Thursday, August 19, 2010

Panorama: the next step

Well several members of Oxford Palestine Solidarity Campaign have now recieved replies from the BBC - and totally inadequate they are. We need to go through the replies and demolish them, which will take a lot of work to do properly.
The PSC website has suggestions for what to do next. Scrool down here


Letter to BBC

Oxford Palestine Soldarity Campaign has responded to the shameful Panorama programme. Most of us have written to the BBC.
I think it's good that we have all written in our own style and from the heart. Check the PSC website for any facts you may have forgotten. Here just as one example is the letter I have written. David Hillman
32 Boundary Brook Road
18 August 2010
Dear Sir,
It is with regret that I feel I need to strongly protest about the quality of the Panorama programme Death in the Mediteranean.
It is with regret because it was Panorama that gave me my first political education and showed me 45 years ago, when I was very young, that intelligent political debate is possible. I am all the more sad that Panorama has let itself down with a programme so tawdry and biased that I felt intellectually insulted and emotionally distressed.
Over coming bias can be a real problem. Since BBC reporters tend to be based in Jerusalem, rather than in Ramallah or Bethlehem, they need to work so as to avoid retailing the Israeli narrative. Inbedded journalism and use of an Israeli producer (whose integrity I do not question) also need such work, but this time you have failed to do it. To me the programme seemed to be no different than a propoganda piece for the IDF.
I have put off writing this letter for a day because there is so much I could say, but for my sake and yours I will attempt to make it brief. And I will try to avoid ad hominen attacks (does that phrase apply to both sexes?) since your reporters on other occasions have shown they can rise above whatever personal prejudices they might have.
The scene setting and introductory narrative had to be short but yours were not just oversimplified they were wrong – you seemed to imply that the problems of the Middle East were caused by a conflict between Islamists and the rights of the Jews rather than occupation, racial prejudice and economic oppression. If you could not get a proper perspective then why not interview a proper historian like Avi Sclaim? (I am really trying hard not to be patronising).
Your narrative of the long Gaza conflict was also highly distorted. You mentioned the home made rockets from Gaza but not the fact that Hamas tried to stop them, certainly greatly reduced them, and that it was Israel that broke the truce again with assassinations and collateral killings (refer to Avi Sclaim again). You do not speak of the many hundres of Gazans killed by Israeli high-tech weapons over the years.
Your explanation for the reasons for the siege, of its effects on agriculture, fishing, and mental and physical health of the Gazan’s was also totally inadequate. And you claim to know better than years of work by Oxfam, Map, the UN etc what “Putting the Gazans on a diet” really means. I could go on…

Now as to the seizure of the ship itself. First the majority opinion around the world is that the siege of Gaza is itself illegal. The boarding of the ship in international waters is then an act of piracy which means that those on bord have a right to defend themselves. Where was this in your narrative?
Next what really happened which was supposed to be the point of your investigative journalism. Those on board saw no paint guns. They all say that shooting with live ammunition began right away or within 5 minutes. I have made it my business to question people personally on this, have seen smuggled film of live fire from the helicopter and have read autopsies showing bullet holes going downwards through the tops of their heads. The people shot had not guns but cameras. They were not killed in self defence but executed with lots of close up shots in the backs of their heads. Only then did the token defence turn to a successful attempt to disarm some of the soldiers, and the guns seized were emptied of ammunition and thrown into the sea. This is the narrative I believe, because I know the integrity of the people who tell me these things, and because I know the IDF has a history of lies (Tom Hurndall, Rachel Corrie, and incidents every week).
Well I suppose its up to you what narrative you believe. But its not good journalism to only present one side and not close question it. May I ask why you did not have witness from Sarah Colborne, or Kevin Ovendene, or any of the journalists on board? Why did you not bother to interview Hanin Zoabi either on her recent trip to London or indeed in Israel. I am sorry to say that I expect their voices as intelligent, civilized gentle people would spoil your narrative about violent Islamists, or am I being too cynical? Yes I know you had the magnificently passionate and uncompromisingly honest Ken o Keefe but I see he has recorded on the net that you broke a promise made to him not to leave particular things out of his interview so he was just used.
Its difficult to make this short because I objected to just about every sentence of your programme. So I will just mention two more things. First the embargo on building materials – why no mention of the number of houses, mosques, scools and hospitals destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, and the number of people still living in tents or rubble. Secondly I was absolutely disgusted by the smear of mentioning the “go back to Austwitch, remember 911” tape which was edited (I think manufactured) by the IDF and which they werte forced to admit did not come from the Mavi Marmora.
I could say much more about the facts in the programme but I think it was worse than that. There was so much bias in the imagary and vocabulary of the narrative so that every sentence seemed carefully crafted to invoke prejudice including the statement that the headquarters of the charity was in the most Islamic part of town, whatever that signifies (I think it signifies that charities rent places in the cheapest parts of town). while nothing about the extremism of the Israeli government. The word Islamist was never defined and was cleverly associated with the word Turk and then with the whole movement.
The programme was not just a disgrace to journalism, to Panorama, to the BBC, but it was so out of design not laziness. The only consolation is that the opinions of the majority of British people are not the same as the BBC’s so the programmes lack of subtlety might well backfire,
Yours Sincerely,
David Hillman