Instead, he encouraged journalists to promote the Israeli government line that the “offensive” was “aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza.”
This was despite the fact that Israel broke a ceasefire when it attacked Gaza on 14 November, a ceasefire which the Palestinians had been observing — firing no rockets into Israel.
In a second email, sent during the same period, Berg told BBC journalists: “Please remember, Israel doesn’t maintain a blockade around Gaza. Egypt controls the southern border.” He omitted to mention that the United Nations viewed Israel as the occupying power in Gaza and has called on Israel to end its siege of the Strip. Israel’s refusal to do so is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860.
Berg wrote in both emails that the advice was being given to BBC journalists as a result of complaints that the BBC was too harsh on Israel in its early coverage of the assault.
Bowing to pressure
Both emails were originally posted onto the Zionist website Biased BBC on 21 November 2012 by a user going by the name “soothsayer.” They were reposted on another pro-Israeli website Is the BBC biased? on 13 April this year in an article which noted that the emails “indicate at least that Raffi Berg is willing to listen to his critics.”
In an email exchange earlier this week with a British-Palestinian activist, Berg said he was not responsible for posting the internal emails onto Biased BBC but accepted they were his work. The email exchange has been seen by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The activist put it to Berg that his emails to BBC journalists “demonstrate a clear bias towards the Israeli government line and show a bowing to pressure from pro-Israeli groups.”
Berg replied: “We continually examine the language we use on contentious subjects, such as the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but do not take our lead from any pressure groups.”
In a later email, the activist pointed out that neutral sources agree that Israel’s assassination of Hamas commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was the trigger for the assault which followed, and asked why Berg was requesting BBC journalists to take the emphasis off this fact.
Berg replied: “The cause of the conflict in Gaza is contentious, with Israel giving ongoing rocket attacks as grounds for its assassination of Ahmed Jabari … As you will appreciate, we do not take sides on issues but to avoid appearing to put a definitive starting point on the violence, a neutral form of words was found.”
Concealing Israeli aggression
In the days preceding the execution of al-Jabari, Israel killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including five teenage boys, in the space of 48 hours.
The killings reveal the scale and regularity of lethal Israeli aggression in Gaza. But rather than dwell on this, BBC journalists stuck doggedly to the line, pushed by Berg, that Israel’s eight day pounding of the blockaded Strip involved Israel defending itself.
Berg has replaced Tarik Kafala as head of the online Middle East desk. Overseeing his work will be James Harding, who was appointed the BBC’s director of news and current affairs earlier this year.
In his previous post, as editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper, Harding spoke in 2011 at a media event organised by The Jewish Chronicle. He told the 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.”
Harding, it would appear, need have no worries about his new online Middle East editor exposing the full scale and horrors of Israel’s occupation to the BBC audience. Berg’s internal emails reveal his willingness to toe the BBC’s line of concealing, obscuring or softening Israel’s violations of international law and its abuse of Palestinian human rights, allegedly in the name of “neutral reporting.”
He and the openly Zionist Harding should get on well.