Many supporters of Oxford Palestine Solidarity Campaign
, and other people too have complained to the BBC about the inaccuracies and extreme bias in its programme called Death in the Med.
Here is my latest complaint - to the BBC editorial complaints unit.
Following some correspondence with the BBC and with the Panorama team (case number CAS-250217-YCH00W?= ) I now wish to pursue this complaint further as advised by the complaints manager at BBC audience services.
I shall attach my previous correspondence and I also point out that I left a telephone complaint, which I was assured was being recorded, during the course of the programme. I should like to thank the BBC for the courtesy and efficiency with which they have dealt with my complaint, but after full consideration have found that my complaint still stands.
My complaint is regarding the Panorama programme Death in the Med, which I believe breached the BBC guidelines on accuracy (in its failure to cross check, validate or collaborate claims made and digital material, and in its omission of key facts) and on achieving impartiality.
When reporters are based in Jerusalem, rather than Ramallah or Bethlehem, hard work is needed to avoid simply reproducing the Israeli narrative, and the BBC have achieved this admirably in some programmes in the past. When your reporters are imbedded with the IDF and use the services of an Israeli producer this work is particularly needed. You failed to do the work in this case.
The programme failed to give a balanced view of the reasons for the crisis in Gaza, of the causes of the hostility between the people and de facto rulers of Gaza and the government of Israel, of the motivations and nature of the free Gaza movement and of the I.H.H charity, and it failed to investigate fully and in an unbiased way what actually happened on the Mari Marmora.
The programme seemed to have an agenda. Everything was set in the context of a particular narrative of a conflict between Islamism and the state of Israel. The imagery, both words and pictures, gave every appearance of being carefully crafted to tell this particular story. And important facts and witnesses that would have given a different impression were simply left out.
I shall concentrate at first on the use, so very many times, of the word Islamist, which is one of the two things in the programme which I found particularly jarring (the other being the use in its particular context of the disputed radio message) and was why I found the programme so emotionally upsetting as well as intellectually insulting.
Daniel Pear has written to me defending the use of the word saying it is a neutral word used to actually avoid conflating various phenomena and with no implied link to terrorism, fundamentalism or extremism. Well this may have been the meaning when Voltaire coined the word but it is not how most people understand the word nowadays. My copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary has but one definition of the word to wit: Islamism, noun, Islamic militancy or fundamentalism, derivatives – Islamist (n or adj).
Islamist would describe for example Saudi fundamentalist Islam, Muslims who reject Western style democracy in favour of a restored Caliphate, the various terrorist groups now generically called Al Quaeda.
To call Hamas Islamist is no real explanation of its present being. Though one can cite aspects of its founding charter, one should also point out that it won the elections in Palestine standing not on an Islamist charter but on a Nationalist and anti-corruption platform, seeking unsuccessfully for a bloc with independent Christian and secular figures and that in Gaza it is perfectly happy to collaborate with Christians (nuns, teachers, hospital workers etc).
The refusal to recognise de jure the Jewish state has little to do with Islamism, It is impossible to do so while the issue of Palestinian refugees remains unresolved, while there are good democratic arguments that a modern state should be a state of all its citizens with no religion or so called race being privileged, and while the state of Israel refuses to define its borders (every Israeli government wishing to illegally annex East Jerusalem, the lands stolen by the wall, at least the largest settlements, and the most fertile land of the Jordan Valley). De facto they are willing to recognise the Israeli government, to negotiate with it, and seek an extended truce.
To see the violence between Gaza and Israel as being caused by Islamism is a gross distortion of the truth. In fact it was Israel that broke a six month ceasefire in 2008.There is also much publically available information including from the Israeli government, graphs and all, which shows that Hamas has largely succeeded in eliminating home made rockets being sent from Gaza.
