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Boycotting the Beeb

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  • Joseph M. Hochstein
    Haaretz, July 1, 2003 Boycotting the Beeb By Sharon Sadeh http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=313189 Israel is cutting working ties with the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2003
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      Haaretz, July 1, 2003
      Boycotting the Beeb
      By Sharon Sadeh

      Israel is cutting working ties with the world's largest
      broadcaster over what it calls `biased and hostile coverage.'
      LONDON - Israel joined Zimbabwe last weekend as one of two
      countries boycotting the BBC. The move was taken in protest of
      the "biased and hostile coverage policy," as Danny Seaman, the
      head of the Government Press Office in Jerusalem put it. Although
      Israel has not gone so far as to expel journalists, as did
      Zimbabwe, "A decision to expel all BBC correspondents has not
      been ruled out," Seaman says. At this stage, Israel is making do
      with measures designed to make life more difficult for the
      world's largest television and radio news broadcaster.

      Official government spokesmen will not grant interviews, press
      credentials will be issued sparingly, the authorities will not
      assist the network's crews in crossing into the territories, and
      there will be meticulous enforcement of the issuance of work

      Israel's wrath was kindled by last Saturday's rebroadcast of a
      documentary entitled "Israel's Secret Weapon," which is about
      Israel's efforts to develop nonconventional weapons.

      Seaman has frequently clashed with Western media that adopted a
      pro-Palestinian perspective. "The weapons program contains
      ridiculous false assertions," he said. "We had to draw a red line
      rather than just complain about a consistent attitude in which
      successive BBC programs attempt to place us in the same context
      as totalitarian, axis-of-evil countries such as Iraq and Iran."

      `Verging on anti-Semitic'

      "The overall BBC attitude toward Israel is verging on
      anti-Semitic. There is no recognition inside the corporation of
      the sensitivity of a people who have faced attempted
      annihilation," he said.

      In March, when the documentary first aired in Britain, Israel
      chose not to respond. Now, with rebroadcast of the film on BBC
      World, which is aired worldwide, Israel has decided to fight
      back, after a spate of critical programs on Israeli policies.
      "The attitude of the BBC is more than pure journalistic matter;
      it is dangerous to the existence of the State of Israel because
      it demonizes the Israelis and gives our terrorist enemies reasons
      to attack us," said Seaman.

      The decision by the government's public relations forum to cut
      off working relations with the BBC is another step in the battle
      between Israel and the British corporation. In April, Israeli
      cable TV companies decided to no longer carry BBC World,
      ostensibly due to a financial disagreement, although it was
      hinted that political considerations were behind the decision.
      The channel continued to be received in Israel on the Yes
      satellite network, and after a while, the cable broadcasts were

      Media industry sources in Britain are not certain that
      boycotting the network is such a wise move for Israel. "BBC is an
      exceptionally influential news broadcaster, especially within the
      UK; roughly half of the population is regularly tuned in to the
      BBC programs," says a British journalist, who asked to remain
      unnamed. At the network's headquarters, Seaman's decision was
      received indifferently. "We regret that Israel felt the need to
      take this action, but we stand behind the veracity of the film,"
      says the director of news, Richard Sambrook (the number two
      executive at BBC, below director general Greg Dyke.) However,
      last night a BBC spokesman insisted that the BBC has not received
      any official announcement from the Israeli government and from
      their point of view nothing had changed.

      Israel is not alone in its criticism. British solicitor Trevor
      Asserson, a partner in an international law firm, set up the Web
      site BBCWatch.com last year, on which he has issued reports on
      BBC coverage of the Middle East. "The BBC has a legal obligation
      to report news in an accurate and impartial way. We found
      numerous significant breaches of these obligations," says
      Asserson, who is Jewish. Among the violations documented in his
      first two reports includes the broadcast of a profile of Yasser
      Arafat in July 2002. "The program opens by describing Arafat
      variously as a `hero,' `an icon,' having `charisma and style' and
      being `the stuff of legends.'"

      Additional breaches included "unjustified discrimination in the
      use of language; omissions of material events, facts and
      viewpoints; misleading use of pictures; and the improper
      inclusion of journalists' personal comments hostile to Israel and
      the Israeli government."

      Two weeks ago, Asserson released a new report in which he
      compared coverage of the war in Iraq, which featured occupation
      of a foreign population, suicide attacks against soldiers of the
      American-British coalition and the assassination of high-ranking
      Iraqi officials, with that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
      and actions taken by the IDF. He claims to have discerned a
      blatant contrast between the reports. "Coalition troops are
      described in warm and glowing terms, with sympathy being evoked
      both for them as individuals and also for their military
      predicament. By contrast Israeli troops are painted as faceless
      ruthless and brutal killers with no or little understanding shown
      for their actions," Asserson writes in the report.

      Asserson's actions were at first met with laconic diffidence by
      the network. In response to his first report, which appeared in
      March 2002, Sambrook dispatched a terse letter six weeks later,
      in which he refuted the allegations and stated that the coverage
      of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was balanced, and that "not
      every news piece can be a history lesson." The BBC believed that
      in so doing, the affair was ended, but the reports continued to
      be disseminated around the world through Web sites and groups
      that identify with Israel.

