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Exchange with BBC correspondent Jon Donnison on Gaza

 
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johnwhilley



Joined: 03 Oct 2004
Posts: 724
Location: Glasgow

Post Post subject: Exchange with BBC correspondent Jon Donnison on Gaza Reply with quote

June 29, 2010

Dear Jon Donnison

I note with interest today's BBC online article on Gaza, which seems to contain some semblance of honest reporting:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/10445898.stm

However, there's still some considerable room for improvement if the purpose, as I assume, is to convey accurate, balanced information to the public.

Thus, compare the reported words and alternative suggestions:

"... Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza."

or

"...Hamas, the democratically-elected Islamist movement that governs Gaza."

or even

"... Hamas, the Islamist party mandated to run Gaza."

Which one is the more accurate, giving most information to viewers? The first, unlike the second and third, is heavily-loaded, while containing less information. Why use the less instructive version?

The report also notes:

"Dozens of Palestinian militants have been killed in attacks from Israel over the same period."

What about the number of civilians killed by Israel during this period?

Why no mention of them or the overall count of Palestinian deaths?

http://www.btselem.org/english/statistics/casualties.asp?sD=19&sM=01&sY=2009&eD=31&eM=05&eY=2010&filterby=event&oferet_stat=after

Perhaps you'd like to correct these anomalies in the article and include such information, as standard, in future reports.

(By the way, Hamas have reined-in, not "reigned in" rocket fire.)

Regards

John Hilley

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

Dear John,

thanks for your email John. I am glad you credit me with a semblance of honest reporting....thanks. I presume you think therefore, that overall my reporting is dishonest.

Out of interest when did you last visit Gaza or the West Bank?

best

Jon

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

Hi Jon

I was in the West Bank in 2007 and 2008. I haven't been to Gaza. I'm not a reporter. Is any of this particulary important in making a point or two about problematic language and omissions in BBC reports?

I think, as countless examples and critiques have shown, that BBC coverage of Palestine-Israel is, indeed, dishonest. And the dishonesty is compounded by the failure of journalists to look critically and self-reflectively at what they and their colleagues are putting out.

Moreover, most are intellectually blind to the BBC's own organisational-establishment role in the production of news and information.

Or do you think that so many observers, academic studies and others are totally wrong in these matters?

Regards

John

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

I can only talk about my reporting which you seem to be bold enough to say vaguely resembles honest reporting.

Frankly as a young, relatively inexperienced reporter, and the only western correspondent based in Gaza after one of my colleagues was kidnapped for 3 months, I find emails like yours utterly demoralising.

While you have been spending your time endlessly writing them, today I have been out meeting and interviewing Gazans about how Israel's illegal blockade is impacting on their lives. A car dealer, unable to import for more than three years who has lost millions. A shopkeeper whose prices are higher than london or new york because of the blockade. A 30 year old woman who is in agony every day because she can not get the medication for her arthritis. Children whose summer camp was set on fire this week by extremists.

Some of the stuff you write, week in week out, is almost as lacking in self awareness as the nonsense your Israeli counterparts bombard me with every day.

I am doing my best. But I guess you know better.

I can only hope you are not as patronising and condescending with your friends and loved ones. Perhaps you only reserve this pleasure for the likes of me.

Jon

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

Hi Jon

I hope you feel a little better getting that off your chest. You know next to nothing about my own involvement in campaigning for Palestinian rights, but that's another point - except to say that, unlike me, you're a paid reporter who should be out interviewing suffering people and reporting their plight. That's what reporters are supposed to do.

You state:

"I can only hope you are not as patronising and condescending with your friends and loved ones. Perhaps you only reserve this pleasure for the likes of me."

The intention, as I think you really know, is not to be patronising or condescending, It's to challenge the ways in which reports are framed, worded and the issues evaded. There's nothing personal here, and your intimation that you get this kind of stuff from 'both sides' is no serious engagement of the issues, either. It's just another easy evasion.

Speaking of which, I wrote to you specifically about the wording of certain sentences in this report and the omission of references on civilian deaths. You've spent a lot of energy attacking me personally rather than having a constructive exchange on those questions.

Why not just answer them?

Regards

John

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

I get roughly a hundred emails a day from israeli and palestinian supporters criticising my work. I simply do not have time to respond to most of them but I do respond to some. You are right, I am a reporter and you are a campaigner. Our jobs are different. You know nothing of my personal views and this is the way it should be.