Now I must speak of killing. “The figures speak for themselves. In the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. On the other hand, in 2005-7 alone, the IDF killed 1,290 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.” – Avi Shlaim http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/07/gaza-israel-palestine . Now I would not like to be thought to be arguing that any death does not matter. I happen to agree with the Koran that to kill any innocent is in the eyes of God is like destroying the whole universe. Indeed any premature death has ripplles through space and down the generations.Nor is it a matter of Arab or Jew. Not all the 11 Israeli’s killed were Jewish, nor were all the 1’290 Palestinians Arabs or Muslims. (I know someone who had cousins killed in Galilee and in Lebanon in the last war of Israel against that country). But to put more weight on the 13 Israelis killed by primitive rockets than the thousands of Gazans killed over the years by really nasty high tech weapons as a cause of the conflict shows a certain lack of proportion in allocating blame.
But to move on to implying that the free Gaza movement, the I.H.H. perhaps even the Turkish government is Islamist or semi Islamist is to go from lack of nuance and subtlety to – crying out loud! The free gaza movement has of course people from all over the world, including atheists, religious and secular Muslims, Christians, religious and secular Jews including Holocaust survivors.many nationalities including Britons. This was not emphasised in the programme and it was noticeable that no English or Irish people were shown with whom we would have had immediate empathy. Why not?
The I.H.H. can not fairly be called Islamist (please refer again to the dictionary definition) since it gives aid to people in every continent of the world and cooperates with people of all beliefs including the U.N. If giving aid to Bosnia is Islamist, then is NATO Islamist? If giving aid to Haiti is Islamist, then is Israel Islamist? It’s so ridiculous. It’s like calling Christian Aid a Crusader Clerico-Papist organisation. I’s stupid. The Turkish people interviewed, still avaliable on the net, who supported the flotilla are obviously moved by humanity, especially feelings for the children and not so called Islamism.
Jane Corbin in a give-away tag stated that I.H.H. headquarters was in the most Islamic part of town. I saw this as a transparent attempt to slur the charity and in my correspondance with Daniel Pearl I suggested that the old city of Istanbul,where their headquartes are I believe situated. Is socially conservative rather than Islamist and that since it is now the working class district of Istanbul would probably where a charity would be situated to keep rents down, and that I would ask a Turkish friend whose brother is a tourist guide in Istanbul. I have now had a reply and she has replied:
“I asked this question to my brother and sister who confirmed that the Fatih is indeed the most conservative area in Istanbul. Poor? I don't know. It is not a shanty town and these do exist in large numbers in the city at least they did when I was a child - not been to Istanbul for a very long time.
Is it a fair comment? I think not. I'm afraid I don't follow the internal politics but can say that the headscarf issue is a big one in Turkey in fact, there is a strong move towards more coverage by women and they are from both poor and wealthy sectors of the society. I am sorry if this does not help you much.”
This does in fact largely confirm what I had expected.
Jane Corbyn also made a rather poor attempt to link the I.H.H. to the Turkish government and to characterise the Turkish government as semi Islamist. Now Erdogan says that a political party can not have a religion, though his religion is the most important thing to him personally. The conflict between religion and secularism is being played out over the headscarf issue not over attitudes to Israel. There are plenty of secular Turks who oppose Israel’s treatment of Gaza, and the present Turkish government is not fundamentally anti Israeli: Erdogan has tried to play honest broker and his moral objections to Israel’s behaviour in Gaza do not come from Islamic fundamentalism – in fact he is careful to quote the Torah and Israeli historians. And many Turks from all walks of life are working hard to make sure that opposition to Israeli policy does not spill over into anti-Semitism and spoil Turkey’s honourable tradition of welcoming and valuing Jewish people.
The whole agenda of the programme that it is Islamists versus the Jewish state just does not wash.
As well as the agenda of the programme being biased it totally failed in its task of investigating what really happened. A forensic investigation would be based first of all on the autopsies, secondly on the testimonials of the journalists on board and would have investigated who withheld evidence and crosschecked all claims and allegations.
