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Media Analyses





EYE ON THE MEDIA: Return of the British Mandate


Rarely has the BBC's mandate that its "aims and priorities" must agree with those of its funder, the British Foreign Office, seemed more blatantly to shape the network's Middle East reporting than in an October 31 World Service radio segment on Syria, Israel, and the Palestinians.

In the wake of the unprecedented visit of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Syria, the BBC breathlessly recounted their leader's joint press conference with Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Correspondent Frank Gardner declared that it was very important for Blair to be seen standing "side by side with a hardline Arab ruler like President Bashar el-Assad and hearing his words of support." Gardner said, "This is going to make an enormous difference to the rank and file of Arab opinion." Declaring that Blair and Assad "got on extremely well," the reporter added that the meeting was "useful for Syria because this is, or has been, a pariah state. It's still pretty much out on a limb because it refuses to make peace on Israel's terms." Which of Israel's apparently tough "terms" was keeping Syria out on a limb was unclear.

Israel reportedly offered to surrender all the Golan Heights and additional territory almost to the edge of the Sea of Galilee, but declined to hand over its main water source to its hostile neighbor. Was this what aggrieved the BBC?

For more on the Syria-Britain meeting, BBC then turned to pro-Syria propagandist Patrick Seale, blandly introducing him as "an expert on Syria."

Not everyone, in fact, considers him an "expert." In a review of a Seale biography of Hafez al-Assad, author and Syria specialist Daniel Pipes wrote: "Seale obsequiously repeats every lie put out by the hacks in Damascus, accepting even the claim that Nizar al-Hindawi, the man who tried to blow up an El Al plane in 1986, was a double agent controlled by Israel." Another Seale book entitled Abu Nidal: A Gun For Hire argued that Israel was behind the activities of Palestinian arch-terrorist Abu Nidal.

Nevertheless, Seale was heard at length, parroting Syrian views, including the claim that there is "a very, very clear distinction between resistance to Israeli occupation and the sort of terrorism which Britain and America are now talking about." That is, blowing up Israeli civilians is acceptable "resistance," but attacks on American and British civilians are off limits.

BBC then turned to Israel's missile attack that day which killed Jamil Jadallah. According to Israel, Jadallah was a Hamas figure responsible for bombings at Tel Aviv's Dolphinarium nightclub where 21 were murdered, Jerusalem's Sbarro pizzeria where 15 were murdered, Nahariya's train station where three were murdered and Netanya's Sharon mall where five were murdered.

Program host Alex Brodie introduced the story saying: "Today Israel has attacked and killed a Hamas activist in Hebron. He is said to have killed two Jewish settlers."

BBC's reporter in Jerusalem Stephen Gibbs continued, describing the action: "In Hebron, we saw very much this military process continuing. I mean a blatant targeted killing." Then, in unwitting testimony to the effectiveness of the "blatant targeted killing" in eliminating a known mass-murderer without injury to innocent bystanders, Gibbs reported:

An Israeli Apache helicopter launched what witnesses say was one single missile which made a direct hit on this man, Jamil Jadallah, who is a known militant and leader of Hamas. He obviously died instantly and the Israeli army regard that as mission accomplished.

Gibbs was indignant about other Israeli action, including the reentry of the military into Palestinian towns on the West Bank in response to broadly intensified violence against Israelis and the assassination of an Israeli minister.

Without the slightest indication that Israel is legally entitled under Oslo to enter Area A, retaining "responsibility... for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order," the BBC reporter declaimed: "The Israeli army - the Israeli troops - are right there, really completely inside Area A, causing great difficulty for the Palestinians and great frustration for the international community."

To emphasize the "great difficulty" experienced by the Arabs, BBC then presented a long interview with a Bethlehem teenager from a prosperous Palestinian family who described how she can no longer "dream of anything" because of Israel and how she supports Hamas suicide bombers.

The conclusion of this broadcast was a conversation with Ha'aretz columnist Danny Ben Simon, a critic of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, in which Alex Brodie and Ben Simon trade thoughts on the odds of ousting the leader.

BBC's World Service is broadcast in America primarily through public radio affiliates, which purchase the programming with a combination of tax dollars and private contributions.

Since the United States government is prohibited by statute from exerting editorial influence over tax payer- funded media, why are those media allowed to circumvent the intent of the law by broadcasting programs - of an extremely biased sort - shaped by a foreign government?

 

Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date



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