Saturday, 8 January 2011

The BBC Moving In Precisely The Opposite Direction To The Public Mood

The BBC Moving In Precisely The Opposite Direction To The Public Mood

I believe that the popular mood in Britain has turned rapidly against Israel over the past decade. Israel appears to have been initially fearful that the BBC might reflect such sentiments. But after considerable secretive pressure from the Israeli foreign ministry and its lobbyists, the BBC has moved in precisely the opposite direction.

Most notable was its refusal in 2009 to broadcast an appeal for that year’s selected charitable cause – helping the homeless and sick in Gaza after Israel’s 2008-2009 winter attack. The BBC claimed for the first time in more than 20 years of running such appeals – part of its public service remit – that doing so would compromise the organisation’s “neutrality”.

Other signs of the BBC’s loss of nerve are its abandonment of truly independent documentaries on Israel. Instead in recent years it has accepted “soft” documentaries from Israeli production crews. Israeli film-makers have had great success offering as their chief selling-point to the BBC various dubious “exclusives” – typically, “rare” interviews with senior military people and views inside Israel’s war rooms “for the first time ever”. Israeli film-maker Noam Shalev, who has specialized in these kinds of productions, has made faux-documentaries like the 2006 “Will Israel bomb Iran?” that have offered little more than Israeli foreign ministry propaganda.

Perhaps the most notorious recent example is “Death in the Med”, the BBC’s Panorama programme in August 2010 into the killing of nine passengers aboard the Mavi Marmara. The much-touted BBC investigation followed the same compromised format as mentioned above, but this time presented by a supposedly impartial BBC journalist, Jane Corbin. With a largely Israeli crew, Corbin again offered several “exclusives”, including being present during a training exercise by the “secretive” commando unit that stormed the Marmara, and interviews with the commandos themselves. The illegality of invading a ship in international waters was not discussed, nor was Israel’s theft of the passengers’ media equipment. There was no warning that video footage shown in the documentary was selectively edited by the Israeli government. Audio tape of passengers telling the Israeli commandos to “Go back to Auschwitz” that Israel is known to have doctored was presented as authentic, with Corbin even stating that the insults were “a warning sign”.

Even as Israel’s grip on the narrative coming directly out the region weakens, it will fight harder to ensure that reporters of all kinds covering the conflict come under intensified pressure. Israel will focus on selling its image and discredited myths to those least in a position to question or doubt them. Be warned that editors from the overseas news organizations should be among those who can be more easily swayed.

Jonathan Cook

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