The audio tape for example was presented as disputed only because silences were edited and because it did not come from the Mavi Marmara. There was no mention of all the other suspicious characteristics of the tape, all publically available, or that its provenance was from a source, the I.D.F., which has been proved to have lied in evidence in the past (as in the Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall investigations).
It seems obvious in fact that the tape is a fake, from its content alone: it betrays an entirely Israeli siege mentality. Only Israeli’s see opposition to their policies as being motivated by anti-Semitism and continuing from the holocaust - the people on the flotilla know that the IDF soldiers have never been to Austwitch except on school trips and would never say such a ridiculous thing as “get back to Austwitch, remember 911”, and this apart from the fact that they are civilised commited anti-racists. And it is only in Israeli propoganda that there is a link between their government actions and 911 through a supposed global war on terror. This is apart from the accents and other details of the tape ignored by Panorama. Indeed after saying it was disputed they went on to treat it as part of the context for the awful tragedy that ensued. I was really upset and angry that Panorama used this tape.
It is becoming clear to me that my letter is in danger of turning into a many paged thesis for I do indeed think the programme was so bad that I could go through it line by line. To save you this is it alright if I merely state that I hold to my previous correspondence, which I enclose, and agree with all the points on the PSC website here:
Breach of BBC rules on due impartiality. In particular:
The programme mentioned only once that the incident took place in international waters. There was no mention of, or examination of, maritime law regulating the protection of international shipping which states that the forceful boarding of a boat in international waters is illegal. The Israeli claim that commandos had a right to board the ship was accepted without question.
Israel's four year siege of Gaza - which the flotilla was attempting to break - was mentioned briefly. However, viewers were not informed that the siege has been declared illegal by the UN, nor that Israel refuses to comply with UN resolutions to lift it. There was no indication of the desperate conditions inside Gaza, which the British PM has described as a ‘prison camp'. Yet these facts are significant when questioning - as the presenter, Jane Corbin, did - the motivation of people on the flotilla.
Ms Corbin, referred to the ‘thousands of rockets' fired from Gaza into Israel. She did not say over what time period these were fired. Not a single reference was made to Israel's continuous attacks on Gaza, for example the bombs, rockets and white phosphorus dropped by Israel on Gaza during its three week assault in 2008/9, which killed 1,400 Palestinians.
Israeli soldiers interviewed spoke freely of their fear that the activists on the Turkish boat, the Mavi Marmara, were going to ‘kill us all' and ‘finish us off'. However, no airtime was given to the passengers' accounts of the violence used against them by Israeli commandos, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists.
The programme, despite being entitled ‘Death on the Med', barely mentioned the deaths of the nine activists killed by Israeli commandos. There was no examination of how they died, the level of violence used against them, or whether their deaths were avoidable. No use, or even mention, was made of the autopsy reports (indicating that five of those killed had been shot in the head), and the programme also failed to mention that over 50 passengers suffered serious injuries. However, a great deal of airtime was spent attempting to prove violence on the part of the activists.
There was no mention of the five other boats that made up the aid flotilla in addition to the Mavi Marmara. The programme consistently refused to reflect the international reality of the Freedom Flotilla - with MPs, dignitaries, journalists and citizens of many countries on board - of all religions and none.
The programme failed to mention that the other five boats on the flotilla were stormed (with the use of tasers, gas and sound bombs) and violently boarded by Israeli commandos, despite offering no resistance, with injuries being suffered by the passengers on board.
Viewers were not told that all footage taken by the activists, their cameras and laptops, were confiscated by Israel and have not been returned. Consequently, any footage used in the programme, including footage of gas masks and knives which Israel claims it found on the boat, has been supplied by Israeli sources. This should have been made clear.
The programme used constant footage of Israeli commandos being attacked by activists, but none of the Israeli assault on the activists - of which footage must exist - which left nine dead.
Breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that a journalist's right to freedom of expression is subject to ‘the protection of the reputation or rights of others'. In particular:
The activists who took part in the flotilla were continually referred to as ‘terrorists' by Israeli soldiers and spokespeople interviewed on the programme. This went unchallenged by the presenter, Jane Corbin, and no evidence was provided to back up the claims.
