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Six facets of bias: letter to the BBC re coverage of Gaza

 
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johnwhilley



Joined: 03 Oct 2004
Posts: 724
Location: Glasgow

Post Post subject: Six facets of bias: letter to the BBC re coverage of Gaza Reply with quote

The BBC's catalogue of loaded language, selective labels and distorted context on the situation in Gaza is now overwhelming. It's almost superfluous to single out given items, given the consistent pattern of misleading reportage.

Peter Horrocks, head of the BBC's multimedia newsroom, recently claimed that special care is paid to the reporting of Israel-Palestine:
Quote:
"There is an established contentiousness that might mean the language we use is more precise and we measure it more carefully."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/12/bbc-reporting-gaza-conflict

There's also, one strongly suspects, an established understanding at the BBC on how to manage that "contentiousness".

Indeed, this claim of 'added vigilance' is an even more damning, if inadvertent, admission of the BBC's studiously-biased framing. It helps explain, for example, how special care is being taken, at the apex of the BBC, to apply pejorative labels like "militants" when referencing Hamas.

Multiple other examples of such institutionally-crafted language abound. As with the BBC's establishment-friendly reporting of Iraq, forthcoming studies will, one trusts, provide comprehensive illumination of the scale and intensity of its deceit in covering Gaza.

For the moment, I want to highlight six notable facets of bias by omission and false context, all of which - contrary to the BBC's Charter to inform - is serving to mislead and misinform the public over the current attacks on Gaza.

1. Israel is still an occupying force in Gaza.

The withdrawal from Gaza's settlements did not end Israel's illegal containment. Any state imposing land, sea and air restrictions of this severity can be deemed to be acting as an effective occupying force. As UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk stated on 9 January 2008:
Quote:
"Although Israel has contended that it is no longer an occupying power, due to its withdrawal of its forces from within Gaza, it is widely agreed by international law experts that the continued Israeli control of borders, air space, and territorial waters is of a character as to retain Israel status legally as occupying power."

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/YSAR-7N5NZ7?OpenDocument

Why is Israel never referred to in BBC reports on Gaza as an "occupying power"?

2. Israel broke the truce.


It was Israel, not the Palestinians, who broke the truce on November 4 2008 when it entered Gaza and killed six Palestinians. Israel's unilateral violation of the ceasefire - a truce initiated by Hamas - was a calculated act and a central part of the Barak-formulated plan of attack on Gaza. Yet, it's almost never noted or caveated in BBC reports. Can you explain why?

http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/war_on_gaza/2009/01/2009110112723260741.html

3. Israel is targeting all Palestinians, not just Hamas.


Hamas are a democratically-elected government, mandated by the Palestinians to resist Israeli aggression. It is, thus, grossly misleading to continually cite the situation as a conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It is clear from the massive assault on civilians and civilian infrastructure that this is a campaign of violence against Palestinians, not just a purge on Hamas. Israel's purpose in such a selective portrayal is obvious. Why are the BBC continually amplifying that propaganda?

See: An Eye for an Eyelash, Media Lens: http://medialens.org/alerts/index.php

4. Israel and the West promoted/colluded in the destabilisation of Gaza.


Following Arab efforts to establish a Palestinian national unity government, Israel, the US, EU and other Western allies promoted the Fatah-attempted coup to overthrow Hamas. The siege against Gaza which followed was collective punishment on the people of Gaza for electing Hamas. Why is this critical context consistently missing from BBC analyses?

http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3184

5. Israel's "war aims" are accepted at face value.


Why do the BBC slavishly report Israel's "war aims", as though the targeting of Hamas is their only goal? Entirely missing from this account is Israel's long-term planning and larger objectives: the collective imprisonment of the Palestinians as part of an ongoing project to humiliate and break them as a people and deny them statehood. As Jonathan Cook notes:
Quote:
"The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years – a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed."

http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090107/FOREIGN/679011682/1140

The BBC's failure to question Israel's current 'war objectives' is part of a more conspicuous absence of historical context. The subject of Zionism and Israel's modus operandi - the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through transfer and apartheid policies - are all, presumably, too "contentious" to note.

Instead, the BBC repeats without question the standard calls from politicians on the need for a ceasefire, as though this would return the situation to a state of peace. The context, in effect, becomes one of satisfying Israel's 'defensive' requirements rather than looking at the fundamental problem of Israel's overall occupation and control of Gaza.

Part of this narrative includes constant repetition of Israel's demands that the tunnels be closed as a precondition of any ceasefire. There's no countervailing view that the Palestinians may be constructing tunnels for the purposes of basic survival in the face of Israel's illegal siege.

Why this consistent omission of context and uncritical presentation of Israeli 'objectives'?

6. The BBC focus disproportionately on Hamas's military capabilities.


Why are Hamas rockets constantly being highlighted in BBC reports (as in Frank Gardner's routine studio pieces) while the massive extent of Israel's arsenal receives scant attention? The BBC's seemingly obsessive coverage of rockets from Gaza is as disproportionate as Israel's own violence against the Palestinian people.

Also, why do the BBC repeat without question Israel's demands that Hamas/the Palestinians disarm, while Israel remains a major arms-laden (and nuclear) state. And where are the detailed features on US and UK weapons supplies to Israel?

http://www.caat.org.uk/issues/israel.php

As this is a formal complaint, I would like a detailed reply on each of these main points.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley

http://johnhilley.blogspot.com/2009/01/six-facets-of-bias-letter-to-bbc.html
Tue Jan 13, 2009 3:49 pm
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johnwhilley



Joined: 03 Oct 2004
Posts: 724
Location: Glasgow

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Response from Helen Boaden and reply.

Dear Mr Hilley

Thank you for your email. As previously explained to you, while I am of course happy to read any comments you wish to send to me, if you'd like a reply you need to send in complaints using the webform at www.bbc.co.uk/complaints. The BBC has gone to some trouble to establish procedures that will enable us to be as responsive as possible to complaints from the public at the same time as exercising due regard to the need to use licence fee payers' money efficiently. For this reason, we prefer complaints to be processed and logged centrally and staff, such as myself, are contacted for the responses as necessary.

Yours sincerely
pp Helen Boaden
Director, BBC News

-------------------------

Dear Helen

I never was one for conformity, particularly when faced with the need for urgent action to highlight mass murder and the role of those in positions to influence how that murder is being reported. On the great scale of priorities, I place the BBC's new bureaucratic requirements much lower than those of humanitarian imperatives.

You have my statement. Do with it what your will and conscience allows. Think of my nonconformity as one small token of support for the desperate people of Gaza and resistance to the BBC's own conformity to power.

Your procedures and prevarications are duly noted.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley
Wed Jan 14, 2009 5:57 pm
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johnwhilley



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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

A further exchange (after 'conforming' and sending my original letter via the BBC's complaints site).

---------------------
[30 March 2009]

Dear Mr Hilley

Many thanks for your e-mail and please accept my apologies for the long delay in replying.

Throughout our coverage of the escalation of the Middle East conflict in December and January we tried to explain the various issues involved but it's simply not possible to do this on every occasion. The rocket attacks on Israel were mentioned regularly because they were one of the major contributing factors to the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Similarly though, Israel's blockade of Gaza was reported on at length. As you're no doubt aware, Israel prevented western reporters from entering Gaza so access was extremely limited. However, Christian Fraser was one of those who managed to get in through Rafah - he stayed with Palestinians and reported on the difficulties they faced in obtaining food and fuel. The problem of getting aid in to Gaza because of the blockade was also a big aspect of our coverage - doctors working in hospitals such as Al-Shifa and representatives from aid agencies were regularly interviewed on the BBC News channel about the difficult conditions they were working under.

Since gaining increased access to the region we've sought to explore what happened in Gaza in greater detail in 'Panorama - Gaza: Out of the Ruins'. It's still available to watch on the iPlayer if you didn't see it at the time of broadcast:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00hk9p7/Panorama_Gaza_Out_of_the_Ruins
/?src=a_syn31

The blockade was also part of our coverage of the conflict before the escalation in December. Here are a couple of examples of from the News
website:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7719872.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7545636.stm

Additionally, Israel's incursion on 4 November was covered Radio 4 and Radio 5 live at the time and again on the News website:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7709603.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7712552.stm

You add that we failed to mention that Israel targeted all Palestinians and not just Hamas. This is an allegation that's very difficult to prove and as such we wouldn't state it as fact but we certainly reported the claim and our coverage regularly mentioned the large number of civilian casualties.

We reported on claim and counter-claim from Israel and Hamas - our role isn't to make judgements on the actions or views of either side but to provide enough information for people to make up their own minds.

On the issue of the capability of Hamas' weaponry; we made it quite clear that Israel possesses a modern army which was being used by land, sea and air, whereas the rockets fired by Hamas were crude and relatively unsophisticated. In no sense did we report or imply that the two sides are equal in strength, whatever the perceived rights or wrongs of the conflict. We reported on the scale of the Israeli attacks, and on the criticism by some observers that it was a disproportionate response to the rocket fire- but again, it's for the audience to form a judgement on the merits, or otherwise, of Israel's actions.

You also raise the issue of the language used during our coverage, particularly the use of the term 'militants'. The key thing here is that we always try to report the facts as we know them.

While Israel was attacking Gaza, rockets were being fired from Gaza in to Southern Israel as they have been frequently in recent years. It's widely accepted that Hamas uses armed conflict to help achieve its aims and in this respect we think it's fair to refer to those firing rockets as 'militants'.

It also needs to be considered how Hamas came to power in Gaza. The elected and internationally recognised government of Gaza and the West Bank - the Palestinian Authority - was led by a Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas only constituted a part of it.

The Gaza Strip was administered by the civil service and police force of the Palestinian Authority and although these forces may have been dominated by Fatah, they still represented the democratically elected government. By overthrowing these forces, Mr Haniya and the Hamas militia effectively overthrew the democratically elected government, even though they were already a faction within it.

The language used in our reports is an important consideration and decisions about how certain groups are referred to aren't taken lightly.

I appreciate that you may continue to be concerned about our impartiality
in our reporting of this conflict. The fact is though that it's an extremely sensitive situation which stirs up strong feelings from all sides. We do however appreciate your feedback on our coverage and your concerns have been passed directly to colleagues at BBC News.

Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch.

Regards

Paul Wheeler
Divisional Advisor
BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

-------------------------------

Dear Mr Wheeler

Thank you for writing back. It's always interesting to see yet another complaints advisor issue the standard BBC reply. I sometimes wonder if they ever harbour more personal, critical thoughts on such matters. But that's for them to say.

One of the useful outcomes of the BBC's decision not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal for Gaza was that it helped confirm for many the extremity of its pro-Israel editorial and journalistic leanings. So, in that same vein, allow me to air some of the loaded assertions and open biases in your letter.

You say:
Quote:
“The rocket attacks on Israel were mentioned regularly because they were one of the major contributing factors to the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel.”

Really? So, 60 years of illegal and brutal occupation, thousands of Palestinians slaughtered by a state intent on maintaining that occupation in defiance of multiple UN resolutions and international condemnation, an illegal siege and starvation policy towards Gaza, the UN-declared collapse of Gaza's infrastructure, the war criminality of Operation Cast Lead...and you consider these rocket attacks a “major contributing factor” to the conflict?

