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Gaza: Stop the War Coalition (Glasgow) and MAB write to BBC

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Post Post subject: Gaza: Stop the War Coalition (Glasgow) and MAB write to BBC Reply with quote

Nicola Fisher, co-chair,
Glasgow Stop the War Coalition

Ghassan Hemsi,
Muslim Association of Britain (Scotland)

Professor David Miller,
Strathclyde University

Thursday 15 January 2009

To the BBC News,

We are writing on behalf of the Stop the War Coalition in Glasgow and the Muslim Association of Britain (Scotland) to complain about the BBC’s coverage of the recent war on Gaza. We do not believe that this coverage has offered BBC’s viewers and license-payers adequate information on the war. We would appreciate a written response to the following points:

1)The way in which Hamas and the Palestinians of Gaza have been consistently portrayed as the aggressors, against which Israel must protect themselves.

It is Israel that has been occupying Palestinian land for over 60 years. Over 75% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees registered with the United Nations. Their families were forced to flee to Gaza with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and again after the 1967 war which resulted in the Israeli occupation of Gaza ( The Glasgow Media Group has thoroughly documented the confusion that not reporting these facts creates in the public mind, see

Although Israel claims to have withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, it still maintains complete control over all movement of people or goods in or out of Gaza by air, land, and sea. Since the election of Hamas in 2006 it has maintained a virtual blockade of Gaza.

The United Nations still recognizes Israel as the occupying authority. However, the word occupation occurs rarely if ever in the BBC's coverage; and when it does, it is merely to regurgitate Israel's false claim that its occupation of Gaza ended with the so-called 'disengagement' in 2005. In accepting the spurious claims of one side over the judgment of the world's leading multilateral body, the BBC has therefore forfeited its claim to impartiality.

BBC rarely refers to international law and United Nations resolutions when reporting on these issues.

2)The way in which this invasion has been described as being instigated by Israel to defend itself against Hamas rockets, and that the firing of rockets continues to justify it.

In fact, it was Israel that violated the 6-month ‘Lull’ agreement on 4 November, 2008, killing 6 people inside Gaza. Israel’s ‘Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre’ acknowledges that until that attack ‘Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire’ (Six Months of the Lull arrangement, p. 2), and even arrested members of other groups who very occasionally violated it. Israel also violated the agreement by continuing to restrict the movement of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip.

For example, the following story begins by emphasising the attacks on Israel, implying that Israel is merely reacting, and concludes by restating Israel’s position that the war is about Hamas rockets:
Describing the war as one of Israeli self-defense also ignores the 1,250 Palestinians killed (including 222 children) by the Israeli military between 2005-2008.

If, as stated by the Israeli government, the goal of the invasion was to stop rocket fire, then why have 1000 people including 500 women and children been killed, and UN schools, universities, mosques, medical clinics, and parliament destroyed?

3)The terminology that is used which implies that there are two military groups with equal powers fighting a classic war.

In fact, this is a war by the world’s 4th largest military against a civilian population has no regular army to protect it. Yet it is consistently described as ‘fighting’, a ‘battle’, or a ‘conflict’.

Despite civilians bearing the overwhelming brunt of the Israeli assault the BBC has chosen to comply with the Israeli military PR in describing the assault as war between Israel and Hamas. Likewise it called Israel's 2006 assault on Lebanon an Israel-Hizbullah war.

4)The BBC’s coverage does not properly reflect Israel’s use of white phosphorous bombs in Palestine. It has not covered the use of the illegal new Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions (see Democracy Now, 14 January 2009).

The article which covers the use of white phosphorus presents reports as a mishmash of competing claims, and does not seem to investigate the issue further. It does not make use of make use of video evidence from international journalists with Al Jazeera English which shows children playing with flaming pellets of white phosphorus in the streets, or evidence from the International Red Cross and Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. See

5)Compared to other media, BBC’s selective coverage do not by any means reflect the depth of crisis in Palestine and give different emphasis to Palestinian and Israeli deaths.

