Sunday 22 August 2010

The BBC Has Not Suddenly Become Pro-Israel

Israel's relationship with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has been tenuous to say the least. The BBC has been accused in the past by Israel and Israelis of adopting an anti-Israel stand at every opportunity. This attitude, it seems, is a simple extension of the view adopted by the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office which has always had a strong bias towards the Arab world. This view has not lived well alongside any support for Israel, and the Arabists have always seemed to have the upper hand in dictating the foreign office's policies in the Middle East, and its general attitude towards Israel.

As one of the best-known broadcasting corporations in the world and one of the premier international news organisations, it was always expected that the BBC would retain impartiality and report the news including all relevant facts and without bias. Israelis have long felt that this impartiality has not been exercised when reporting news about Israel. Somehow, the BBC has succeeded in omitting critical relevant facts in relation to a story, or misreported information which always serve to present Israel in a more negative light. Israelis became fed up with this situation a few years ago, and began turning off the BBC news channel from their TV sets. Appeals to have the BBC news channel removed entirely from the channels offered by cable and satellite TV providers in Israel were unsuccessful, but it is safe to say that this news channel has far fewer Israeli viewers today than it had a few years ago. This is despite the fact that Israelis are avid news watchers and do like to keep up to date with international events.

Against this background, the BBC aired a program on Monday 16th August 2010 covering the Gaza flotilla raid. The report was broadcast on the BBC's documentary program Panorama. As a general rule, Panorama has a good name for its ability to research matters in some depth, and get to the bottom of issues that others may not dare to investigate. It is a long-running BBC flagship weekly program with a solid reputation. Israel's own history with Panorama reflects its overall relationship with the BBC. The last time Israel was covered on Panorama was in January 2010 when Panorama ran a documentary about tensions in East Jerusalem in the area near to the old city. In that program, BBC reporter Jane Corbin succeeded in promoting a one-sided and biased agenda, showing a distortion of Jewish history and Jewish rights to Jerusalem. So when it became clear that "Death on the Med", Panorama's investigation into the Gaza flotilla raid would again be presented by Jane Corbin, expectations were low. This was especially the case when considering the way in which Israel has been roundly criticised in the international media for the events of the Gaza flotilla raid which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The Panorama program featuring Jane Corbin's reporting has surprised us all, and may even cause one or two Israelis to give the BBC a second thought. The program succeeded in giving a "warts and all" insight into the IHH, the organisation that sponsored the Gaza flotilla, and into Israel's elite Naval Command 13 that had the responsibility to take over the flotilla to prevent it from entering the waters of Gaza. Interviews were undertaken with activists who were on the ship, and exclusive footage was shown which has reinforced the Israeli Navy's claim that not all those aboard the Mavi Marmara were simply peace activists. In addition, exclusive interviews were conducted with some of the IDF commandos involved in the raid about their experiences of events once they went aboard the Mavi Marmara. These interviews were backed up with new footage from the IDF showing events on that fateful night, as well as exclusive interviews with Major General (retired) Giora Eiland, who was responsible for the IDF investigation into the raid. He was open about sharing his conclusions regarding the raid, and revealed areas where he feels the IDF went wrong. He was also happy to share his views about the scene that greeted the naval commandos when they boarded the ships, and the limited choices available to them to save themselves from being lynched.

Jane Corbin's conclusions in Death on the Med were clear. The Mavi Marmara was not simply a ship that was being used to bring supplies to the unfortunate residents of Gaza. Rather, it was used a political tool to confront and embarrass Israel. A group of approximately forty of the activists on board the ship were shown as being ready to resort to violence, and were prepared to use weapons to achieve this. When Jane examined the goods that were brought by the Gaza flotilla, many of which are still stored in a warehouse in Gaza, two thirds of the medicines that were offloaded were found to be beyond their expiry date.

As can be expected, the anti-Israel lobby went into action to criticise the BBC for the program. Numerous accusations were levelled in justification of this criticism. The fact that Jane focused only on events that took place on the Mavi Marmara, and not on any of the other 6 ships in the flotilla, was found to be unjustified. The BBC was even criticised for having the "audacity" to broadcast the program during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and at a time in the evening that many Muslims would not see it due to the fact that they would be breaking their daily fast. When the BBC was critical of Israel, the Muslim lobby felt satisfied that it represented their views. Now that it has finally shown the real truth behind the Gaza flotilla, it comes under heavy Muslim criticism. Perhaps the fact that the usually anti-Israel BBC has concluded that the Gaza flotilla was not really an attempt to help the people of Gaza has finally exposed the real truth.

Whatever the conclusions in Death on the Med, I would not yet be jumping to conclusions regarding the BBC's general approach to Israel. I am not yet of the view that the BBC has suddenly adopted a pro-Israel bias. The truth is that I am not asking that the BBC go out of its way to be pro-Israeli. All I ask is that the BBC presents all the relevant facts in an unbiased and professional way. It is my belief that doing this will mostly show Israel to be doing its best to defend herself from those wishing to destroy her, and acting in a fair and humanitarian way even towards her enemies despite all that she is forced to tolerate. If the BBC was fair in its reporting, it would add that no country in our day and age should have to tolerate having its right to exist questioned, or to have to endure missile attacks on its innocent civilians on a daily basis.

No matter what it has broadcast in the past, or what it may broadcast in the future, the BBC deserves kudos for Death on the Med. The jury, however, is still out regarding the BBC's overall approach to Israel.

Death on the Med is definitely worth viewing. It is available on YouTube in two parts below.

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