Sometimes even I am amazed at the BBC's capacity for demonising the victims. Your letter shows a damning inability or/and unwillingness to articulate the primary causes of this conflict.

Then there's your crude excuse about Israel targeting all Palestinians:
Quote:
“You add that we failed to mention that Israel targeted all Palestinians and not just Hamas. This is an allegation that's very difficult to prove and as such we wouldn't state it as fact but we certainly reported the claim and our coverage regularly mentioned the large number of civilian casualties.”

This is a truly disgraceful journalistic and editorial evasion coming in the light of multiple reports from on-the-ground aid agencies and civilian witnesses. From Amnesty International to the International Red Cross and UN, the calls for war crimes investigations are unequivocal. These reports and statements all indicate the direct targeting of all Palestinians, not just Hamas. The BBC have failed to give that adequate attention in their reports.

The same false picture can be seen in the BBC's reporting of the pre-invasion blockade of Gaza. You claim that:
Quote:
“Israel's blockade of Gaza was reported on at length.”

It's never enough to cover such events – cursory as the BBC's reporting of Gaza and the daily brutality across the West Bank is. What's required is a critical evaluation of Israel's proclaimed “security” reasons for blockading Gaza - and occupying the West Bank. None of this is up for serious discussion at the BBC. The default position is to keep repeating Israel's claim to be “defending” itself against Palestinian “terrorists”.

You go on:
Quote:

“As you're no doubt aware, Israel prevented western reporters from entering Gaza so access was extremely limited.”

Again, this is a useless canard. Reporting of Israel's blockade has not only been fragmented, but also woefully lacking in explanatory context. Prohibitions on journalists entering Gaza need not prevent critical analysis of the reasons behind Israel's aggression and the massive toll it's taken on Palestinian lives.

Christian Fraser's reports were, indeed, graphic and shocking, as were some of the scenes and witness statements in Jeremy Bowen's Panorama piece. Yet, even Bowen played compliantly along during the 23 day assault with the same 'two conflicting sides' narrative, in particular avoiding the case for indicting Israeli leaders as prima facie war criminals.

Your claim regarding 'proportionate' coverage of the rocket attacks is, likewise, unconvincing:
Quote:

“We reported on the scale of the Israeli attacks, and on the criticism by some observers that it was a disproportionate response to the rocket fire - but again, it's for the audience to form a judgement on the merits, or otherwise, of Israel's actions.”

Yes, and it's becoming increasingly clear to much of a now-alerted public just what part the BBC has played in keeping that public judgement safely 'informed'.

Much of that has been maintained through selective omission, distorted context and, of course, BBC-defined language. Having effectively ignored my points on omission and context, you say, with regard to the latter:
Quote:

“You also raise the issue of the language used during our coverage, particularly the use of the term 'militants'. The key thing here is that we always try to report the facts as we know them. While Israel was attacking Gaza, rockets were being fired from Gaza in to Southern Israel as they have been frequently in recent years. It's widely accepted that Hamas uses armed conflict to help achieve its aims and in this respect we think it's fair to refer to those firing rockets as 'militants'.”

Actually, there's a much more basic, and valid, reason they use arms and weaponry: to resist. It's always useful to understand why people turn to such forms of resistance. Alas, the BBC seem reticent in highlighting the basic truth that the Palestinian people have an actual right to resist. You assert that “Hamas uses armed conflict to achieve its aims”. Why not say, more accurately, that “Palestinians resort to using rockets to maintain their defence”?

Indeed, why not be even-handed and state that: “Likud/Kadima uses armed conflict to achieve its aims”? Where's the consistency? Israel gets a name and recognition that it speaks as a people, whereas the Palestinians are rarely spoken of as a people - the “Hamas militants” label being used, instead, to obvious demonic effect. It's simply not “fair”, as you claim, to brand Hamas or other Palestinians as “militants” while Israel engages in much more militant, extremist and murderous action.

Again, I suspect you see the obviousness of that point, but will uphold the usual BBC double standard, anyway.

But the most revealing example of BBC slander – and I use that word unreservedly – comes in this section of your letter:
Quote:
“It also needs to be considered how Hamas came to power in Gaza. The elected and internationally recognised government of Gaza and the West Bank – the Palestinian Authority - was led by a Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas only constituted a part of it. The Gaza Strip was administered by the civil service and police force of the Palestinian Authority and although these forces may have been dominated by Fatah, they still represented the democratically elected government. By overthrowing these forces, Mr Haniya and the Hamas militia effectively overthrew the democratically elected government, even though they were already a faction within it.”

This is a gross misinterpretation of the truth, and it speaks volumes about the BBC's own extreme political leanings that it can respond with this sanitised version of events.

The first problem lies in the contradiction of how Hamas, an openly-elected government, could overthrow another, as you claim, elected government. Either Hamas were fairly elected or they weren't.

In fact, Hamas were elected after one of the cleanest elections ever seen in the region. The only problem was the West's refusal to recognise a democratic government it didn't like.

As widely documented, the US was eager to see elections in the West Bank and Gaza in order to assert Fatah rule and undermine Hamas. The point was to prop-up Abbas's collapsing mandate and further isolate Hamas, all part of the mendacious agenda to fragment and divide the Palestinians.

Taken aback by the unexpected Hamas victory in Gaza and the West Bank, the US and Israel began imposing punitive sanctions, withdrawing tax revenues and aid, intensifying their support for Fatah and actively funding, training and arming the contingent around Fatah henchman Mohammed Dahlan.

In 2007, with the situation further disintegrating, various Arab states intervened to help form a national unity Palestinian government (the Mecca Accords). It's on record that Condoleezza Rice “was apoplectic” with rage when she discovered this plan. Here's a flavour of the furious US mood as Hamas and Fatah prepared to meet in Mecca, as indicated in a leaked report by the retiring UN Envoy for the Middle East, Alvoro de Soto:
Quote:
“The US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy [David Welch] declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington 'how much I like this violence', referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured because 'it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas'.”(Cited, Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine, p 113.)

Having cultivated Dahlan over many years, the US and Israel conspired to see Fatah overthrow the elected Hamas government. As a key article in Vanity Fair, drawing on official US documents, subsequently revealed, a bankroll $1 billion budget was allocated for Fatah arms, training and salaries, all pushing for the “desired outcome” of giving Abbas “the capability to take the required strategic political decisions...such as dismissing the [Hamas] cabinet and establishing an emergency cabinet”.(Cited, ibid, 114.)

Alerted to the planned putsch by the increased arrival of US weaponry to Fatah, Hamas saw-off the threat, in effect pre-empting a Western-backed Fatah coup in Gaza.

Thereafter, Israeli and US leaders resolved to use the split to best advantage by stressing the divisions between the 'co-operative' Fatah administration in the West Bank and the 'militant' entity in Gaza - the 'Hamastan' which they are ever-eager to portray. All classic divide and conquer tactics, none of which the BBC seems willing to air or explain to its viewers.

You might also like to consider how the US and Israel actually once promoted Hamas during its formative years as an expedient bulwark to Arafat and Fatah. Again, none of this is remotely up for illumination by the BBC. All we have is the standard acceptance and repetition of Hamas's “terrorist” status.

You conclude:
Quote:
“I appreciate that you may continue to be concerned about our impartiality in our reporting of this conflict. The fact is though that it's an extremely sensitive situation which stirs up strong feelings from all sides.”

The BBC's classic 'sign-off' line – included as though any apparent 'adversity' or 'sensitivity' over the situation should somehow have a bearing on the matter of accurate and honest reporting.

Again, thanks for writing back. It's been another useful exercise in drawing the BBC out into the open and exposing it as an unapologetic purveyor of Western and Israeli official-speak.

Regards,

John Hilley
Fri Apr 03, 2009 9:36 am
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--- On Thu, 23/4/09, admin@national.core.bbc.co.uk <admin> wrote:


Dear Mr Hilley

Many thanks for your further e-mail and sorry if you were not happy with my previous reply.

However, should you now wish to proceed to the second stage of the complaints process, it is now open to you to write to the Director of BBC News at the following address:

HelenBoadenComplaints@bbc.co.uk

Regards

Paul Wheeler
Divisional Advisor
BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

-----------------------

RE: 16469590

Dear Paul Wheeler

Your reluctance to respond further is duly noted. As suggested, I've passed on the following request to Helen Boaden:

Dear Helen Boaden

Following the reply to my recent enquiry (16469590) from BBC Divisional Advisor Paul Wheeler, I'd like a 'second stage' response to the questions posed in my original letter:

http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2925

I'd also like you to clarify the BBC's position with regard to Paul Wheeler's assertion that:
Quote:

"Mr Haniya and the Hamas militia effectively overthrew the democratically elected [Palestinian] government".


As I've noted, this is a gross distortion of the truth, with no accompanying context explaining the West's supportive role in fomenting the conflict between Fatah and Hamas.

I look forward to your thoughts on why the BBC continues to repeat this distorted version of events.

Regards

John Hilley
Fri May 08, 2009 1:10 pm
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johnwhilley



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A 'Stage 2' exchange with Stephanie Harris.

---------------------------

 
June 5th, 2009

Dear Mr Hilley,

Your complaint about our coverage of the Gaza conflict has now been escalated to the second stage of the BBC’s complaints process. As Head of Accountability for BBC News I have been asked by the Director, Helen Boaden, to investigate on her behalf the specific concerns that you have raised.
 
I am sorry that you are dissatisfied by the stage 1 reply sent to you
by Paul Wheeler. I’d like now to address your concerns in turn.

Firstly, I note that you question the explanation that the rocket attacks on Israel
were one of the major contributing factors leading to the Gaza offensive.
However, this was the case and of course we also ensured that we
reported on the causes of the rocket-fire as seen by Hamas and its supporters. For example, on Radio 4’s Today programme on January 30th, our Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, reported that (the policy of trying to) “destroy the appetite of some of the absolutely desperate people who live in what they consider to be the biggest outdoor prison in the world...for trying to hit at Israel…is not necessarily going to work out.”

On World News Today, on December 30th, Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak called on Israel to end its offensive and said Palestinians must unite to defeat the occupation. On Radio 4’s 1800 bulletin on December 31st, Jeremy Bowen reported that Hamas was offering a ceasefire if Israel lifts its siege of Gaza and will increase calls for talks to at least investigate what’s possible. Then, in later news bulletins that day, he reported that the human suffering in Gaza, and the Hamas offer of a ceasefire, if Israel lifts its siege, were increasing international pressure on the Israelis, which they continue to ignore.

Here are some other examples:

Today, January 1st, Jeremy Bowen: “(There are reports that Hamas would like a ceasefire)… if in return Israel completely lifted the blockade of Gaza which in the last 18 months or so has caused the entire internal economy of the place to collapse.”


 
Late news, January 4th: Jeremy Bowen:
“…this war may have been avoided if a proper attempt had been made by diplomats and leaders to address the problems of Gaza, Israel and the Palestinians over the last 18 months, but that didn't happen and it is too late now, at least until this round of bloodletting is over.”
 
