Bowen, BBC and bias: a case of selective myopia

The BBC should be embarrassed by the bias revealed in its Gaza coverage.


This week’s JC is full of analysis of the background to the Gaza military operation. But I have to confess that there is one explanation for Israel’s air strikes we have not offered to our readers. It is that put forward by the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, on Saturday: “The failure of Israel, with its high-tech army, to stop relatively crude rocket fire has become a political embarrassment for Israeli leaders.”

So, according to the BBC, you can forget about the terror inflicted on a quarter of a million Israelis who live with daily fear of murder from the rockets. And don’t trouble yourself thinking about the Israeli government’s primary duty to protect its citizens. To Mr Bowen, none of that is relevant. The real story is that Israeli leaders were embarrassed.

Sadly, this level of analysis is all we can expect from the BBC’s Middle East editor. In January 2007, I obtained a private email briefing sent by Mr Bowen to some BBC colleagues. Palestinian society, he told them, was fragmenting because of “the death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel’s military activities, land expropriation and settlement building — and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government which are destroying Palestinian institutions…” The “fragmentation” of Palestinian society had nothing to do with Palestinians — Hamas, for example — and was entirely Israel’s fault.

Mr Bowen seemed to express contempt for all the Israeli political figures he mentioned. Ehud Barak was “a former head of the Israeli army and its most decorated soldier. (Among his many exploits was disguising himself as a woman during a raid in Beirut to kill various Palestinians)”. As if he had randomly killed “various Palestinians” rather than carefully targeted terrorists.

On Sunday, the BBC’s website — the most widely read news source in the world — reported as its lead story that “Israel has bombed supply tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip...A tunnel bringing fuel into Gaza from Egypt was among three destroyed”.

Nowhere in the 1,000-word report was there any mention of the tunnels being used by Hamas to smuggle arms and weapons with which to murder Israelis. Someone — the report’s author or an editor — must have actively chosen to omit this critical piece of information, which was vital to putting that phase of Israel’s operation into context. Maybe it was the same person who, on Sunday night, finally added it, albeit in this cursory sentence: “Israel accuses Palestinian militants of using the tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza.”

We Brits tend to have a rather superior air when it comes to our TV, but give me US coverage of the MidEast any day. I’ve been watching their coverage of Gaza and it’s not even a contest. The US networks give context and analysis. The BBC (ITN is no better — especially the de facto Hamas daily bulletin on Channel Four News) has done little more than show pictures of casualties and blown-up buildings. Yes, there’s been the odd snippet from Israeli spokesmen. But they are cast as an aggressor having to defend their outrageous behaviour. And never a word putting Israel’s actions in a proper context.

As Anshel Pfeffer points out, if you’ve been relying on British media for your information about the ongoing Gaza “siege”, you’d not have a clue that there is a second border, with Egypt — a pretty critical piece of information. But it detracts from the idea of Israel as villain.

There’s one big problem with all of this. If you don’t like the Guardian’s approach, you can stop buying it. If you don’t like commercial TV, it will lose ratings and income and eventually go bust. But we are all forced, under threat of imprisonment, to pay for the BBC’s coverage. Not just its TV reports, but its hopelessly biased website, which has a worldwide audience. And that is plain wrong.

    Last updated: 4:31pm, December 30 2008

    COMMENTS

    joemillis

    Wed, 12/31/2008 - 19:10

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    Absolutely correct. There is a way to stop paying for the BBC's bias. Stop paying the Licence Fee now.


    Matt2012

    Wed, 01/07/2009 - 11:17

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    Hold on a second hundreds of palestinians killed thousands wounded is on a par with the fear of missiles that cause very few deaths. What world do you live in. Im a jew but it shocks me to the core that people like you still talk about us and them a child is a child and the death of a palestinian child is every bit as grevious to me as a jewish one. In that context the BBC is absurdly neutral. They should be presenting the real bloodshed that isreal is causing. Blown off limbs, abdomens hanging out, mass carnage - but of course then there is the fear of rockets..


    Jordan

    Wed, 01/07/2009 - 21:16

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    Matt, are you watching the same BBC? The Palestinian 'correspondents' they use are so obsessed with blood and carnage it's almost pornographic.

    No one is saying Jewish life is worth more. It is sad that Palestinians are dying. But Hamas is hiding among civilians, they are in violation of international law, and as such the collateral is their onus.


    andyc

    Fri, 01/09/2009 - 23:25

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    Why would Jeremy Bowen be biased one way or the other? What would be in it for him? What is more likely - that Jeremy Bowen is biased or that the editor of the JC is biased? And why does a threat of potential violence to Israelis count more than several hundred actual dead Palestinians, many of whom are children.
    The BBC is much less biased than the NYT and Washington Post.
    To Jordan - are you serious? The Palestinians are being 'pornographic' because they are 'obsessing' about hundreds of civilian deaths at the hands of the IDF? Have you lost all sense of decency and common humanity?


    Michael

    Mon, 01/12/2009 - 12:14

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    Yes the BBC are biased- in favour of Israel.Stephen Pollard talks about putting the Gaza assaults in context, but what about the real context. A population forced from their homes into refugee camps.While what land and water the have left is steadily encroached on by Israel. Their feeble attempts at resistance are met with by a massively disproportionate response. The Palestinians must have some hope of a viable two state solution. The present incursions are directly contrary to the long term intrests of Israel


    dylanjoshua

    Thu, 01/15/2009 - 20:48

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    Hear Hear to the Editor! I've been trying to support the cause of the good government of Israel by sending this letter to all the editors of newspapers I can think of. I think it speaks for many people who are fed up of seeing the (faked) bodies of Palestinian children on the BBC. it's time to end this war, once and for all. Here's the letter:

    For goodness sake, don’t sign any truces and stop now! There’s still five more days till Dubya leaves the White House, and you’ve accomplished so much, and only two weeks into 2009! Over 300 children dead and counting – that's 300 children that won't grow up to hate Israel. What a brilliant way to stop the disease of Anti-Israeli sentiment and terrorism spreading from one generation to the next: just wipe out the next generation. Keep at it, guys, you're almost there! Why not hasten things up by rounding up all the schoolchildren in Gaza, herding them into so-called UN compounds, and shelling the lot - you could, feasibly, wipe out the entire next generation with a couple of relentless bombardments. Add in a bit of phosphorescence, and maybe something chemical to ensure future birth-defects, and hey presto, problem solved! Lock ‘em in and gun ‘em down – nowhere for the little bastards to run or hide! And what do they expect, eh? It’s their fault for hiding out in the homes of gun-toting rocket-launching terrorists. Don’t just take out the bad guys – kill their kids too! Guilt by association! Three cheers for collective punishment! Hurray for decimation! But hey, make sure you finish the bloody job this time - or you'll only have to do it all again in another two years. Then two years after that. Again and again. And so on. And on. Still, anything’s better than letting the greedy bastards have a nation of their own. Besides, you’ve got your hands on some nice bits of real estate there – bit of slum-clearance and it’s all yours! Here’s to perpetual war! Death to the children of Gaza! Good luck, guys – and mazel tov!