I do regard syaing my work has "some semblance of honest reporting" as a personal attack. It implies I am actively being dishonest. Not making a mistake but deliberately lying. You seem to imply i am operating as part of some pro-israel BBC conspiracy.

----------

"I do regard syaing my work has "some semblance of honest reporting" as a personal attack. It implies I am actively being dishonest. Not making a mistake but deliberately lying. You seem to imply i am operating as part of some pro-israel BBC conspiracy."

It's not a personal atack. It's an opinion on the dishonesty of the BBC, at large, in how they report and misreport the issues.

Bear in mind here that I commented on the article itself, which, as I understand it, wasn't written by you. It only cites your opinion within the text.

The more particular point concerns the BBC's stated guidelines on the use of language, such as "militant" and the pejorative connotations that come through in the references to Hamas.

And, no, I don't know, or need to know, your personal opinions on the issues. My purpose is solely to identify and challenge the particular use of biased and loaded language in BBC reports.

You've still not anwered my initial questions.

Regards

John

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

You are right. I did not write the piece you are concerned about. This was written in london and one line from a thirty second radio news bulletin piece of mine was quoted.

Sometimes in radio news it is not always possible to give all the context and background that you would ideally want on a complexed story. otherwise by the time you have put all the background, you have no space for the actual news. the average radio news piece had around 100 words. i know this is not ideal. if you look at the longer articles i recently wrote below for BBC Online you can see that I had time and space to try and give more context.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/10248969.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/10359740.stm

I think you are right to stress that Hamas won democratic elections. i try and do this in all my live reporting. it is also important to say that the US, EU and Israel undermined any government Hamas tried to form. And it is also impoartant to say that when this happened Hamas and Fatah turned to violence with both sides killing each other in a bitter struggle. Hamas were particulalry vicious in their attacks perhaps due to the ruthless purging/stroke murder/torture of hamas officials by Fatah in the 1990s. It is also important to say that the loathing between hamas and fatah members often seems stronger than that between Palestinians and Israelis. It is also important to stress that in Gaza most ordinary people are sceptical and dissolutioned with their politicians (like most places in the world) and that not every person In Gaza is pro hamas, or pro Fatah. It is also important to say that some here blame Hamas for the blockade by provoking Israel. It is also imporant to stress that this is by no means the majority and that most people blame Israel.

there is a lot to say here and you are right context is very important. The best reporters can give that context cleverly using few words. I am not yet amongst them.

The line "Ths Islamist movement that controls Gaza" does not tell the whole story. I recognise that. But it is accurate and honest. In a 30 second radio bulletin piece there were other important things to say like the fact that hamas is trying to stop rocket fire. and that PFLP are not part of Hamas. and that there are many militant groups operating in gaza out of hamas control. i chose to say these things on this occasion.

--------

Hi Jon

Thanks for taking the time to write that considered response on the issues.

You say:

"I think you are right to stress that Hamas won democratic elections. i try and do this in all my live reporting. it is also important to say that the US, EU and Israel undermined any government Hamas tried to form".

That's an important admission, though, lamentably, not one we hear very much about in BBC reports. If only viewers were more aware of the underhand efforts of the US, EU and Israel to undermine and destabilise the situation for their own expedient ends. But, again, this vital context is all but invisible in BBC reports, relying conveniently instead on this kind of 'Hamas seized control'-type headline and narrative.

I also accept that there are nuanced conflicts, rivalries, hatreds and other such tensions at play here. But the regularity with which we hear or read of Israel 'responding' to Hamas 'militant' actions is so prevalent as to obscure the real context of the occupation, siege and Western-Israeli connivance.

That's the reason why I and others take the time to write and question these reports. We're not some brooding fanatics intent on bombarding or humiliating reporters.

I actually respect and understand your own belief that you're doing your best as a reporter. I also recognise the difficult environment you're in. But I'm also well aware of how important it is to convey the truth of why Palestinians are being made to suffer. Which is why I write these letters.

You also say:

"The line "Ths Islamist movement that controls Gaza" does not tell the whole story. I recognise that."

That's a useful admission, too, even though you defend its usage.

Again, it's a case here of stressing the influence of such signifiers and the omission of key context, such as Western duplicity over the Hamas-Fatah conflict, in serving to mislead the viiewer.

Regards

John
Wed Jun 30, 2010 12:47 am
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