Today, January 5th, Paul Adams:
“Whatever emerges has to involve…some mechanism for stopping the flow of arms into the Gaza Strip…and something also that would make sure the crossings into Gaza from Israel and Egypt are open for humanitarian and normal commercial activity and that is clearly part of the problem – the fact that Gaza has been utterly cut off.”
 
Radio 4 1800, January 6th, Jeremy Bowen:
“Israel says the last ceasefire failed because it allowed Hamas to strengthen itself and to build up its stocks of rockets… the Hamas version of the last ceasefire is different – as it was crumbling, Hamas people in Gaza were saying that Israel had never taken it seriously because it didn’t use it to lift the blockade in any significant way. The truth is that both sides expected and prepared for a fight.”
 
Ten o’clock News, January 6th: Jeremy Bowen:
“Beyond the smoke, Hamas is deeply embedded in Gazan society. It is hard to see how force can eradicate the nationalist and Islamist ideas that inspire its supporters to fight Israel. The Israelis believe there is a military solution to this crisis. They could be wrong.”
 
Radio 4 1800, January 7th: Tim Franks:
“A Hamas spokesman said Israel had to…open up its border crossings with Gaza to end the blockade…”
 
Ten o’clock News, January 7th: Fiona Bruce:
“Hamas is demanding freedom of movement in and out of Gaza. But as we have heard, the key Israeli demand remains that Hamas stop all its rocket attacks.”

Ten o’clock News, January 7th: Christian Fraser:
“…besides weapons, they smuggle essential fuel, electricity, even livestock for civilians, and after 18 months of the siege, the Palestinians say these tunnels are their lifeline. Any ceasefire will need to take in the demands of both sides; the Palestinians want to see this crossing open to the free movement of goods and people. The Israelis want to see the border reinforced and better policed by the international community.”
 
Ten o’clock News, January 9th: Jeremy Bowen:
“Palestinian fighters talk of struggle, resistance to occupation and
sacrifice.”
 
“The Israelis think that they will be able to improve security for their people and Hamas believes that it can prove itself as an organisation by resisting Israel and also score some points against what they see as the Israeli occupiers.”
 
Ten o’clock News, January 12th: Jeremy Bowen:
“This isn't a new experience for many Gazan families, who are refugees from the land that became Israel in 1948. Settling the wider Arab Israeli conflict is the only long-term answer to this.”
 
 
I agree entirely with your view that it is vital to provide context and background information. Indeed, it is our duty as an impartial news organization to do so to enable our audiences to form their own judgements. In addition to reporting from the region, a few examples of which I have quoted from above, other background – or at least a parti pris view of it - emerged from interviewees some of the time. For instance, on the News Channel, on December 30th, Diana Buttu explicitly linked what she called the Palestinians’ lack of freedom, Israel’s lack of security and the “brutal occupation” of the last 41 years.
 
These were some other examples:
 
Today, December 29th:
Saeb Erekat, Chief Palestinian negotiator:
On one side there is all the equipment of the state directed against people who are very short of food, most of whom need humanitarian aid, much of which it can’t get through, who’ve effectively been imprisoned behind a border which has been closed for much of the time…
 
 
News channel, December 29th:
Dr Mustafa Barghouti Palestinian legislative council:
Israel continued the blockade on Gaza and two months before the truce ended Israel attacked civilian Palestinian areas and killed many Palestinians trying to provoke a reaction and they got a reaction and missiles were shot at Israel but not a single Israeli was killed…this is a war on all efforts to end this Israeli occupation that has lasted 41 years.
 
Newsnight, January 7th:
Ayman Daragmeh, Hamas Representative, Ramallah:
We should be very clear that the reason for this war is the occupation…
 
There were attempts, too, to elicit the wider background through direct questioning. For instance:
 
Today, January 3rd:
Edward Stourton:
Just briefly take us through how we got to where we are today from the moment when Israel withdrew from Gaza which really was meant to be a new start, wasn’t it?
 
Jeremy Bowen:
 …since (the Hamas takeover) Gaza has been under an almost total blockade by Israel which has had the tacit or active approval from western countries…
 
Today, January 12th:
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British diplomat:
This is a regime about which a lot of inaccurate statements are made…It is not beholden to Iran, these are Sunnis not Shia…They are not trying to set up a Taleban style government in Gaza…They are not intent on the destruction of Israel, that is a rhetorical statement of resistance… (the charter)…has never been adopted since Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government, in January 2006, as part of their political programme. This is a grievance based organisation desperate to end the occupation…the cessation of rockets would have been possible if Israel had lived up to its obligations under the June ceasefire to open the crossings…
 
On the BBC News Channel, former Gaza correspondent
Alan Johnston went into the wider background:
 
News channel, January 6th:
Alan Johnston:
But it’s worthwhile too just stepping back a minute from this violence and looking for a minute at the kind of emotions that drive this conflict. It’s worth remembering that the vast majority of Gazans are people who lost homes in what is now Israel in the war of 1948 which Arab armies started and lost, so in their refugee camps they’ve lived for decades under full Israeli military occupation for a long time and then more recently under the Israeli blockade and the Palestinians see this whole conflict very much as part of the wider picture of occupation and dispossession. The Israelis on the other hand say it’s simple – it’s about rockets falling on our towns and cities
 
 
You express dismay that, in your view, we failed
to report how Israel was “targeting all Palestinians and not just Hamas.”

The fact is that the BBC has a duty to report impartially and must not adopt any one side’s view of the conflict or take up facts unquestioningly. The evidence of our news output shows that we reported fully and in great detail on the attacks on the UN buildings and questioned Israeli officials very closely. Here are some examples:
 
Newsnight, January 7th: Jeremy Paxman interviews Yigal Palmor of the Israeli foreign ministry:
 
JP: 'The United Nations people in Gaza are saying that the Israelis have now conceded that there were no people firing weapons from inside the compounds of the school that was hit yesterday, is that true?'
 
YP: 'No, not exactly, what we said was that we have located a mortar firing squad from within the vicinity of the school, the immediate vicinity or from within the school grounds.
 
JP: Which is it?
 
YP: It’s very hard to tell when we are still in battle...
 
JP: But the claim yesterday was that it was within the school compound?
 
YP: It was either within the school compound or the immediate vicinity of it, which means a few metres away from the walls of either side of the school, but from a few metres a way so that when it was hit by fire from the IDF, some damage occurred to the school and this damage caused the tragic of death of 40 people.
 
Today, January 15th:
Around 1,000 people have now been killed in Gaza. All but a handful are Palestinians. That much is agreed by both sides. What is NOT agreed is how many of the dead were civilians. Non-combatants. The Palestinians say most of them: only 200 were fighters and even more of the dead were children. The Israelis say at least half were fighters or, as they put it, Hamas terrorists. 
 
Today, January 15th: John Humphrys interviews Mark Regev:
 
JH: Whatever the detail of these figures, you knew – must have known –when you launched this attack that many civilians, many children, would die didn’t you?
 
MR: And we’re making and continue to make every effort to leave innocent civilians out of the crossfire between us and Hamas.
 
JH: So when you fire shells at a heavily populated area, you know, do you that those shells aren’t going to kill civilians?
 
MR: We do not indiscriminately drop bombs.
 
JH: I didn’t use the word’ indiscriminately.’

We were also careful to carry claim and counter-claim.  The mortar attack involving a UN school in Gaza is one example of this. There was initially considerable confusion about what had happened and why. Correspondents Paul Wood and Mark Urban, in preparing their reports, both noticed that although there were many dead and injured outside the school, there were no pictures from inside. Reasoning that had there been people killed inside they would have been filmed, they reported the attack had taken place 'at' the school rather than 'on' the school. We were not therefore caught up in the later controversy, following a Canadian newspaper report suggesting some accounts had been misleading.
You suggest that we painted a false picture of the pre-invasion
blockade of Gaza and did not critically evaluate Israel’s reasons for doing do.
You say that our “default position is to keep repeating Israel's claim to be ‘defending’ itself against Palestinian ‘terrorists.’”
 
Contrary to your view, though, we do not have a “default” position. The only position we are committed to take is an impartial one; it means that we report and we challenge a wide range of views and approaches, including those that are unpalatable to some in our audiences. For instance:

Today, January 7th, Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador:
They (Hamas) spent millions. Instead of building Gaza into something they can live in… they turned it into a terrorist camp
 
Sarah Montague:
Their argument was because of the blockade that Israel imposed and therefore did not allow the economy to work…
 
Today, January 14th:
Major Jacob Dalal, IDF:
…we don’t want anything to do with Gaza, that’s why we left there 3 years ago.”
 
James Naughtie:
Well, you say you don’t want anything to do with Gaza after you left 3 years ago, but the people there were effectively imprisoned after that period, I mean they were squeezed, they were short of supplies, their lives were extremely difficult, it is hardly surprising that many of them turned to the kind of militancy that they wouldn’t have embraced before and the danger surely that you face is that after this operation…people are going to be more politically supportive of Hamas in general even if they weren’t beforehand…


You express concern that our reporting of Israel’s blockade was not only fragmented but lacked explanatory context.

But what about, for example:
 Newsnight, January 8th:
Alan Johnston:
It’s worth remembering that most Gazans are from families that lost homes in what is now Israel.  They became refugees in the war of 1948. The Arab armies that started the fighting were defeated and many Palestinians fled or were forced to flee their towns and villages. Large numbers came to Gaza. There they endured Israeli military occupation and later a very severe blockade. Years of Israeli military and other pressure has failed to weaken Hamas. It’s retained significant levels of support in the society in which it’s rooted. In Gaza everyone has a cousin who’s in Hamas…
 
…For Israel the conflict is simply abut protecting its citizens from rocket fire. For Palestinians it’s part of a struggle for freedom. It’s hard to see a resolution without an end to the wider Israeli occupation, but it’s also hard to see that happening as long as Hamas continues to talk of ultimately seeking Israel’s destruction.
 
Ten o’clock News, January 9th:
Hamas has been under sustained attack for nearly two weeks. But it has shown it's still able to carry out rocket attacks from Gaza. Israel says those attacks have to stop before there can be any deal. What does Hamas want and what are its wider aims?
 
Paul Wood:
Israelis fear Hamas as a threat to their very survival. The Islamist group's founding charter says Israel will exist until Islam eliminates it. It promises to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. That document was written 20 years ago. Hamas has evolved since then. Last year one of its leaders told the BBC how co-existence with Israel might be possible...
 
Translation of Khaled Meshaal:
We could accept a state based on the 67 borders, he says, but Israel insists on continuing its occupation of our land so we have no choice but to resist.
 
Paul Wood:
The 1967 war gave Israel control of the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas moderates could live with an Israel which reversed those gains. But Hamas will always really believe that the land Israel took at its birth in 1948 is truly Palestinian…
 

I am sorry that you are not convinced that the lack of access to Gaza had an effect on coverage, but I understand from your email that once our crews and correspondents were allowed in you were more satisfied with the reports that emerged, graphic and shocking as the images and narratives were. Therefore, I must confess to being puzzled by your suggestion that Jeremy Bowen was “compliant” during the conflict, but then suddenly changed when it came to his reporting for the Panorama.

