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2005

OR DO WE IGNORE THEM? Email Reveals BBC Contempt For Public Complaints

In a world of terrible suffering and injustice, many of us cling to the hope that journalists will have the integrity and compassion to report honestly. Above all, this means standing up for the defenceless and crushed against those who would rather we did not know and did not care.

On February 17, a Media Lens reader followed up an unanswered complaint he had sent to Judy Swallow, presenter of the BBC's World Service Newshour programme. The email contained important testimony relating to US-UK war crimes during attacks on Fallujah. This, in full, is what was sent:


Dear Judy Swallow,

As you haven't responded to my email of 13.02 regarding BBC coverage of events in Fallujah, I thought perhaps you needed more examples of the things that the BBC has so far failed to mention. I would really be interested to hear your views on these stories. Do you think they are untrue, or insignificant? If so, on what grounds? And if not, how can you defend your job within an organization that is continuing to mislead the public about US/UK war crimes in Iraq?

Best wishes,

[Name Withheld]


These extracts are taken from "Remembering The First Siege Of Fallujah: Excerpts From Testimony Submitted To The World Tribunal On Iraq," by Omar Khan and Dahr Jamail (February 14, 2005), available at zmag.org:

"...three of my friends agreed to ride out on the one functioning ambulance for the clinic to retrieve the wounded. Although the ambulance already had three bullet holes from a U.S. sniper through the front windshield on the driver's side, the fact that two of them are westerners was the only hope that soldiers would allow them to retrieve more wounded Iraqis. The previous driver was wounded when one of the snipers shots grazed his head. What I can report from Falluja is that there is no ceasefire, and apparently never was. Iraqi women and children are being shot by American snipers.

Over 600 Iraqis have been killed by American aggression, and the residents have turned two football fields into graveyards. Ambulances are being shot by the Americans. And now they are preparing to launch a full scale invasion of the city. This is difficult for me to see, particularly after being there yesterday and seeing an ambulance with 3 bullet holes in the driver's side of the windshield. Seeing slain women and children, elderly, unarmed people. All killed and/or wounded by American snipers. In the last week there have been over 600 Iraqis slain in Falluja alone, with thousands more wounded."

"The Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital, they prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much needed medications. One of my doctors in Falluja asked the Americans there if he could remove a wounded patient from the city. The soldier wouldn't let him move the victim, and said, "We have dead soldiers here too. This is a war zone." The doctor wasn't allowed to remove the wounded man, and he died. So many doctors and ambulances have been turned back from checkpoints there."

Dr. Abdul Jabbar reported that "Many people were injured and killed by cluster bombs. Of course they used cluster bombs-we heard them, as well as treated people who had been hit by them." Dr. Rashid agreed, saying, "I saw the cluster bombs with my own eyes. We don't need any evidence. Most of these bombs fell on the families. The fighters-they know how to escape. But not the civilians." He added: "Not less than 60% of the dead were women and children. You can go see the graves for yourself."

At Noman Hospital in Al-Adhamiya, a doctor there too said of the people who came in from Fallujah from ten days earlier, that "most were children, women and elderly."At Yarmouk Hospital, a lead doctor reported that he saw American soldiers killing women and children, calling the situation in Fallujah "a massacre."

...according to one Fallujah resident, who after having escaped to Baghdad testified that US warplanes were bombing the city heavily prior to his departure, and that Marine snipers continued to secure residents of the besieged city, shot by shot. "There were so many snipers, anyone leaving their house was killed."

A doctor working in a temporary emergency clinic in Fallujah during April's siege posed a question on Democracy Now!, which he repeated: "When you see a child five years old with no head what can you say? When you see a child with no brain just an open cavity what can you say? When you see a mother just hold her infant with no head and the shells are all over her body?" (Email forwarded to Media Lens, February 19, 2005)

Although harrowing, this email was rational and restrained, and contained credible evidence relating to issues that could hardly be more serious. Judy Swallow answered our reader with an email that was presumably intended for a colleague:


"Oh god mike - do you take care of these sorts of things, or do we ignore them?" (Forwarded to Media Lens, February 19, 2005)


On the BBC website Swallow describes Newshour as "exposing injustice and challenging lies". (www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/biographies/biogs/worldservice/judyswallow.shtml)

What does it say when a senior BBC journalist can dismiss testimony relating to our government's involvement in war crimes as merely "these sorts of things"? And what does it say that a journalist can suggest that it might be an option to simply ignore a public complaint of such seriousness?

Of course, it might be objected that this is an isolated case; that we are being unfairly harsh. But it is not isolated - we have received numerous examples of exactly this kind of high-handed, dismissive response from journalists right across the media both personally and forwarded to us by readers.

In truth, this is a perfect example of how the media's power without responsibility has resulted in an arrogant, elitist system which views the public with barely disguised contempt.

SUGGESTED ACTION

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to the following BBC journalists and managers. Ask them how a senior BBC journalist can suggest ignoring a sincere and reasoned complaint relating to war crimes committed by the British government.

Judy Swallow, presenter of Newshour
Email: judy.swallow@bbc.co.uk

Mike Finnerty, editor of Newshour
Email: mike.finnerty@bbc.co.uk

Nigel Chapman, director BBC World Service
Email: nigel.chapman@bbc.co.uk

Mark Thompson, BBC director general
Email: mark.thompson@bbc.co.uk

Michael Grade, BBC chairman
Email: michael.grade@bbc.co.uk

Register a complaint at:
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complaints_process.shtml#code

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