      The Jewish community in Britain went into action, and the
      complaints began to pile up on the desk of the BBC executive
      board. The Board of Deputies also made a formal complaint to the
      BBC in early June regarding the profile of Israel which appears
      on the BBC Web site. Israel's profile, the BOD argues, is
      partial, inaccurate and misleading. It implies that the failure
      to reach a peaceful settlement in the Middle East lies solely
      with Israel; there are references to [Prime Minister Ariel]
      Sharon's wealth and housing purchases, and he is also accused of
      sparking of the second intifada [despite Palestinian officials
      admitting that the intifada was planned ahead of Sharon's

      What is a terrorist?

      Sambrook appointed a special team to study Asserson's reports
      and respond to their findings. When the inquiry was complete,
      Asserson received a detailed report, the bottom line of which was
      that the network is careful to balance its coverage, and that it
      meets the criteria set forth in its charter. Sambrook was
      especially infuriated by the allegation that the network makes
      discriminatory use of the term "terror organizations." For
      instance, Hamas is described as a "militant" organization, in
      disregard of the descriptions of the U.S. and British

      "We are unaware of any law compelling journalists to describe
      particular people as terrorists; and we do not believe there is
      any agreed international definition of what constitutes a
      terrorist group - and certainly none that gets round the
      pejorative charge the word carries - which is what makes it so
      difficult a word for the BBC, which seeks neutral precision in
      its language," wrote Sambrook.

      "As a result of the BBC becoming a global broadcaster, a policy
      developed for our international journalism, is now increasingly
      applicable to our domestic journalism. This suggests that we
      should become less rather than more ready to label particular
      people as "terrorists." We have to decide on our own use of
      language according to our own principles. It would be wrong for
      us to allow the terminology we use to be determined by the legal
      definitions adopted by some states. We prefer to use neutral
      language where the political legitimacy of particular actions is
      hotly contested."

      Asserson's response: "This is an astonishing statement. The
      `some states' to which he refers is the UK, whose citizens pay
      for the BBC and whose legislature grants it life and sets its
      rules. What Sambrook appears to suggest is that the blowing up of
      teenagers in a disco, of old age pensioners at a religious
      service, of school children on a school bus, or kids at a pizza
      bar - these are actions which could have `political legitimacy.'
      In other countries they are described as terrorist acts."
      Nevertheless, Asserson does not share Daniel Seaman's view that
      the BBC is "verging on" anti-Semitsm. "The anti-Israeli bias is
      definitely not anti-Semitic. It stems probably from a distorted
      liberal post modernist view. The BBC staff comes largely from
      leftist middle class background; they are usually critical of
      nationalistic governments, like those of Israel and the U.S., and
      instinctively opposed to institutions and those that, in their
      view, dispossess the weak and the oppressed."

      Diplomatic sources in London note that at other times the BBC
      would have responded more heatedly toward Israel, However, BBC
      management is currently engaged in a battle for survival with the
      British government, which has accused it of hostile and specious
      coverage of the war in Iraq and the steps that led to it-
      stemming from the BBC's opposition to the war.

      Some of Israel's complaints Israel has lodged complaints on
      several occasions over the past few years to BBC management over
      erroneous or biased reports that it claimed cast Israel in a
      negative light.

      These include:

      l In 2001, the BBC's then chief Jerusalem correspondent Hillary
      Anderson began a report by saying: "Deep underground in Bethlehem
      are the remnants of an atrocity so vile, so far back in history,
      King Herod's slaughter of the innocents" - a comparison that was
      branded a reintroduction of the blood libel, as it created the
      impression that the Jews, who had tried to murder young Jesus,
      were again killing innocent children.

      l On May 6, 2001, Fayad Abu Shamala, the BBC's Arabic service
      Gaza correspondent for the past 10 years, told a Hamas rally in
      Gaza that "journalists and media organizations [are] waging the
      campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian
      people." In response, the BBC issued a statement saying, "Fayad's
      remarks were made in a private capacity."

      l "The Accused", June 2001: This installment of the Panorama
      investigative journalism program named Ariel Sharon as a suitable
      candidate for being placed on trial for crimes against humanity,
      due to his ostensible involvement in the Sabra and Chatila
      massacre. The program disregarded evidence that refutes the
      claim. Shortly afterward, the legal procedure in which Sharon was
      put on trial in Belgium began. Uncharacteristically, the program
      was broadcast by BBC four times over the course of the same week,
      to ensure optimal viewership.

      l "Israel's Secret Weapon": The documentary program compared
      Israel to the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and alluded
      to the fact that a sort of double standard persists in the
      international community regarding Israel's possession of weapons
      of mass destruction. The program also quoted Palestinians who
      accused Israel of using new, mysterious gases against
      Palestinians, without providing any evidence to support that

      The program focused on the role played by Yehiel Horev, the
      supervisor of security for the defense establishment, whose face
      was exposed on the program for the first time. (S.S.)
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