Again, I think it vital to stress that as an impartial news organisation it is not our role to make anyone’s case, but to report evidence so that our audiences can form their own judgements. Likewise, it is not our role to say that anyone has a “right to resist,” nor to attack: it is our job to report.

Turning now to your concern about this paragraph in your stage 1 response: 

“It also needs to be considered how Hamas came to power in Gaza.
The elected and internationally recognised government of Gaza and the West Bank –
the Palestinian Authority - was led by a Fatah President, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas
only constituted a part of it. The Gaza Strip was administered by the civil service and
police force of the Palestinian Authority and although these forces may have been
dominated by Fatah, they still represented the democratically elected government.
By overthrowing these forces, Mr Haniya and the Hamas militia effectively overthrew
the democratically elected government, even though they were already a faction within it.”

I agree that this could have been clearer and is confusing, perhaps because of compression. It should have explained how Hamas was elected and then threw out Fatah; Hamas unseated Fatah as the dominant party of the Palestinian Authority when they won a majority of seats in the Legislative election of January 2006. They formed a government two months later, to which the Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) responded by withholding financial aid unless Hamas recognised Israel, renounced violence and accepted past agreements.

The two factions agreed a new unity government in March 2007, but it was dissolved by President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas, in effect, ousted Fatah from the Gaza Strip in June that year.
 
Therefore, it is reasonable to say in our coverage that Hamas were democratically elected but then they used force to overthrow Fatah within the Gaza Strip. In fact, the relationship between Hamas and Fatah was explored by the Radio 4 Today programme in a report by Aleem Maqbool on December 30th and by Mark Urban on Newsnight, January 7th.

You suggest that we didn’t address “the West's refusal to recognise a democratic government it didn't like.” In fact, as outlined above in our coverage we did question the West’s role and the response of the Quartet.
 
You have suggested that we view Hamas as “terrorists.” Actually, we don't use the word 'terrorist' - although some interviewees may do - and we have frequently reported on the different wings of Hamas, including its social wing - one of the factors in its election.

In your latest email, you have set out what you call “six notable facets of bias by omission and false context.”

Mr Hilley, I have been happy to investigate your concerns where they relate to specific coverage or an absence of specific news coverage, but it is not the role of this complaints process to deal with general or sweeping statements about the conflict. Please, though, do follow the links below to the BBC website because some of the specific issues you raise are addressed here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/newswatch/ukfs/hi/newsid_6040000/newsid_6044000/6044090.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7818022.stm

I hope that I have addressed your concerns, but, if you remain dissatisfied with my response, you may wish to take your complaint to the final stage by appealing to the BBC Trust within twenty working days. If you wish to contact the Trust, you can do so by writing to Bruce Vander, Complaints Manager, Editorial Standards Committee, 35 Marylebone High Street, London W1V 4AA.

Yours sincerely

Stephanie Harris
Head of Accountability, BBC News
-----------------------------------------

10 June 2009

Dear Stephanie Harris,

Thanks for your lengthy response. It's apparent that you consider the citing of such reports on Gaza as 'quantitative' proof that the BBC gave the subject ample coverage. You also seem to believe that the items noted offer 'qualitative' evidence of the BBC's analytical balance. I'm afraid you are mistaken on both counts.

The supposed volume and critical tenor of the reports noted here gave the viewer no real import of Israel's attack policy or understanding of the context. As I've continually noted, it fits with the BBC's pitiful record in reporting the daily abuses going on all across the Occupied Territories – Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1660

See also, in this regard:

http://medialens.org/alerts/09/090112_an_eye_for.php

http://medialens.org/alerts/08/081103_children_in_the.php

There's no indication even from the more 'critical' examples offered here that most BBC reports provide any more than a cursory explanation of the key historical background to the issue. Likewise, where it does display some ambition to relating the 'true side' of Hamas and Palestinian suffering, there's an almost amateur circumventing of the nuance. This is no more evident than the crude depiction of Hamas's struggle with Fatah leading to the 'coup' in Gaza. Again, the most glaring omission by the BBC concerns the efforts of Israel, the US and other Western powers to cause deliberate divisions, dislocation and violence between Hamas and Fatah and the Palestinian people at large.

Allow me to comment a little further on some of your assertions.

You state:

“Firstly, I note that you question the explanation that the rocket attacks on Israel were one of the major contributing factors leading to the Gaza offensive. However, this was the case...”

That's an immediately revealing claim to make. Contrary to supposed BBC codes, you're stating an opinion, rather than repeating a claim made by Israel. The fact that you share the view expressed by Israel on this matter raises rather obvious suspicions that the BBC takes at face value so much of what the Israeli government, military and media machine would have us believe.

There is, of course, a more credible reading of why Israel attacked Gaza: containment and control.

Why is there no mention here of Ehud Barak's long pre-planned attack on Gaza, a fact understood even by parts of the Israeli press? See, for example:
http://www.palestinechronicle.com/news.php?id=57f0a945f0ce661c0e64a1fe8900c4c4&mode=details

It takes little research to see what was being carefully prepared, and why the relative insignificance of Palestinian rocket attacks presented such a problem for Israel in securing a pretext for the assault.

It's all very well for you to cite Jeremy Bowen repeating the Palestinain view that Gaza is “the biggest outdoor prison in the world”. But there is no serious investigation in any of these pieces about the calculated ways in which Gaza is being used as an effective prison camp, an arrangement in mass human control allowing Israel and its Western associates to conduct new forms of experimental warfare.

You continue with this rather strange example of 'challenging' output:

“On World News Today, on December 30th, Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak called on Israel to end its offensive and said Palestinians must unite to defeat the occupation.”

Which tells us?

It certainly doesn't tell us anything about the ways in which Mubarak conspired with Tzipi Livni in facilitating the assault, or the shameful ways in which the Egyptian state has itself conspired in the imprisonment of Gaza at the behest of its US sponsors.

In similar vein, the BBC's reporting of Israel ignoring Hamas's offer of a ceasefire tells the viewer very little about why they ignored these international calls: namely, that they had a pre-formed plan to kill as many Palestinians – not just Hamas personnel - as possible in the 23 day 'schedule' open to them before the Obama inauguration.

Bowen also asserts that:

“…this war may have been avoided if a proper attempt had been made by diplomats and leaders to address the problems of Gaza”.

Leaving aside the questionable use of the word “war” - “massacre” being the more appropriate term – Bowen, again, seems oblivious to the more mendacious truth that Israel and its Western allies didn't want to address the problems of Gaza. They wanted to exacerbate them They wanted to deepen the chaos; to unleash their military might on a terrified, defenceless people. Precisely none of this darker agenda is up for discussion in any of these reports.

Instead, we find reporters like Paul Adams contemplating what he (for the BBC) considers to be the serious obstacles to peace, while accepting that “something” has to be done to ease the human catastrophe:

“Whatever emerges has to involve…some mechanism for stopping the flow of arms into the Gaza Strip…and something also that would make sure the crossings into Gaza from Israel and Egypt are open for humanitarian and normal commercial activity and that is clearly part of the problem – the fact that Gaza has been utterly cut off.”

Again, we find this selective ranking of priorities – as though the holding of (many would say, legitimate) Hamas arms is the preeminent issue.

Here's Bowen's further application of the 'two sides' narrative:

“Israel says the last ceasefire failed because it allowed Hamas to strengthen itself and to build up its stocks of rockets… the Hamas version of the last ceasefire is different – as it was crumbling, Hamas people in Gaza were saying that Israel had never taken it seriously because it didn’t use it to lift the blockade in any significant way. The truth is that both sides expected and prepared for a fight.”

This last line, in particular, helps reinforce the fallacy of 'two equal sides preparing for attack'. It says nothing about Israel's overwhelming military capacity. It says nothing about Israel's pre-planned offensive, or the motives behind it. And it says nothing about the ad hoc 'defence' the Palestinian people could only muster against that onslaught.

This is the kind of 'safe-edge' analysis that the BBC takes such pride in. In truth, it's an exercise in stating the obvious – what's undeniably evident on the ground – while suggesting that 'both sides are at fault.' Claim and counter-claim are presented, allowing the impression that Israel is just one of the aggrieved parties rather than the principal aggressor. Thus, from Fiona Bruce:

“Hamas is demanding freedom of movement in and out of Gaza. But as we have heard, the key Israeli demand remains that Hamas stop all its rocket attacks.”

And this from Christian Fraser:

“…besides weapons, they smuggle essential fuel, electricity, even livestock for civilians, and after 18 months of the siege, the Palestinians say these tunnels are their lifeline. Any ceasefire will need to take in the demands of both sides; the Palestinians want to see this crossing open to the free movement of goods and people. The Israelis want to see the border reinforced and better policed by the international community.”

Bowen does deserve some credit for recognising the wider context of the conflict:

“This isn't a new experience for many Gazan families, who are refugees from the land that became Israel in 1948. Settling the wider Arab Israeli conflict is the only long-term answer to this.”

But, again, where within this rather obvious truism is the central message that there's a primary occupier driving these attacks, and an occupied, brutalised people attempting to live with them? Indeed, so much can be concealed in the word “conflict” itself. Which makes it such a convenience for BBC reporters to employ it as a catch-all term.

Your further citation of interviews and comments from Palestinian figures, such as Mustafa Barghouti, is, again, all very well, but it sits within this same, safe set of assumptions about Israeli intent – as in Edward Stourton's assertion to Jeremy Bowen about Israel's withdrawal “from Gaza which really was meant to be a new start, wasn’t it?”

Actually, it was merely the start of a new phase of occupation – which Bowen alludes to in his response to Stourton, but fails to discuss the cynical motivations behind the decision to 'withdraw'.

In the face of such a mass attack on Gaza, the appearance of Palestinian figures and the questioning of Israeli officials should not be seen as some radical journalistic engagement. The bigger test of such journalists is their ability and willingness to identify the real reasons for Israeli aggression and to inform the viewer of the flagrant abuses of international law that are taking place.

Interestingly, you cite a statement from Sir Jeremy Greenstock on the truth behind Hamas:

“They are not intent on the destruction of Israel, that is a rhetorical statement of resistance… (the charter)…has never been adopted since Hamas was elected as the Palestinian government, in January 2006, as part of their political programme.”

Why, one may ask, doesn't the BBC itself carry this essential caveat when describing Hamas?

Alan Johnston's following piece, likewise, gives us some more realistic background to the 1948 displacement of Palestinians. But, one wonders, where is the more immediate Palestinian narrative in all of this? Where is the use of key terms like “Nakba” (catastrophe), or “ethnic cleansing” (as forensically detailed by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his landmark book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine)? Where in such reports are the references to all the Israeli-defied UN resolutions and the unequivocal rights of Palestinians under international law? Yes, we can have nominal historical background, but not that which detracts from the BBC's 'two sides' agenda. Even Johnston knows not to wander beyond the understood parameters of BBC history-telling.

You continue:

“You express dismay that, in your view, we failed to report how Israel was “targeting all Palestinians and not just Hamas.” The fact is that the BBC has a duty to report impartially and must not adopt any one side’s view of the conflict or take up facts unquestioningly.”

