Category: Alerts 2014
- Created on 24 July 2014
- 24 July 2014
Soon after Malaysian Airlines MH17 crashed near Donetsk, Ukraine on July 18, killing 298 people, the BBC website quickly, and rightly, set up a 'LIVE' feed with rolling reports and commentary on the disaster. This was clearly an important and dramatic event involving horrific loss of life with serious political implications. The public would, of course, be searching for the latest news.
However, since July 8, ten days prior to the crash, Israeli armed forces had been bombarding the trapped civilian population of Gaza with airstrikes, drone strikes and naval shelling. As the massive Israeli assault ramped up on July 9, the World section of the BBC News website had this as its headline:
'Israel under renewed Hamas attack'
By July 18, around 300 people had been killed in Gaza, 80% of them civilians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key political issue of our time, one that was clearly developing by the minute after July 8. And yet at no point had the BBC set up a 'LIVE' feed with rolling news.
That finally changed on July 20 after so many days in which so many Palestinians had been killed. Why July 20? The answer appears to be found in the fourth entry of the live feed under the title 'Breaking News':
'Some 13 Israeli soldiers were killed overnight in Gaza, news agencies, quoting Israeli military sources, say. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the nation shortly.'
Despite this small number of military deaths compared to the Palestinian toll, it seems clear that the killing of the Israeli troops triggered the BBC live feed. It focused intensely on these deaths, with entries of this kind:
'Ben White, writer tweets: Israel has lost more soldiers in a 3 day old ground offensive than it did during Cast Lead & Pillar of Defense combined (12).'
'View to the Mid East, a writer in Ashdod, Israel tweets: One of the soldiers who was killed in Gaza tonight prays at the same synagogue I go to. Grew up in the same neighbourhood.'
The feed incorporated no less than five photographs from two funerals of the Israeli soldiers but none from the far more numerous Palestinian funerals (one picture showed Palestinian relatives collecting a body from a morgue), with these captions:
'Friends and relatives of Israeli Sergeant Adar Barsano mourn during his funeral at the military cemetery in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya.'
'Sagit Greenberg, the wife of Israeli soldier Maj Amotz Greenberg, mourns during his funeral in the central town of Hod Hasharon.'
Obviously, Israeli suffering also merits compassion, but these military deaths were overshadowed by a far higher loss of Palestinian lives, most of them civilian men, women and children. The toll currently stands at 746 Palestinians killed and 4,640 wounded. Israel has suffered 32 military and two civilian deaths. One foreign worker from Thailand has also been killed.
In the following days (and at time of writing) the live feed was cancelled; a period that has seen hundreds of Palestinian deaths and a handful of Israeli military deaths.
For some time on the morning of July 21, the sole Gaza content on the BBC News home page was 'Breaking News' of an 'Israeli soldier missing in Gaza'.
Remarkably, on the morning of July 23, when 18 Palestinians were killed, the BBC set up a live feed for the wrecked Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, which showed the ship being towed to Genoa. There was no live feed for Gaza.
The BBC has supplied names, ages, pictures and emotive background stories of the Malaysian air crash victims while, with rare exceptions, Palestinian dead have been presented as nameless figures, briefly mentioned, then forgotten.
The level of BBC bias was emphasised by an article headline that placed inverted commas around the siege in Gaza, as if it were a matter for debate: "Palestinian PM says lift Gaza 'siege' as part of ceasefire". The BBC subsequently changed the title, but a tweet promoting the article with the original wording remains.
The BBC has also implied that 'Rockets fired from Gaza' are comparable to 'Gaza targets hit by Israel'. Readers are to understand that attempted attacks by unguided, low-tech rockets are comparable to actual bombings by state of the art bombs, missiles and shells. The BBC's source? 'Israel Defence Forces.'
On July 21, BBC News at Ten presenter Huw Edwards asked a colleague live on air:
'...the Israelis saying they'll carry on as long as necessary to stop the Hamas rocket attacks. Do you detect any signs at all that there's a hope of a coming together in the next few days or weeks, or not?'
In other words, BBC News presented Hamas rocket attacks as the stumbling block to peace, exactly conforming to Israeli state propaganda.
In a report on the same edition of News at Ten, the BBC's world affairs editor, John Fidler-Simpson CBE, asserted that 'one reason why casualties on the two sides are so out of proportion' is because 'Israel has developed the world's most effective anti-missile defence'.
This suggested a more or less equal fight with Israel simply better able to protect itself. Fidler-Simpson added:
'The Iron Dome system's ability to knock Hamas missiles out of the sky has been a remarkable achievement for Israel during this crisis. The success rate is quite phenomenal.'
Back in the real world, weapons experts Ted Postol of MIT and Richard Lloyd of Tesla Laboratory, argue that claims for Iron Dome are wildly exaggerated, estimating a success rate of less than 5 per cent. Peter Coy of BloombergBusinessweek comments:
'Lloyd e-mailed me a copy of a 28-page analysis that's the most detailed critique yet of the holes in the Iron Dome system - holes so big that, if he's right, would justify calling it Iron Sieve.'
BBC bias has also been typified by its downplaying, or complete blanking, of large-scale demonstrations in several UK cities protesting BBC coverage. As activist Jonathon Shafi noted of the BBC's lack of interest:
'It is misinformation of the worst, and it is an insult to journalism.'
After the four Palestinian Bakr boys, aged between 9 and 11, were killed by an Israeli shell, the New York Times headline on July 16 read:
'Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife'
This worked well to obscure the truth that the boys had been killed while playing football on a beach. Artist Amir Schiby produced a wonderful, moving tribute to the Bakr boys.
Even indisputable evidence here and here that Israel had fired on hospitals in Gaza, major war crimes, brought little outrage from politicians and media. Jonathan Whittall, Head of Humanitarian Analysis at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), reminded the world:
'Our role is to provide medical care to war casualties and sick detainees, not to repeatedly treat the same patients between torture sessions.'
Despite the unequal battle and high civilian death toll, no high-profile advocates of the West's 'responsibility to protect' ('R2P') civilians in Iraq, Libya and Syria have been calling for 'intervention'.
We asked passionate 'R2Pers' like David Aaronovitch, Jonathan Freedland and Menzies Campbell if they felt 'we must do something'. They did not reply. Freedland commented in a BBC interview that the death toll was 'very lopsided' – a polite euphemism for a massacre that, according to Unicef, has claimed 10 children per day. E-International Relations website reports:
'While the conflict has generated near blanket international media coverage it has been strangely ignored by the three most prominent and vociferous organisations established to promote the idea of "The Responsibility to Protect", namely The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) and the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APCR2P)...
'Since the operation began these groups have published myriad tweets, posts and articles – on issues ranging from the rights of women, the treatment of refugees, mass atrocity cries and the provision of medical aid... Yet, coverage of the crisis in Gaza has been negligible.'