The BBC's increasing preference for sterile phrases borrowed directly from the Israeli PR machine consistently fail to convey the realities of the conflict. Schools, mosques, universities, and markets become 'Hamas infrastructure', part of its 'vast support network', hence 'targets'. The expansive definition of a target is never questioned, even when Israel's own military leaders have been quoted saying that targets include Hamas's 'civilian infrastructure' because 'everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel' (Boston Globe, 30 December 2008). Extrajudicial murder is rendered as 'targeted assassination'; but the corollary, that if the assassination involved careful targeting, then the civilian killed in the 'operation' must have also been part of the calculation, is never explored (see BBC Online, 1 January 2009).

Palestinian civilian deaths are mentioned, but only in terms of their 'cost' to Israel's image; or the cost in 'foregoing the opportunity to pursue their own national aims before a chorus of international criticism' (Mark Urban, 6 January 2009). Where reality would not accommodate the BBC's insistence on balance, semantic devices are employed to create its illusion. Where Israeli crimes are particularly atrocious, the BBC retreats to condemning 'both sides'. Balance is also imposed by elevating the Israeli civilian deaths to headlines and relegating Palestinian ones to the bottom of reports. Equal time is also given to the deaths of scores of Palestinians with that of a single Israeli soldier, but unlike the former, the later is always given the dignity, as it were, of a funeral (see ibid.). Israelis in these reports merely 'defend' themselves, Palestinians invariably 'provoke', always with 'terrorism'. Compounding the BBC's semantic failures are its semiotic balancing acts, where a hole in an Israelis roof from a Palestinian rockets is given as much attention as a whole wiped out Gazan neighbourhood.

6)That the BBC has not adequately reported on the protests against the invasion, or high-profile criticism of it. 

For example, the BBC sent no video or still cameras to cover the protest against the invasion of Gaza that took place in Edinburgh on Saturday 10 January. With an estimated 10,000 people participating, this was the largest-ever demonstration in solidarity with Palestine. Coverage of protests also almost always contains quotes to undermine them.

Also, the condemnation of global figures has not been adequately covered, for example, Archbishop Desmund Tutu said: "In the context of total aerial supremacy, in which one side in a conflict deploys lethal aircraft against opponents with no means of defending themselves, the bombardment bears all the hallmarks of war crimes." The President of UN General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto has called what is happening a 'genocide'. The UN Secretary-General has galled the humanitarian toll ‘unbearable’. There have been calls for war crimes investigations by the UN Human Rights Committee, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Islamic Human Right Commission, and now by 9 Israeli human rights organisations.

When critical voices do appear they are questioned from a partisan Israeli perspective (e.g., Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli critic of the war was asked by the BBC anchor if he wouldn't be seen as a 'traitor' for his antiwar position).

7)That Israeli government spokespersons have not been adequately challenged to explain their actions and statements. For example, Tzipi Livni has said ‘not to count injuries here and there’ and ‘it is not a question of how many died but to give a peaceful life to Israeli citizens’.
A notable exception is the interview this morning of an Israeli spokesman by John Humphrey on BBC radio 4.

8)That the BBC is not prefacing its reports be saying that Israel has not allowed them and other international media access to Gaza, and despite this situation, the BBC not taking advantage of footage from international media channels who are operating in Gaza (such as al-Jazeera Arabic and English).

9)That the coverage and tone used in the BBC World News is significantly different from that of the national BBC coverage.

We thank you for meeting with us and await your response.


Nicola Fisher, co-chair, Glasgow Stop the War Coalition

Ghassan Hemsi, Muslim Association of Britain (Scotland)

Professor David Miller, Strathclyde University

Demo outside BBC:

Mon Jan 19, 2009 3:42 pm
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Further letter to BBC Scotland regarding the BBC's DEC Appeal decision.

Nicola Fisher, Glasgow Stop the War Coalition,
Ghassan Hemsi, Muslim Association of Britain (Scotland),
Professor David Miller,

28 January 2009

Ken McQuarrie, Controller, BBC Scotland
Mark Thompson, Director-General, BBC
Michael Lyons, Chairman, BBC Trust
Caroline Thomson, Chief Operating Officer, BBC

Dear Mr. McQuarrie, Mr. Thomson, Mr. Lyons, and Ms. Thomson,

We are writing to call upon the BBC to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal. We are pleased that you have agreed to meet with us today, but we also expect a full written response to the concerns we highlight below:

1.In the UK government’s 2005 Green Paper on the BBC it is clearly stated that in an effort to sustain citizenship, the BBC should ‘engage the widest possible cross-section of the UK’ with news and current affairs. Outside news and current affairs the corporation should broadcast material that ‘contributes towards stimulating engagement with social and political issues’.