The BBC' unwillingness to highlight Israel's deliberate targeting of all civilians, rather than just Hamas, remains one of the most disgraceful aspects of its coverage. From Mark Regev's blatant denials to all the on-the-ground evidence from NGOs and aid agencies of wanton attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, no other rational conclusion could be drawn. And yet, the BBC played shamefully along with Israeli claims of “regrettable” fatalities.

Nor was it enough for interviewers like Paxman and Humphries, cited here, to ask Regev and his associates whether they knew that civilians could be killed by such bombing. The resort to 'impartial' questioning about Israel's military actions helped mask the more potent question of Israel's military intent.

In similar regard, the prevaricating reports from Paul Wood and Mark Urban on the UN school incident where not just verifying exercises. They reflected a more fundamental unwillingness to consider the base truth of Israeli intentions. Consequently, the impression consistently presented in BBC news outlets was one of Israeli 'carelessness' and 'regret' at the loss of civilian life. Nothing, from the multiple strikes on hospitals and schools, to the gunning down of unarmed civilians in the street, bears out this sanitised version.

Occasionally, we did get, as in James Naughtie's response to Major Jacob Dalal - claiming that Israel “don't want anything to do with Gaza” - a more realistic appraisal of the pre-invasion situation:

Yet, while welcome, this more forceful, if still rare, challenging of Israeli officialdom is stating something that should be very obvious to all BBC reporters. And it still leaves largely unstated the real motives behind Israel's 'withdrawal' and imprisonment agenda. Again, it talks of the consequences rather than the intent.

Likewise, your further examples of reports giving historical context do little to offer a coherent picture of Israel's long-standing policy of removal and displacement. Alan Johnston's Newsnight report, relating the background to 1948 and movement of Palestinians to Gaza (note, again, the absence of terms like “ethnic cleansing”), tells us very little about Israel's ongoing containment agenda.

Indeed, I and other observers distinctly recall Johnston's report with particular disappointment given his own very deep experience inside Gaza. Johnston says here:

“For Israel the conflict is simply abut [sic] protecting its citizens from rocket fire. For Palestinians it’s part of a struggle for freedom. It’s hard to see a resolution without an end to the wider Israeli occupation, but it’s also hard to see that happening as long as Hamas continues to talk of ultimately seeking Israel’s destruction.”

As with your other cited articles, it's a fundamental distortion to claim or insinuate that Israel's primary motivation is about “protecting its citizens from rocket attack.” Israel's very ideological framework – namely, Zionism – is predicated on land expansion and, wherever necessary, human displacement. That's not just a partisan claim. It's abundantly clear from the unremitting land grab going on in the West Bank and Jerusalem, while the siege of Gaza merely offers a different form of control from direct occupation.

Johnston's sentence ends with the usual reversion to crude analytical type: that there can be no resolution to the conflict “as long as Hamas continues to talk of ultimately seeking Israel's destruction.”

Regarding the BBC's eventual permission to enter Gaza, I did commend the report by Christian Fraser which showed much of the graphic detail of Israeli destruction, suggesting that war crimes had been committed. Jeremy Bowen's subsequent Panorama film gave similar illumination to the massive scale of the onslaught.

But what does this, in itself, prove? This may sound churlish, but do the BBC want some kind of commendation for showing/stating the undeniable reality of what happened in Gaza?

Moreover, those nominal illustrations of Israeli aggression are still undermined by the much more voluminous BBC repetition of Israeli war aims – namely, that the killing was done for 'defensive' reasons. And that's the misleading interpretation which multiple BBC reports still helped the viewer to digest.

Jeremy Bowen may have, for BBC 'balance', “reported on the causes of the rocket-fire as seen by Hamas and its supporters.” But this was always a secondary consideration, in mitigation, to the main headline message that Israel attacked Gaza as a 'defensive', rather than offensive, act.

Jermy Bowen is often held up by the BBC as a star journalist, unafraid to say 'difficult' things about Israel. Yet, his reports from the Israeli-Gaza border were consistently framed around an uncritical acceptance of Israel's stated 'war aims'.

It should be noted here that the real issue is not with Bowen himself, but with the institutional BBC 'understandings' he and his peers are expected to embrace. It's a measure of those unstated codes that Bowen had nothing to say about the multiple public complaints of BBC bias or the BBC's refusal to air the DEC Appeal. Indeed, Bowen's willingness to toe the BBC line was clearly evident in his clarion defence of 'BBC impartiality' during the Gaza attacks.

Bowen was censored recently by the BBC for talking about Israel's Zionist fundamentals. Yet, regrettably, he failed to make any proper journalistic stance against the BBC Trust's facile ruling on the matter. Of course, Bowen's assertion about Zionism as an expansionist doctrine isn't, in itself, indicative of challenging BBC journalism. He's merely reiterating what's commonly recognised in the mass of literature on the subject. Yet, it's a major signal of the BBC's institutional bias that it could come to such an 'independent' ruling.

You continue:

“You suggest that we didn’t address “the West's refusal to recognise a democratic government it didn't like.” In fact, as outlined above in our coverage we did question the West’s role and the response of the Quartet.”

Actually, you only said that the West/Quartet refused to deal with Hamas after its election. That, again, tells us precisely nothing about the West's/Quartet's wrecking role and punitive responses.

There's an implicit, uncritical assumption in all these reports that it's legitimate for Western powers to refuse recognition of Hamas, whereas Hamas are deemed illegitimate and deviant for not supposedly recognising Israel. Which fits with the BBC's selective policy of branding Hamas “militants” and “terrorists”.

You do cite other instances where BBC reporters seem to acknowledge that Hamas has a more sophisticated message and agenda. But it's limited, to say the least.

Moreover, your 'apologetic' qualification on the BBC's reading of the 'Hamas coup' does little to offset the basic distortion. As in Paul Wheeler's letter, you have offered no substantial response to my original allegation on this point. In particular, there is no satisfactory recognition of the circumstances in which Israel and the Western powers conspired to provoke a political crisis and a military showdown between Hamas and Fatah.

You conclude:

“Mr Hilley, I have been happy to investigate your concerns where they relate to specific coverage or an absence of specific news coverage, but it is not the role of this complaints process to deal with general or sweeping statements about the conflict.”

This is a disgraceful, if unsurprising, evasion. My original complaint was neither “general” or “sweeping”. It was a set of specifically presented illustrations of bias accompanied by studious references and followed by a close examination of the Fatah-Hamas issue:

http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=10048#10048

http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=10164#10164

Two responses, to date, have now managed to bypass the six key points made in my original complaint.

I will now request a fuller evaluation of those points from the BBC Trust.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley
Wed Jun 10, 2009 1:07 pm
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BBC Trust

Bruce Vander,
Complaints Manager,
Editorial Standards Committee,
35 Marylebone High Street ,
London W1V 4AA

11 June 2009


BBC reporting of Gaza: six facets of BBC bias

Dear Mr Vander,

Following Stage 1 and 2 responses to my above-noted statement of complaint, I hereby request a formal review of the matter by the BBC Trust.

Please refer to my original complaint and subsequent exchanges at:

http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2925

In particular, I would like a detailed assessment of the six main assertions of bias made in my statement, none of which have been directly addressed in the two responses received.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

John Hilley
Thu Jun 11, 2009 12:00 pm
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A letter from the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee (following a previous request from Mr Vander on 7 July for further submissions) and my response.

---------------------------------------
21 July 2009

Dear Mr Hilley,

Thank you for your reply. I have attached a copy of the email that was sent to you on 7 July.

Although you have included a link to the six points that you raised with the BBC, these are general issues and the Editorial Standards Committee will need to consider specific examples of breaches of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines.

An appeal to the Trust must be presented clearly and concisely, in accordance with the procedures set out here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/appeals/complaints_fr_work_ed_complaints.pdf

In particular, please note the following extract from the full procedures:

Your appeal should include the following information:
A concise summary of up to 1,000 words (about 4 pages) of your appeal, including details of the programme(s) or item, channel or service, and the date of transmission or publication. If your appeal concerns content on the BBC’s internet sites, the ESC will normally only consider an appeal if a copy of the material is supplied.
A break down of the appeal into a series of concise points, illustrated with specific examples from the content of which you are complaining. This will assist us in ensuring that we understand the exact nature and basis of your appeal.
The date of your original complaint.
The date of the final correspondence with the ECU or a senior BBC manager
The reasons why you are dissatisfied with the decision(s) of the ECU or a senior BBC manager
Please note when providing details of the programmes or items that you feel have breached the Editorial Guidelines that the ESC is only able to consider individual items on which the BBC Executive has had a chance to respond. If any individual items have not had a stage 2 response then you will have to submit them as a complaint to the BBC Executive before the Trust can consider them on appeal.

As you have not been aware of this request for clarification until now, we shall extend the deadline by another ten days. Please submit your appeal to us by Tuesday 4 August.

If you remain unsure of what we are requesting then please contact Bruce Vander on 020 7208 9380.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Fadda

--------------------------------

23 July 2009.

Dear Mr Fadda/Mr Vander,

Thank you for getting in touch regarding my appeal. My apologies for the confusion in failing to respond to your email of 7 July 2009.

It's apparent from your letter that the Editorial Standards Committee will not address points which they consider to be “general issues.” This, of course, leaves one in the difficult position of having to identify only individual reports or articles, a precondition which serves to limit illumination of the more prevalent use of biased language and omission across a breadth of BBC reports.

In my initial complaint (13 January 2009), I laid out six main features of what I saw as BBC bias in the reporting of Israel's assault on Gaza. Again, the point was to show the consistent and systematic ways in which coverage tended to favour an Israeli perspective.

Having received no serious consideration of these concerns in the stage 1 reply or the following stage 2 response (5 June 2009), and recognising the unlikelihood of the Trust's consideration of them, as originally stated, I have now referenced each point against six respective examples of problematic BBC reportage.

I would like the Trust to examine the particular language denoted in each piece and consider whether they violate BBC codes of impartiality. (Please refer to my six original points, noted below, for further elaboration.)

1. Israel is still an occupying force in Gaza.

This article sets out the BBC's reading of the background to the assault on Gaza. It notes, at the “history of this small strip of land”:
Quote:

“Israel captured [Gaza] in the war of 1967 and eventually moved about 8,000 settlers there, but all Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005.”

Q&A: Gaza conflict, 18 January 2009.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7818022.stm

At no point in this document is Israel referred to as an “occupying power” - a standard omission in all BBC output. While reference is made to the Israeli “blockade”, the article does not explain that, as recognised by United Nations and other international legal statutes, Israel's continued control of Palestinian air, land and sea constitutes an effective state of occupation.

The article's failure to note this continuation lends substance to the false Israeli claim that its 'withdrawal' is complete and that its military containment of Gaza is of a defensive nature.

2. Israel broke the truce.


In the same Q&A article, we find the BBC's selective interpretation of the ceasefire:

Quote:
“Events began to come to a climax after the Israelis carried out their first incursion into southern Gaza during the truce, killing six militants, on 4 November 2008. Israel said its troops entered to destroy a tunnel which could be used to abduct its soldiers. This led to the further firing of Hamas missiles into Israel and in turn to a much tighter Israel blockade.”

