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.