The BBC is failing in its wider public service duties by not transmitting the DEC appeal for Gaza, as men, women and children continue to suffer the humanitarian disaster taking place there. On questions of justice and humanitarianism the BBC should always side with justice and humanitarianism.

2.The BBC is failing in its duty to be accountable to license fee payers by not showing the DEC appeal. Based on the huge number of complaints the BBC has received for refusing to show the appeal and the only very small number of messages of support (21,000 vs. 380 on 27 January), it is quite clear that the license fee payers overwhelmingly want the appeal to be shown.

3.The BBC has argued that the use of similar images in news broadcasts and a charity appeal will cause confusion among viewers. However, the DEC appeal broadcast is in a unique style completely different from those of BBC news broadcasts, for example it uses background music throughout, and includes the DEC appeal hotline on the screen. Viewers can distinguish between a humanitarian appeal and a news broadcast.

4.In a response to a complaint made to the BBC on this issue (received this morning) the BBC says: ‘we wished to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of covering a continuing news story where issues of responsibility for civilian suffering and distress are intrinsic to the story and remain highly contentious.’

Yet the DEC Appeal makes no reference to any cause of the civilian suffering in Gaza. The Appeal broadcast does not mention that the destruction occurred in the course of a war, does not mention ‘Israel’, and includes no footage of soldiers or of any weapons. Thus it is impossible that it could contribute to any attribution of responsibility for civilian suffering. The appeal allows viewers to make up their own mind and the BBC should allow the viewers to do just that. To not show the appeal exhibits a pro-Israeli bias and makes a judgement on the situation in Gaza on behalf of the BBC’s audience.

5.The DEC trustees use three principles when deciding to launch an appeal, which then activate the Rapid Response support network of which the BBC is a part:

a.The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance.
b.The DEC agencies, or some of them, must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal.
c.There must be sufficient public awareness of, and sympathy for, the humanitarian situation so as to give reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal will be successful.

These criteria have all been met. It seems that the BBC is introducing additional criteria, which it has not fully explained to the public, and which seem to be applied inconsistently.

6.The BBC claims the decision is based on impartiality, but it has issued no clarification of how it decides which civilians casualties of war are worthy of aid, and which are not. How does it justify providing aid for civilians in conflict situations such as Darfur, Rwanda, and Kosovo, but not Palestinians in Gaza? The only impartial course is to broadcast all humanitarian appeals that meet the DEC criteria.

7.The decision means the BBC is taking sides. To object to using news images of the destruction and suffering in Gaza in the service of a relief campaign is to agree with those who claim that humanitarian relief to Gaza cannot be delivered in a humanitarian way, because of the existence of Hamas. This is the argument used by one side in the conflict, the Israeli government. Therefore, in its actions, the BBC is prioritizing one side of the conflict over the other.

8.The fact that through its actions the BBC is prioritizing one side of the conflict over the other means that its ability to report from Gaza and other parts of the world in the future will be compromised. This will reduce the value of the BBC to the British public.

9.In a response to a complaint made to the BBC on this issue (received this morning) the BBC says: ‘We also could not be confident that the aid resulting from audience donations could reach those it was intended for at a time of a fragile ceasefire and sporadic border access’. Yet the DEC member charities are already operating in Gaza, and are far better placed to judge to practicalities of delivering aid to Gaza than BBC executives in London. The DEC also sets stringent conditions on what charities are able to join as members, and the practicality of delivering aid is a pre-condition for launching a DEC appeal.

Numerous humanitarian aid appeals have been broadcast by the BBC in the past without being derailed by so-called concerns regarding impartiality in areas were guerrilla wars were still raging in the area. The appeal for victims of the Burma Cyclone went ahead despite the guerrilla conflict going on there. The appeal for the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami went ahead amidst concerns about the fair distribution of aid to guerrilla held areas. The appeals for Rwanda and Darfur were also for humanitarian crises in areas in the midst of guerrilla wars.

We look forward to your response,


Nicola Fisher,
Ghassan Hemsi,
Professor David Miller.

Fri Jan 30, 2009 2:22 am
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