This is a heavily-sanitised version of the actual circumstances. The Israeli “incursion” - a favoured BBC term for Israeli aggression – was the central reason for the collapse of the ceasefire. Why does the piece circumvent that basic truth? Why, likewise, is no consideration given to the provocative motives behind the Israeli killings of the six Palestinians? Little or none of this was apparent in BBC reporting of the 23 day assault on Gaza.

3. Israel is targeting all Palestinians, not just Hamas.


In this article, Jeremy Bowen asserts, without qualification, the Israeli-stated view that this was an assault on Hamas fighters and Hamas infrastructure, rather than Palestinians and Palestinian infrastructure.

Quote:
“The air strikes have tried to kill as many Hamas fighters as possible and to destroy the infrastructure of power and governance that Hamas has been trying to build since it took over in Gaza.”

'Israelis looking for knockout blow', 28 December 2008.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7802477.stm

When Palestinian rockets are launched, they are routinely reported as being aimed at Israel and Israeli infrastructure. Why does this and other BBC reports consistently fail to say the same of Israeli strikes?

We have seen ample evidence from key on-the-ground agencies, such as Amnesty International and the International Red Cross, that this was a consciously-executed campaign of terror against Palestinians and Palestinian infrastructure, not just an assault on Hamas and Hamas infrastructure.

This piece permits the very clear impression that Hamas are not only the principal target, but are somehow to be distinguished as a deviant force distinct from the Palestinian population and infrastructure, at large. Further, the constant reference to “Hamas infrastructure” invites the view that such buildings and their inhabitants are a legitimate target.

It also favours the standard Israeli view that Hamas are a “terrorist” and “militant” entity rather than a democratically-elected government engaged in the wider Palestinian resistance.

The following BBC online piece carries similar distorted presentation of Hamas as a singularly “militant” outfit doctrinally committed to the destruction of Israel and refusing to countenance peace negotiations:

Who are Hamas?, 4 January 2009
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1654510.stm

Yet, there is ample evidence suggesting Hamas's willingness to negotiate a just peace. See, for example,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/jan/31/comment.israelandthepalestinians

In considering the 'objectivity' of the above descriptions of Hamas in these BBC articles, I'd like the Committee to review the particular use of the term “militant” (see also example at point 5). Does the Committee recognise the pejorative use of this term in serving to demonise Hamas, while painting Israel, in contrast, as a benign military force?

4. Israel and the West promoted/colluded in the destabilisation of Gaza.


In another section of the above Q&A article, “How did Hamas come to control Gaza?,” we are told:

Quote:
“After the Israeli evacuation in August 2005, the Palestinian Authority took control of Gaza. The PA was made up mainly of secular-minded Palestinian nationalists from the Fatah party, which, unlike Hamas, thinks that a final agreement with Israel for a two-state solution - Israel and Palestine - can be made.
In January 2006, Hamas won elections to the Palestinian legislature and formed a government in Gaza and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank. A unity government between Hamas and Fatah was then formed in March 2007 but the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah leader directly elected in an earlier vote, subsequently dissolved the government.
In June 2007, Hamas, claiming that Fatah forces were trying to launch a coup, took control of Gaza by force, but not the West Bank territories.
Hamas was boycotted by the international community, which demands that it renounce violence and recognise Israel.”

Firstly, why does the piece cite only Fatah, rather than Hamas, as believing “that a final agreement with Israel for a two-state solution - Israel and Palestine - can be made”? Contrary to this article, Hamas have issued multiple statements declaring their willingness to negotiate a two-state settlement. See, for example:

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1035414.html

Secondly, this piece blandly repeats the boycott-based demand of the “international community” that Hamas must renounce violence. But it completely evades any reference to the documented ways in which those same international forces deliberately helped intensify the Fatah-Hamas conflict, thereby deepening the civilian suffering in Gaza.

As noted in my original complaint, the BBC has consistently avoided any serious discussion of the West's agenda at this point in promoting violence between Fatah and Hamas and the destabilisation of Gaza.

5. Israel's "war aims" are accepted at face value.

The following BBC report states:

Quote:
“The attacks are the latest violations of ceasefires declared by both sides after an Israeli assault on Gaza meant to stop militant rocket fire on Israel.”

Israeli planes hit Gaza tunnels, 3 February 2009.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7866426.stm

Why does the reporter presume that the Israeli assault on Gaza was specifically “meant to stop rocket fire on Israel”? Even allowing for the omission of any caveat noting “Israel claims” to this effect, there are other very credible reasons why Israel initiated its assault on Gaza. Why were none of these considered?

As Jonathan Cook has written:

"The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years – a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed."

http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090107/FOREIGN/679011682/1140

In the same report, Israeli 'objectives' are similarly stated as bald fact rather than as an Israeli claim:

Quote:
“About 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in fighting as Israel tried to halt or significantly reduce militant rocket fire, and to degrade the military capability of Hamas.”

Again, the use of “as Israel tried to halt...” blatantly assumes an Israeli viewpoint as fact. The wording here - as with many other BBC reports - infers that Israel was acting in defensive, rather than offensive, mode.
Specifically, the wording in this report fails to offer any alternative or balanced suggestion of Israel's pre-planned aggression.

6. The BBC focus disproportionately on Hamas's military capabilities.


In this piece, we find further unqualified repetition of Israeli-stated aims and a primary focus on Hamas weaponry:
Quote:

“Israel wants to stop rocket attacks on southern Israel and to stop Hamas smuggling weapons into Gaza via Egypt, while Hamas says any ceasefire deal must include an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza.”

Bombs hit Gaza as UN urges truce, 9 January 2009).
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7819371.stm

Why the unqualified “Israel wants” wording here and the loaded implication that Israel's principal objective was/is to “stop Hamas smuggling weapons into Gaza”?

Again, this has been reported without any questioning of Israeli claims. It also carries a particular emphasis on Hamas's military capabilities, which were nominal compared to Israel's massive military capacities.

Significant examples of such imbalance were also evident in Frank Gardner's studio reports during the 23 day assault period, where he highlighted the issues of Hamas rockets and Israeli demands for Hamas to disarm. The consistent impression conveyed was that Hamas posed the principal threat and that Israeli action was of a reactive nature.

________________________________________________________________

The reports cited here are intended to illustrate the kind of loaded language, selective omission and false context across a wide range of BBC output. In specifying them as particular grounds for complaint, I trust that the Committee will be able to see more clearly the issues raised in my original statement.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley


------------------------------------------------------------

My six original points of complaint (please use as reference to the above)

1. Israel is still an occupying force in Gaza.

The withdrawal from Gaza's settlements did not end Israel's illegal containment. Any state imposing land, sea and air restrictions of this severity can be deemed to be acting as an effective occupying force. As UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk stated on 9 January 2008:
Quote:
"Although Israel has contended that it is no longer an occupying power, due to its withdrawal of its forces from within Gaza, it is widely agreed by international law experts that the continued Israeli control of borders, air space, and territorial waters is of a character as to retain Israel status legally as occupying power."

http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/YSAR-7N5NZ7?OpenDocument

Why is Israel never referred to in BBC reports on Gaza as an "occupying power"?

2. Israel broke the truce.

It was Israel, not the Palestinians, who broke the truce on November 4 2008 when it entered Gaza and killed six Palestinians. Israel's unilateral violation of the ceasefire - a truce initiated by Hamas - was a calculated act and a central part of the Barak-formulated plan of attack on Gaza. Yet, it's almost never noted or caveated in BBC reports. Can you explain why?

http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/war_on_gaza/2009/01/2009110112723260741.html

3. Israel is targeting all Palestinians, not just Hamas.

Hamas are a democratically-elected government, mandated by the Palestinians to resist Israeli aggression. It is, thus, grossly misleading to continually cite the situation as a conflict between Israel and Hamas.

It is clear from the massive assault on civilians and civilian infrastructure that this is a campaign of violence against Palestinians, not just a purge on Hamas. Israel's purpose in such a selective portrayal is obvious. Why are the BBC continually amplifying that propaganda?

See: An Eye for an Eyelash, Media Lens: http://medialens.org/alerts/index.php

4. Israel and the West promoted/colluded in the destabilisation of Gaza.

Following Arab efforts to establish a Palestinian national unity government, Israel, the US, EU and other Western allies promoted the Fatah-attempted coup to overthrow Hamas. The siege against Gaza which followed was collective punishment on the people of Gaza for electing Hamas. Why is this critical context consistently missing from BBC analyses?

http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3184

5. Israel's "war aims" are accepted at face value.

Why do the BBC slavishly report Israel's "war aims", as though the targeting of Hamas is their only goal? Entirely missing from this account is Israel's long-term planning and larger objectives: the collective imprisonment of the Palestinians as part of an ongoing project to humiliate and break them as a people and deny them statehood. As Jonathan Cook notes:
Quote:
"The politicians and generals have been preparing for this attack for many months, possibly years – a fact alone that suggests they have bigger objectives than commonly assumed."

http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090107/FOREIGN/679011682/1140

The BBC's failure to question Israel's current 'war objectives' is part of a more conspicuous absence of historical context. The subject of Zionism and Israel's modus operandi - the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through transfer and apartheid policies - are all, presumably, too "contentious" to note.

Instead, the BBC repeats without question the standard calls from politicians on the need for a ceasefire, as though this would return the situation to a state of peace. The context, in effect, becomes one of satisfying Israel's 'defensive' requirements rather than looking at the fundamental problem of Israel's overall occupation and control of Gaza.

Part of this narrative includes constant repetition of Israel's demands that the tunnels be closed as a precondition of any ceasefire. There's no countervailing view that the Palestinians may be constructing tunnels for the purposes of basic survival in the face of Israel's illegal siege.

Why this consistent omission of context and uncritical presentation of Israeli 'objectives'?

6. The BBC focus disproportionately on Hamas's military capabilities.

Why are Hamas rockets constantly being highlighted in BBC reports (as in Frank Gardner's routine studio pieces) while the massive extent of Israel's arsenal receives scant attention? The BBC's seemingly obsessive coverage of rockets from Gaza is as disproportionate as Israel's own violence against the Palestinian people.

Also, why do the BBC repeat without question Israel's demands that Hamas/the Palestinians disarm, while Israel remains a major arms-laden (and nuclear) state. And where are the detailed features on US and UK weapons supplies to Israel?

http://www.caat.org.uk/issues/israel.php
Thu Jul 23, 2009 2:21 pm
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johnwhilley



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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Update:

(3 September 2009)

Dear Mr Hilley,

Your complaint regarding "six facets of BBC bias" is still being considered for acceptance on appeal to the Trust. We shall contact you again in due course when we have come to a decision on how to proceed.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Fadda

Michael Fadda
Editorial Assistant, BBC Trust Unit

BBC Trust Unit
Room 211, 35 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4AA

T: 020 7208 9647 | F: 020 7208 9670
mailto:michael.fadda@bbc.co.uk| bbc.co.uk/bbctrust
Fri Sep 04, 2009 10:59 am
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johnwhilley



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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Update and exchange:

(10 September 2009)

Dear Mr Hilley,

The Head of Editorial Standards has considered the handling of your appeal following your submission of specific examples showing where you feel the BBC is in breach of its guidelines.