Ms Corbin repeated Israel's widely known false allegations about the Turkish organisation, IHH, being a terrorist organisation, but no evidence was provided to substantiate this, and viewers were not informed that IHH carries out charity work around the world, not just in the Middle East.
Ms Corbin stated that IHH had attempted to recruit ‘fellow Islamists' to join the flotilla. No evidence was given for this, or for the implied claim that IHH is an ‘Islamist' organisation. Viewers were not told that passengers on the Mavi Marmara, and on all the boats in the flotilla, consisted of many nationalities and religions, and included European and US dignitaries and Parliamentarians.
Ms Corbin said IHH's headquarters are based ‘in the most Islamic area of Istanbul'. There was no relevance to this comment, which served only to enforce the Islamophobic and racist tone of the programme. No evidence was provided to back up her claim.
Factual inaccuracies in the programme including:
Jane Corbin, stated that the ruling party in Gaza, Hamas, refuses to recognise Israel. In 2006, Hamas recognized that Israel exists and signalled its willingness to offer a long term truce in exchange for Israel's withdrawal to 1967 borders. In fact, there has been a failure to recognise the results of the Palestinian legislative elections, which were declared free and fair by international observers, and resulted in Hamas winning the majority of seats.
The programme aired an audio recording, which it claimed was broadcast from the captain's deck of the Mavi Marmara during the Israeli assault on the ship. However, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) issued a statement on 5 June 2010 admitting that it had doctored the recording in question. This was not mentioned by Ms Corbin.
Israel's ‘right' to board the ship is presumed throughout the programme:
At no point during the programme does Jane Corbin question Israel's decision to board the ship, or its right to do so. It is assumed as a given that this was an accepted course of action.
However, Israeli forces boarded the ship while it was in international waters. This is mentioned only once, almost in passing. There is no examination during the programme about the illegality of this, or any reference to maritime law which clearly marks Israel's boarding of the ship as illegal. If this had been established at the start, the entire premise of the programme might have been different.
Jane Corbin states more than once that the activists' readiness to defend their ship ‘could lead to confrontation'. She therefore questions the right to defence. In balance, she should also question the right of Israel to attack but fails to do so. Surely Israel's readiness to board a ship in international waters, its commandoes armed and ready to use their weapons, could also lead confrontation?
If Israel's intentions in boarding the ship were peaceful, why did the commandoes board in the early hours of the morning, in the dark, instead of during daylight hours? Israel's motives in its choice of timing warranted questioning, but the time of the attack wasn't even mentioned.
The programme continually questions why the activists were ‘really' going to Gaza, but fails to thoroughly examine this point:
Israel's siege of Gaza has been declared illegal by the UN, and UN Resolution 1866 calls for its immediate end, but at no point during the programme was the illegality of the siege mentioned. Again, the assumption was made that Israel has the right to blockade Gaza, while the motives of those attempting to break an illegal blockade are questioned.
If the blockade of Gaza by Israel has been declared illegal by the UN, then Israel's actions in stopping and boarding an international ship sailing to Gaza would also be illegal. The ship would have a right to sail to Gaza, but this point was not examined by the programme. As mentioned before, the BBC assumed, without question, that Israel had a right to board the boat.
Jane Corbin stated that ‘thousands of rockets' have been fired from Gaza into Israel. She did not state over what time period. She glaringly omitted to mention the bombs, rockets and white phosphorus dropped on Gaza by Israel during Operation Cast Lead over a three week period in 2008/9, killing 1,400 people, including women and children. Nor did she mention Israel's continuous shelling of Gaza, which in July 2010 caused three civilian deaths and scores of injuries. Might the relief of the people of Gaza from Israeli siege and attack have been justifiably cited as a possible motivation for those on board the ships?
The programme makes a mockery of itself when describing the ‘weaponry' used by either side:
The activists are described as having bars, hoses, one chain, stones, junk and chairs.
