As one of the worlds’s most trusted sources of international news, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has been accused of biased reporting of the violence in Palestine. Protestors outside the BBC broadcasting house in London held issue with the BBC for partiality in their coverage of the violence in Israel and Palestine. Thousands gathered outside the building on July 15th, to express their anger at what they see to be biased journalism.
Despite the BBC’s claims to impartiality, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, organizers of the protest, and those with a similar stance on the relationship between Israel and Palestine, accuse the BBC of valuing the lives of Israelis over the lives of Palestinians, of omitting history from their reports, and of using certain politically-suggestive phrasing in their coverage.
The BBC told The International, “Our role is to explain what is happening and why and we endeavour to reflect a range of voices, amid deeply held views.”
However, those present outside the BBC studios on July 15th, see the BBC to have failed in its role. Accusations that the BBC values Israeli lives more became particularly vociferous after BBC Middle East correspondent, Kevin Connolly spoke to BBC Radio 4 presenter, John Humphreys, about the killing of the three Israeli boys, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach on the West Bank. Connolly remarked: “there was a special kind of chilling factor, a cold blooded calculation to that crime that slightly sets it aside from the other waves of violence that we report on across the Middle East.”
Activist and journalist, Amena Saleem, wrote in response to these comments: “So what we have is a supposedly impartial BBC Middle East correspondent elevating three Israeli deaths above all others in the Middle East.”
Lecturer at the London School of Economics, Jason Hickel, who was present at the protest asserted: “The BBC’s biggest omission, as far as I’m concerned, is their failure to situate this attack in context. … Hamas rockets don’t come out of nowhere; they come from a long history of dispossession. The public needs to know about that.”
Terminology used by the BBC to describe the situation in Israel and Palestine, has been criticized for “Orwellian” obfuscation of the truth, by Guardian journalist, Owen Jones. Such critics are angered by descriptions which portray the relationship between Israel and Palestine as a one country fighting another on equal terms. As John Humphreys articulated on BBC Radio 4, many argue that the number of Palestinians killed, by far outweighs the number of Israelis killed.
“This is not a war – it’s a massacre,” stated Hickel. “Yet the press bizarrely refers to Israel’s actions as “retaliatory”, falling in line with the state’s talking points, and serves up stories and photos of Israelis suffering from “shock” and “traumatized” by sirens, while the deaths of Palestinian civilians pile up unremarked. The press also parrots Israel’s use of the term “terrorists” to refer to Hamas. But Hamas is an elected government resisting a long-standing siege by Israel that has reduced the population of Gaza to absolute poverty. If Hamas rockets constitute terrorist activity, then so too do Israeli airstrikes.”
A perception of a history of impartiality at the BBC
The BBC has defended itself to The International and other media sources with these pre-prepared lines from their Press Office: “BBC News reports widely and extensively across TV, radio and online, on many different aspects of this ongoing and complex conflict. We are committed to continuing to report and analyse sometimes fast moving events in an accurate, fair and balanced way.” All BBCjournalists contacted by the International refused to comment.
Activist, Selin Kara, who was present at the protest stated: “I personally knew somebody who received radio training in the BBC and they actively tell its staff to never ‘comment on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’, which suggests this is something that is very much on the agenda and that they also know exactly which side they’re taking.”
Kara also claimed that there is a history of bias at the BBC. “This was most evident in 2008 during operation cast lead, where BBC refused to air an appeal for Gaza to remain “impartial”, followed by the disgusting panorama on Mavi Marmara, openly suggesting that the activists invited Israeli aggression and evidently murder, with testimonies from Israeli soldiers, as opposed to witness testimonies from those on the ship. The last was in 2011 during a rapper’s mention of ‘Free Palestine’ on BBC radio – it was censored completely.”
Former BBC Middle East correspondent, Tim Llewellyn stated likewise: “We have become used to the fact that, in a BBC newsroom, an Israeli life is worth the lives of an infinite number of Palestinians.”
“We expect this from the corporate press – and particularly the Murdoch-owned outlets that are known for this kind of bias – but not from a public broadcaster like the BBC, whose mandate is to inform the public,” Hickel said.
Saleem argues that such media coverage can determine who wins wars. As Ian Hargreaves iterates in ‘Journalism: Truth or Dare?’ partial or untruthful journalism can affect the “health” of a nation.
If the BBC is to damage the “health” of its consumers, activist Kara says to the contrary, “the attendance of thousands sends the message that we’re not as unintelligent as they’d think us to be, to be told the Israeli narrative of an oppressed people we know to always receive such little attention will not and has not gone unnoticed.”
Whilst the BBC claims otherwise, protestors accuse the BBC of neglecting the history of occupation in Palestine. Although some journalists perceive bias to be a barricade to the truth, others argue that for some at least, this barricade is possible to penetrate.