The BBC Trust is the third and final stage of the BBC complaints process, acting as an avenue of appeal after the BBC has had an opportunity to respond. As the specific cases that you have cited to us have not previously been raised with the BBC, we have sent them back to BBC Information, stage 1 of the complaints process, for an answer. They will contact you with a response.

If you are not happy with the stage 1 response then may pursue your complaint to stage 2 as set out in the complaints procededure published here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/handle.shtml#code

Yours sincerely,
Michael Fadda

----------------------

11 September 2009

Dear Mr Fadda,

Congratulations! You have surpassed even my expectations of contorted BBC logic and the Trust's capacity for disorienting evasions. We are truly in the realm of the Kafkaesque, (one useful definition being: “an intentional distortion of reality by powerful but anonymous bureaucrats.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kafkaesque ).

You state:

“the specific cases that you have cited to us have not previously been raised with the BBC”.

Yet, these specific cases were requested as 'grounds for appeal', all of which I presented in order to substantiate my original complaint. Your decision now to treat them in isolation ignores the very substance and context of the original complaint within which they sit.

You will, no doubt, claim to be adhering to the guidelines, but it's quite obvious that no one at any of these contrived 'stages' has any serious intention of addressing my principal complaint of loaded reporting.

As with the six points specified in my initial letter, it is reasonable to assume that these supporting citations will now be similarly denied and dismissed.

And so, we will be going around again in this circularity of exchanges towards another stage 3 'consideration'. So much for BBC cost-effectiveness.

Still, it's always useful to receive these replies and decisions. As ever, the point of making complaints is not to seek or expect rational, self-examining answers from the BBC, but to have such evasive responses cited and sited for wider dissemination.

Yours sincerely,
John Hilley
Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:08 pm
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Spike



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Post Post subject: Reply with quote

This is amazing stuff. Good luck with it and keep hammering away, they have to respond in a substantial way at some point.

Maybe you will discover what lays beyond the THIRD LEVEL!!!
_________________
We don't want the looneys taking over...
Fri Sep 11, 2009 9:03 pm
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johnwhilley



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A further 'stage 1' exchange.

------------------------------------

(14 September 2009)

Dear Mr Hilley,

Stephanie Harris, the Head of Accountability at BBC News, asked me to respond to your complaints about various aspects of out Middle East coverage. I’ve taken each of your points in turn.

1. Israel is still an occupying force in Gaza

The Q&A: Gaza conflict aimed to explain the immediate causes of the conflict in Gaza that started on 27 December 2008. We have a much broader and more timeless guide to the Gaza Strip: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5122404.stm

This states in the opening section:
“… Egypt administered the Strip for the next 19 years, but Israel captured it during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Gaza has been under Israeli control since then.

In 2005, Israel pulled out the troops occupying Gaza, along with thousands of Jews who had settled in the territory. As far as Israel was concerned that was the end of the occupation.

However, that has not been accepted internationally as Israel still exercises control over most of Gaza's land borders, as well as its territorial waters and airspace. Egypt controls Gaza's southern border.”

2. Israel broke the truce

It’s not really up to us to decide who broke the truce or what exactly constituted a breach of the ceasefire. Israelis might reasonably argue that every missile fired from Gaza did this, and there were certainly missiles being fired regularly at the time. Clearly the Israeli incursion was important in raising tensions at the time. This is what the Q&A says.

The word “incursion” is used not as an indicator of the level of violence used by the Israeli military but as an indicator of the number/size of the force. An “incursion” is an attack into Gaza by a small Israeli force that soon withdraws. An attack by a large Israeli force that remains for a period would be an “invasion”. Both are aggressive.

3. Israel is targeting all Palestinians, not just Hamas


I am not aware of Amnesty International or the ICRC using the words “consciously-executed campaign of terror on Palestinians and Palestinian infrastructure”, or anything like them. The Jeremy Bowen report was written on the second day of the Gaza assault. At the time many of the attacks were on what might reasonably be called Hamas targets – military and administrative.

We have widely and in great detail covered the effect of Israel’s military action as a whole on Gaza’s civilian population and civilian infrastructure. Jeremy Bowen wrote a diary that looked at this repeatedly. His Panorama about Gaza, which got a lot of coverage on the website, was mainly about this.

Some links:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7834419.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7831588.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7828536.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7905320.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7921416.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7814490.stm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7811386.stm

The piece Who are Hamas? specifically refers to the range of activities that the organisations is involved in, the fact that it was democratically elected and that it has offered Israel a long-term truce in return for withdrawal from the occupied territories.

This article looks at the evolving international position on talking to Hamas http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8014069.stm

4. Israel and the West promoted/colluded in the destabilisation of Gaza

Clearly different Western governments have different policies and agendas regarding Gaza, Israel and Hamas. That there is a single Western view of these issues is not the case.

We would be very interested in the documented evidence that Western government “deliberately” helped intensify the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Clearly, Western governments do support – financially, militarily, and politically – the Palestinian Authority. We do not believe this is the same as helping to intensify the conflict.

5. Israel’s war aims are accepted at face value and
6. Disproportionate focus on Hamas military capability


Israel has a stated long-term aim of overthrowing or destroying Hamas, as Hamas has the stated aim of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state. It has also declared Gaza an enemy territory because of the rocket fire, and would clearly like to see the resumption of Palestinian Authority/Fatah control of Gaza. Short term aims include the ending of rocket fire and the blocking of the smuggling tunnels.

These probably underpin all of its policy decisions in this area. The rockets and the tunnels can reasonably be assumed to be the targets of the particular military action launched in December. Israel also clearly aimed to damage Hamas – personnel and facilities.

It is also clear that the timing and tactics of the war were a great deal to do with the political damage that continued rocket fire was doing to the Olmert government and the defence minister, Ehud Barak. All Israeli politicians seemed to be looking forward to the election.

In news reports where we are offering a compressed explanation of the main cause of the war, from the Israeli point of view, we are bound to focus on the missile fire and the attempt to stop it. We also regularly pointed to Hamas’ justification for the rocket fire – the continued blockade of Gaza.

This is a stage one response to the complaints you made to the BBC Trust.

If you are not satisfied and wish to pursue this matter, you can contact the Editorial Complaints Unit, which investigates complaints independently of editorial staff. The address is: Editorial Complaints Unit, Room 5168, White City Building, Media Village, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TQ or ecu@bbc.co.uk on email.

Best regards,

Tarik Kafala
Middle East editor
BBC News website

---------------------
16 September 2009

Dear Tarik Kafala,

Thanks for your letter. Predictably, it's yet another routine defence of BBC output reiterating the same biased language and false claims of 'impartial' reporting.

Allow me to highlight some of your most loaded statements.

You write:

Quote:
“In 2005, Israel pulled out the troops occupying Gaza, along with thousands of Jews who had settled in the territory. As far as Israel was concerned that was the end of the occupation.”

That's your subjective interpretation of what Israel wants us to believe, not necessarily what it actually does believe. Your own reading, masquerading as objective journalism, permits the confusion that Israel does, in fact, hold to this position.

You continue:

Quote:
“It’s not really up to us to decide who broke the truce or what exactly constituted a breach of the ceasefire.”

This is a quite staggering statement of hand-washing bias. It is, apparently, up to you/the BBC to decide on every other matter pertaining to the situation, such as whether Hamas should be called 'militants'. But when it comes to a vital violation resulting in the mass murder of over 1400 Palestinians, you seem oddly unwilling to specify a documented fact.

You assert:
Quote:

“At the time many of the attacks were on what might reasonably be called Hamas targets – military and administrative.”

Israel called everything it attacked 'Hamas infrastructure'. Are we to believe that distortion, and your face-value repetition of it? Such a claim helps illustrate what the BBC regard as “reasonable” behaviour by the Israeli military. And, once again, you've chosen to state an opinion on the matter, making a mockery of BBC claims to 'impartiality'.

Please also refer to the just-released Goldstone Commission report (15 September 2009) which clearly concludes:

Quote:
“that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population… ”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8257446.stm

You say:
Quote:

“I am not aware of Amnesty International or the ICRC using the words “consciously-executed campaign of terror on Palestinians and Palestinian infrastructure”, or anything like them.”

I didn't say they used these specific words, observable from the absence of quotation marks in my letter. These are my own words, used to interpret what was implicit in the reports. As evident in this Amnesty statement:

Quote:
“The scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were unprecedented. Some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians who took no part in the conflict were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

Most were killed with high-precision weapons, relying on surveillance drones which have exceptionally good optics, allowing those observing to see their targets in detail. Others were killed with imprecise weapons, including artillery shells carrying white phosphorus – not previously used in Gaza - which should never be used in densely populated areas.

Amnesty International found that the victims of the attacks it investigated were not caught in the crossfire during battles between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, nor were they shielding militants or other military objects. Many were killed when their homes were bombed while they slept. Others were sitting in their yard or hanging the laundry on the roof. Children were struck while playing in their bedrooms or on the roof, or near their homes. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while attempting to rescue the wounded or recover the dead.

"The deaths of so many children and other civilians cannot be dismissed simply as 'collateral damage', as argued by Israel," said Donatella Rovera. "Many questions remain to be answered about these attacks and about the fact that the strikes continued unabated despite the rising civilian death toll." ”

http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/impunity-war-crimes-gaza-southern-israel-recipe-further-civilian-suffering-20090702

You add:

Quote:
“We would be very interested in the documented evidence that Western government “deliberately” helped intensify the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Clearly, Western governments do support – financially, militarily, and politically – the Palestinian Authority. We do not believe this is the same as helping to intensify the conflict.”

The documented evidence, as noted in my initial letter, is shown here:

http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3184

I also note your/the collective BBC's view that US/Western government support for Fatah strongmen and the promotion of its military capability towards Hamas played no part in exacerbating the situation:
Quote:

“We do not believe this is the same as helping to intensify the conflict.”

Again, it's helpful to have the 'impartial' BBC reveal what it “believe[s]” to be the case here. No surprise that those beliefs conform to the standard US/Western claims of unmotivated support for Fatah.

As I previously stated:

Quote:
“In 2007, with the situation further disintegrating, various Arab states intervened to help form a national unity Palestinian government (the Mecca Accords). It's on record that Condoleezza Rice “was apoplectic” with rage when she discovered this plan. Here's a flavour of the furious US mood as Hamas and Fatah prepared to meet in Mecca, as indicated in a leaked report by the retiring UN Envoy for the Middle East, Alvoro de Soto:
Quote:
“The US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy [David Welch] declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington 'how much I like this violence', referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured because 'it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas'.”(Cited, Jonathan Cook, Disappearing Palestine, p 113.)

Having cultivated Dahlan over many years, the US and Israel conspired to see Fatah overthrow the elected Hamas government. As a key article in Vanity Fair, drawing on official US documents, subsequently revealed, a bankroll $1 billion budget was allocated for Fatah arms, training and salaries, all pushing for the “desired outcome” of giving Abbas “the capability to take the required strategic political decisions...such as dismissing the [Hamas] cabinet and establishing an emergency cabinet”.(Cited, ibid, 114.)