There are no details about the number of Israeli soldiers, helicopters and warships used.
However, Jane Corbin states that the commandoes were armed with ‘non-lethal weapons. However, each man carried a pistol'. In BBC language, is a pistol really a ‘non-lethal' weapon?
She doesn't feel the need to point out that the activists were armed with non-lethal weapons, and, in addition, were not carrying pistols.
There are constant comments by the Israeli soldiers that they thought the activists wanted to ‘finish us off' and ‘kill us all'. Apart from the obvious point, again not examined, that this would be impossible with chairs and junk, it was once more assumed by the BBC that the activists were the aggressors while Israeli commandoes only fired in self-defence, despite the fact they had boarded the ship in international waters - surely an attack and act of aggression in itself?
Jane Corbin talks about IHH recruiting ‘fellow Islamists' to join them on board and states that the organisation's headquarters are in the ‘most Islamic area of Istanbul'
What is the relevance of the second comment? Where is her evidence for making it?
Why is she giving the aid flotilla a religious context when it had none? Again, she presents no evidence of the recruitment of ‘fellow Islamists'.
She does not mention that were other boats in the flotilla, from a variety of countries, including Ireland, all of which were violently attacked by Israel despite putting up no resistance. Nor does she state that there were people of many nationalities and different religions on board the Mavi Marmara, including European and US Parliamentarians and dignitaries. They were going to address a humanitarian need.
Other questions to ask:
Why was the Israeli evidence of how and when they killed the activists unquestioned? Activists who were on the top deck of the ship say the first person was killed - shot from a helicopter - before any Israeli had even landed on the deck.
Why were the autopsy reports - which reveal that each victim was shot several times at close range, in a way that can't constitute self-defence - not used, or even mentioned?
Why were there no interviews with any of the British activists on board the ship, or with any of the journalists who were on board?
Why was it not pointed out that the IDF has admitted doctoring the audio footage used in the programme, that the BBC claims was broadcast from the captain's deck?
In fact I agree with all these points.
In addition I was much offended by the juxtaposition which appeared on your website for several days. It seemed to show a bias even before watching the programme.First was a video exhulting in your access to the IDF linked to photographs describing them as “Israel’s elite commandos”. Beneath this a video captioned Activist sought martyrdom. As I said in my earlier correspondence such a misunderstanding of the concept of witness could be commited only by someone entirely ignorant of any religion or maral philosophy and is a shameful traducing of the dead. Did you not realise how biased this would look?
Well I could say much more but I will leave it at that.
Other letters have made very good points.
I've written to you twice before, on 26/8/10 and 29/8/10 to complain about the BBC programme 'Panorama- Death in the Med', aired on Monday 16th August. Here I'm writing to complain some more about the same programme.
BBC guidelines say output must 'avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects.' Presenter Jane Corbin said "On the Mavi Marmara that night at least one man openly boasted he'd be prepared to die as a shaheed, a martyr". Corbin saying this man "boasted" is biased, when she didn't say "boasted" about any Israelis. The programme showed footage of Giora Eiland saying "The results are surprisingly low". Corbin asked "The deaths are surprisingly low?" Eiland- "Yes". It was biased for Corbin not to state something along the lines of "At least one Israeli military man has boasted that the numbers the IDF shot dead on the Mavi Marmara was low", when she used the word "boasted" about a Mavi Marmara passenger. The programme doesn't even mention that the IDF shot anyone dead.
