Monday, 21 May 2012

This mass hunger strike, possibly the biggest in modern history, received minimal coverage on BBC

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    Palestine Solidarity Campaign letter to Director of BBC News

    Posted by The Editors [User Info] on May 21, 2012, 1:31 pm, in reply to "Report from BBC protest last week"

    Palestine Solidarity Campaign
    Box BM PSA
    London
    WC1N 3XX


    Helen Boaden
    Director, BBC News
    BBC Television Centre
    Wood Lane
    London, W12 7RJ

    May 16, 2010

    Dear Ms Boaden

    For four weeks, during April and May, around 2,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails were on hunger strike, protesting against Israel’s use of administrative detention, its policy of placing Palestinian prisoners in solitary confinement for years at a time, and the denial of family visits to inmates.

    These prisoners joined others who had been refusing food since March 2012 and who, by the time a deal was reached on 14 May, were close to death.

    This mass hunger strike, possibly the biggest in modern history, received minimal coverage on BBC Online and, until its final few days, none on BBC television and radio news.

    During this time, the BBC gave prominent coverage to the hunger strike of Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, and to Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng, yet ignored the 2,000 Palestinians on hunger strike, and the 27 Palestinian MPs imprisoned by Israel, some of whom were also refusing food.

    The excuse given by the BBC during the third week of the Palestinian hunger strike for its failure in reporting was that its coverage was in line with other news organisations, citing, specifically, Al Jazeera.

    We find it extraordinary and disturbing that the UK’s public-funded broadcaster should point to other news outlets, with the implication that it is content to follow rather than lead in covering world events, in an effort to distract from its own failings.

    When BBC News at 10 did finally provide some coverage (11 May), close to four weeks after the mass hunger strike began, it did so without context, without reference to the prisoners’ demands, with no mention of the appalling health conditions, requiring hospitalisation, that many of the hunger strikers were suffering, and with absolutely no comment from a Palestinian spokesperson. Instead, the report by Kevin Connolly, featured Israeli government spokesperson, Mark Regev, speaking without challenge, comparing those who had taken the drastic step of engaging in a hunger strike to ‘suicide bombers’ and talking, falsely, about an ‘Islamist cause’.

    His complete statement was: "It's difficult when you're dealing with someone who wants to commit suicide. It's a problem with suicide bombers, who are prepared to blow themselves up when they want to kill innocent people, and in this tactic if they think for their Islamist cause if they want to kill themselves, it's a challenge. We could not have as a precedent that every prisoner who goes on hunger strike, gets - to use a term from the game Monopoly - a get out of jail free card."

    This interview, which insulted and totally misrepresented the hunger strikers, was also used on News 24 and on Radio 4 news bulletins during 11 May. None of these reports were balanced with a Palestinian viewpoint, and the Israeli perspective of the hunger strikes was allowed to prevail on the BBC.

    The BBC’s attitude towards the hunger strikes and its eventual, biased coverage is appalling in itself. It is also symptomatic of the BBC’s general attitude towards reporting on Palestine and the occupation and the tendency of BBC news programmes to tilt their coverage and analysis in favour of Israel.

    It is, unfortunately, an attitude that cuts across the whole of the BBC, from the Director General and his refusal to broadcast a DEC appeal for Gaza to Radio 1Xtra and the censorship of the word ‘Palestine’ from an artist’s rap performance.

    We would like to see an end to this bias against Palestinians and news coverage from the region that is balanced, fair and reflective of the values of international law, rather than of the narrative provided by the dominant player in this struggle. It is the very least that licence-fee payers, who look to the BBC for honest information, deserve.

    Yours sincerely

    Sarah Colborne, Palestine Solidarity Campaign
    Lindsey German, Stop the War Coalition
    Diana Neslen, Jews for Justice for Palestinians
    Daud Abdullah, Middle East Monitor
    Rev'd Chris Rose, Amos Trust
    Zaher Birawi, Palestinian Forum of Britain
    Mohammad Sawalha, British Muslim Initiative
    Shehnaz Bunglawala, iEngage

    Cc Lord Patten
    Open letter

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