You also seem to believe that:

Quote:
“... Hamas has the stated aim of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state.”

This, as you should know, is a shallow, headline-grabbing reading of this situation. I've already outlined the more nuanced realities in my previous statements. Please take the time to read them and the links provided. You may not agree that Hamas has a more pragmatic policy agenda and evaluation of the possible outcomes, but please don't pretend that a substantial literature showing this doesn't exist.

You go on:

Quote:
“It [Israel] has also declared Gaza an enemy territory because of the rocket fire, and would clearly like to see the resumption of Palestinian Authority/Fatah control of Gaza.”

Would it really? Consider the other possibility: that the existence of Hamas in Gaza suits Israel, allowing it to drive an ongoing wedge between Hamas and Fatah. It's classic divide-and-control tactics. But, whether or not this is the case, should an 'impartial' BBC be so categorical in stating that Israel would “clearly” like to see PA /Fatah control of Gaza?

On which note, I'm particularly taken by this statement:
Quote:

“These probably underpin all of its policy decisions in this area. The rockets and the tunnels can reasonably be assumed to be the targets of the particular military action launched in December.”

“Probably underpin”? No need for clarified, fact-based analysis when words like this will do.

It's also useful to note your 'impartial' view that the rockets and tunnels can “reasonably be assumed to be the targets” of Israeli bombs. Might you also be “reasonably sure” that hospitals, mosques, schools and UN aid facilities were specific “targets of the particular military action”?

In the same vein:
Quote:
“It is also clear that the timing and tactics of the war were a great deal to do with the political damage that continued rocket fire was doing to the Olmert government and the defence minister, Ehud Barak. All Israeli politicians seemed to be looking forward to the election.”

Is it also clear to you and others at the BBC that the timing and tactics were many months in the pre-planning and that the attack was intended to intensify the siege?

Revealingly, you state:
Quote:

“we are bound to focus on the missile fire and the attempt to stop it.”

And there, in a nutshell, we have it. The BBC's accepted reading of Israeli motives and war aims: Israel's actions are always 'responsive'.

Please try imagining how that kind of neutralised language looks to the average viewer, particularly those not very conversant with the issues.

My complaint was 'sent back' for a stage 1 response because, as determined by the Trust, it included 'new statements'. You have not dealt with this new material, either in point of factual consistency or in terms of whether it breaks BBC guidelines on impartiality.

Therefore, I wish my complaint to be passed on for stage 2 consideration.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley


Last edited by johnwhilley on Wed Sep 16, 2009 5:31 pm; edited 1 time in total
Wed Sep 16, 2009 12:34 pm
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OrwellianUK



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Post Post subject: Patience Reply with quote

You seem to have loads of patience John, far more than I could muster, especially in the face of their deliberate sending you round in circles.

We go back to that old quote (was it Chomsky?):

"It's difficult to get someone to understand something when keeping their job depends on them not understanding it".

We've all noted of course, the narrow parameters in which a complaint can be directed and how these strictures are decided by the very same institution about whom the complaint is being made.

"There is no substance to your complaint because we say so".
Wed Sep 16, 2009 3:56 pm
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In the above response, the BBC's Middle East editor Tarik Kafala says:

Quote:
"We would be very interested in the documented evidence that Western government “deliberately” helped intensify the conflict between Hamas and Fatah."


For the record, here's what (exiled) Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal says on the matter in an interview with Ken Livingstone:

Quote:
KM: Undoubtedly, division does weaken the Palestinians and harms their cause. However, the division is caused not by Hamas, but by the insistence of certain international and regional parties on reversing the results of Palestinian democracy. It dismayed them that Hamas was elected by the Palestinian people.

The division is compounded by the existence of a Palestinian party that seeks empowerment from those same regional and international
parties, including the US and Israel, that wish to see Hamas out of the arena. Soon after its victory in the election of January 2006, every effort was exerted to undermine the ability of Hamas to govern.

When these efforts failed, General Keith Dayton, of the United States army, who currently serves as US security co-ordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, was despatched to Gaza to plot a coup against the Hamas-led national unity government that came out of the Mecca agreement of 2007. The plot prompted Hamas in Gaza to act in self-defence in the events of June 2007. The claim that Hamas carried out a coup is baseless because Hamas was leading the democratically elected government. All it did was act against those who were plotting a coup against it under the command and guidance of General Dayton.

http://www.newstatesman.com/middle-east/2009/09/israel-palestinian-hamas


Here's some further analysis regarding the nature of Dayton's agenda:

Quote:
While there was truth in Fatah’s
charge that the Hamas offensive in Gaza
was tantamount to a coup, Hamas’s
counter-claim that it was defending a
democratically elected government
against a campaign to remove it from
power was also not unfounded. Over
the previous year, Fatah gunmen had
repeatedly assaulted parliamentary
premises and Hamas-run ministries. Fatah
commanders of the PSF openly refused
to take orders from the government,
while the Fatah-dominated civil service
conducted a debilitating strike from
September 2006 to January 2007. The
PA’s preventive security apparatus in
Gaza conducted a small-scale campaign
of assassinations and abductions against
Hamas, to which it responded in kind; by
early June it had effectively decapitated
the preventive security and smaller,
Fatah-dominated general intelligence
frameworks.

The June escalation was triggered
by Hamas’s conviction that the PA’s
Presidential Guard, which US Security
Coordinator Lieutenant General Keith
Dayton had helped build up to 3,500
men since August 2006, was being
positioned to take control of Gaza. The
timing was significant. Abbas, Haniyeh
and Hamas Politburo chief Khaled
Meshaal, normally based in Damascus,
had signed a Saudi-brokered powersharing
deal on 9 February 2007, and
formed a national unity government in
mid-March. In response, the build-up of
the Presidential Guard was accelerated.
The US had arranged the transfer of 2,000
rifles and ammunition from Egypt in
late December 2006, and in late April the
Israeli government transferred another
375; the US committed $59 million for
training and non-lethal equipment, and
covertly persuaded Arab allies to fund
the purchase of further weapons. Jordan
and Egypt hosted at least two battalions
for training, one of which was deployed
into Gaza as clashes resumed in mid-
May. With half its parliamentary bloc
and its cabinet ministers in the West Bank
in Israeli custody since the abduction
of Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit by
Palestinian militants on 28 June 2006,
Hamas concluded that its remaining
government base in Gaza was in danger
and launched what in effect was a preemptive
coup.

US miscalculations
The US had seriously miscalculated.
It relied excessively on Dahlan, who
defiantly challenged Hamas before a
rally of 100,000 supporters in May, but
otherwise remained abroad for the two
months up to, and including, the Hamas
takeover. It overestimated the ideological
and organisational coherence of Fatah,
which crumbled in the face of the Hamas
offensive. This was partly because Fatah
members were deeply divided over
policy towards Hamas, with a majority
opposed to confrontation and uneasy
about a close US embrace. By focusing its
onslaught on the preventive security and
general intelligence networks, Hamas
skilfully kept most Fatah members out
of the fray.

http://www.iiss.org/EasysiteWeb/getresource.axd?AssetID=2571


Whatever Tarik Kafala means by "documented evidence", is it completely beyond the BBC's journalistic and editorial nous to see, acknowledge and report that such US-led interventions were, indeed, " 'deliberately' intended to intensify the conflict between Hamas and Fatah"?

John
Tue Sep 22, 2009 12:19 pm
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johnwhilley



Joined: 03 Oct 2004
Posts: 724
Location: Glasgow

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

A further exchange:

-----------------------

Dear Mr Hilley,

Thank you for your further comments.

On your first point, the issue of Israeli withdrawal of troops from Gaza, this is not my subjective reading. It is a paraphrase of what Israeli officials say. It is also contrasted in our article with the actual position under international law and the reality of the situation, ie Israel’s continued control of Gaza’s external borders and the blockade.

We are not washing our hands of anything regarding the truce between Hamas and Israel. The question of whether the truce was breached was a political one because both sides, obviously, breached the strict or literal terms of the truce, but neither (at the time) decided to abandon the truce.

However, I would like to revise two aspects of the reply I gave you, largely in the light of the recent Goldstone report on the Israeli assault on Gaza:

We should be saying that Israel says. We often do use this form of wording and were very careful to during the conflict, but we should be doing it all the time

The Goldstone report concluded that Israeli operations "were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population". We’ve reported this widely and will be part of our characterisation of the war in the future.

If you remain unsatisfied with our response, it is open to you to address your complaint to the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit : ecu@bbc.co.uk or Room 5170, White City, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TS.

Best regards,
Middle East desk
BBC News website

---------------------

Dear News Online

Thanks for your reply. As usual, I will post this correspondence at a suitably visible public forum, allowing readers to read this latest piece of BBC evasion – including, I suspect, the reluctance to put an individual name to the letter.

You state:

“The question of whether the truce was breached was a political one because both sides, obviously, breached the strict or literal terms of the truce, but neither (at the time) decided to abandon the truce.”

What a fascinating effort at distorting the actual events. The central fact remains that Israeli forces broke the truce in an act of aggressive, politically motivated killing. If you have any serious evidence to the contrary, please supply it.

As regards your apparent concessions in the wake of the Goldstone report, I agree, you certainly “should be saying that Israel says it launched the war to stop the rocket fire.”

But the BBC didn't make that key qualification in the output noted in my initial complaint. The journalistic damage has, thus, been done, permitting the opposite, Israeli-preferred impression to prevail.

You also note:

“The Goldstone report concluded that Israeli operations "were carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population". We’ve reported this widely and will be part of our characterisation of the war in the future.”

This is a quite breathtaking effort at hypocritical backtracking. Serious observers will search in vain to find any such BBC output which reported and characterised Israel's conduct in this way.

Goldstone's key conclusion utterly contradicts Israel's claims to have targeted only Hamas. It is also, as you surely know, at complete odds with the BBC's own reiteration of that falsehood in their reports during the assaults on Gaza. I'm, at least, pleased to see you citing Goldstone's findings on this matter, for they validate my initial complaint regarding Israel's selective claims and the BBC's repetition of them.

The BBC should, indeed, now modify its content and language to reflect that now legally-established truth regarding Israel's carefully planned atack on all Palestinians. But it should also have the moral integrity to record its own failure in conveying that truth in its previous coverage.

As your further response has still not addressed the principal charges of bias in my original complaint, I wish to have them considered again by the Editorial Complaints Unit. I have already written to them requesting a further review and look forward, hopefully, to a more open reply.

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
Tue Oct 13, 2009 3:15 pm
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johnwhilley



Joined: 03 Oct 2004
Posts: 724
Location: Glasgow

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Sent 19 March 2009 to the Editorial Complaints Unit:

Dear ECU

I wrote the following on 15 October 2009 and still await a response. Please could you update me on the progress of my complaint and its consideration by the BBC Trust.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

15 October 2009

My latest responses and request are recorded here:

http://medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=10392&sid=fcfddbaefecfd251f0c834f56f4f9de8#10392

Yours sincerely

John Hilley
Sun Mar 21, 2010 7:23 pm
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