BBC guidelines state 'Our output must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language'. Also 'we must ensure bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects'. And 'Our journalists may provide professional judgements but may not express personal opinions on matters of political controversy'. The quote here breaks all three guidelines: "They called it operation Sea Breeze, but what these Israeli naval commandos encountered on the Mavi Marmara was anything but a breeze. It caused a storm of international condemnation". What the Israeli naval commandos encountered did not cause a storm of international condemnation. Israeli naval commandos shooting dead nine people caused a storm of international condemnation. Corbin's statement cannot be considered a slip of the tongue, when she also makes this statement in the same programme: "The Mavi Marmara didn't break the blockade of Gaza, but it did spark international outrage". Again, the Mavi Marmara didn't spark international outrage. Israeli soldiers shooting dead nine people sparked international outrage. Corbin is lying here, telling falsehoods to be biased. The makers of the programme tried to re-write history- No mention of IDF soldiers shooting nine people dead and a false claim that what the soldiers encountered "caused a storm of international condemnation" and another false claim that the Mavi Marmara "did spark international outrage". The only two mentions of international reactions are falsehoods and the real reason for the international reaction- Israeli soldiers shooting dead nine people, is not mentioned.
I am writing to complain about the BBC's editorial guidelines being breached seriously and specifically, on several occasions in 'Panorama- Death in the med' aired on Monday 16th August 2010.
The guidelines state- 'We must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects'. In the programme, presenter Jane Corbin talks about Gaza- "militants have fired thousands of rockets at civilian targets". She did not mention that the Israeli army has killed hundreds of civilians in Gaza. As the rockets fired from Gaza have killed under 30 civilians and the Israeli army has killed hundreds of civilians in Gaza, it was biased and an imbalance of views for Corbin to mention rockets fired from Gaza and not mention the Israeli army killing Gaza civilians.
The guidelines state- 'Our output must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language'. The programme has audio, supposedly from the Mavi Marmara, supposedly responding to the Israeli army ship, with offensive references to "Auschwitz" and "9/11". The authenticity of this recording is disputed, yet Corbin states "For the Israeli's it was a warning sign things wouldn't go that smoothly". This is stating implicitly that the recording came from the Mavi Marmara, when it might not have.
The guidelines state- 'We must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects'. Jane Corbin asked "Did Israel fall into a trap?" regarding the Mavi Marmara situation. This is an unbalanced question. Why did she ask this and not "Did the Mavi Marmara activists fall into a trap?" They were the group that had nine people killed by the Israeli army. The Israeli army had no loss of life, killed nine and the BBC presenter asked if Israel fell into a trap. That was biased reporting from Corbin.
The guidelines state- 'Our journalists and presenters may provide professional judgements but may not express personal opinions on matters of political controversy.' Jane Corbin states "At the end of the day the bid to break the naval blockade wasn't really about bringing aid to Gaza." That is not the case, as the Mavi Marmara was loaded with aid. Corbin's opinion is personal and politically controversial.
The guidelines state- 'Our journalists and presenters may provide professional judgements but may not express personal opinions on matters of political controversy.' Jane Corbin states "The flotilla achieved it's aim". That is not the case, the aim was to bring aid to Gaza with no loss of life. Corbin's opinion is personal and politically controversial.
I previously e-mailed you on 26/8/10 to complain about the BBC's editorial guidelines being seriously and specifically breached in 'Panorama- Death in the Med', aired on Monday 16th August. I'm writing here to add more complaints about the same programme, 'Panorama- Death in the Med' where the BBC's editorial guidelines were seriously and specifically breached.
The guidelines state- 'We must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects'. The programme does not mention how the nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara died. The activists were shot dead by IDF soldiers and the programme was called 'Death in the Med', it was biased to not report how the nine people died. In the same programme, presenter Jane Corbin says of an IDF soldier "He didn't know if he was a hostage". So while the details of the nine activist deaths were not reported, the BBC presenter Corbin speaks of an imaginary, invented projection of something that didn't happen to an IDF soldier.
The guidelines state- 'Our output must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language'. Presenter Jane Corbin states- "The Mavi Marmara didn't break the blockade of Gaza, but it did spark international outrage". This is false, as Corbin surely knew. The international outrage was sparked by IDF soldiers shooting dead nine passengers of the Mavi Marmara, which the programme didn't mention. The international outrage was not sparked by the Mavi Marmara as Corbin states.
And there's plenty more sent or to be sent.
Labels: panorama complaint of bias