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Media Analyses





EYE ON THE MEDIA: The BBC Goes to War


In the global effort to promote themselves as innocent victims of heartless Israeli aggression, the Palestinians have no more stalwart champion and cheerleader than the BBC.

The BBC's World Service, beamed around the globe on radio to 151 million listeners each week, delivers the commentary of reporters who regularly ignore, distort, and invert the facts about the six-month mini-war launched by the Palestinian Authority in September, 2000. They assail and bait Israelis who attempt to describe the war. They devote lengthy programs to up-close-and-personal interviews with Palestinian fishermen, children, mothers, and medical specialists who paint a one-sided picture of grievance and outrage against Israel, obscuring the singular role of the PA in initiating and sustaining the violence with Palestinian militias, guns, and explosives. So extreme is the agenda casting Israel as the cruel, responsible party that when a Palestinian human rights campaigner - not an Israeli - blamed the Palestinians for shooting at Israelis, BBC reporter Claire Bolderson became irate. In a December 12 interview, Bassem Eid urged a cessation of shooting and a return to the peace process. Bolderson scolded Eid:

The Palestinian people are the people who are rising up against what they see as the Israeli occupation, the brutality of the Israelis. Are you saying they just shouldn't do that at all - that they should be just completely peaceful and quiet?

Eid, a man well aware of the suffering of his people and often harshly critical of Israel, replied that Palestinian violence was counterproductive. He said the signed agreements with Israel were to "end the conflict" via a process of talks, not shooting.

Impatient, Bolderson waved this away, saying:

But aren't we just seeing a spontaneous uprising of the people who are frustrated with the process, with the fact that the peace process hasn't moved forward? Are you saying that they should keep their frustrations bottled up, that they shouldn't take to the streets?

This was on December 12 when, of course, it had long been obvious that the violence was not "spontaneous" but ordained and orchestrated by the PA.

BBC's Judy Swallow was far less annoyed with Palestinian official Saeb Erakat in a March 9th segment. Erakat stuck to the familiar script, hurling the standard charges at Israel and its officials and counseling nothing so unsettling as a Palestinian cessation of violence. While Swallow treated Erakat courteously and - in keeping with the BBC lexicon - spoke respectfully of Palestinians who stone, shoot, and bomb non-combatant Israeli men, women, and children, her manner changed abruptly when she then interviewed Israeli Knesset member Yuval Steinitz.

Swallow interrupted almost immediately after Steinitz deplored the "hypocrisy" of Erakat's faulting Israel for the suffering of his people while the PA continued to initiate violent attacks requiring Israeli response. When Steinitz said Israeli cities were suffering a wave of car bombs, Swallow broke in, demanding:

Dr. Steinitz, Dr. Steinitz. How is it that you make as a precondition of any talks - and we've had this question several times before - you say the Palestinians must end the violence. You know yourself that you were never capable of ending the violence. You couldn't contain Hamas, Islamic Jihad. If an army the size of Israel's cannot stop that violence how do you expect the small Palestinian Authority to do so?

Steinitz began to reply that most of the recent violence was, in fact, not initiated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but Swallow interrupted yet again: "They usually claim responsibility!" He persevered, noting that 70 percent of terrorist activity in Israel in the past six months was traceable to groups associated with Yasser Arafat and only 20-30 percent was linked to Hamas. Swallow was disdainful, lecturing him again on his governments policy:

But you will accept surely, Dr. Steinitz, that if you hold out and say there must be complete peace in the territories, there must be no more attacks by Palestinians on Israelis. If those are your conditions - preconditions for peace talks - those talks will never get started, will they?

Nothing incensed the BBC reporter quite as much as Steinitz's reply here. He reminded her that desisting from violence was the condition set by "Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat seven years ago." She interrupted again, in a raised voice: "Rabin accepted a certain level of violence!" "No," the Israeli responded. "Both leaders agreed on the White House lawn... that the most fundamental commitment of both sides is to put an end to the armed conflict and to settle any differences... through negotiation."

What had so riled Swallow? The mild-mannered Steinitz had challenged a Palestinian official and affirmed Israel's refusal to negotiate under the deliberate, murderous fire of Arafat's gunmen; he had rejected Swallow's fatuous excuses for Palestinian violence and her nonchalant suggestion that Israelis should accept "a certain level of violence."

Nor was the interview with Erakat and Steinitz unusual in reflecting Swallow's unabashed advocacy of the Palestinian cause. Hosting "The Connection," National Public Radio's syndicated talk-show on March 15, she cozily interviewed the far-Left "human rights" lawyer, Allegra Pacheco. Unfazed by Pacheco's campaign to dismantle Israel as a Jewish state and to enable the "return" of millions of Palestinians to live in Israel, Swallow compared Israel to a "battered child" who "goes on to abuse."

Abandoning any pretense of neutrality, she asked Pacheco whether the "historical injustice" to the Palestinians began "in 1967 when Israel overran the territories" or "in 1948," or whether it goes "right back to the Balfour Declaration." BBC's familiar supercilious tone is no more than a stylistic issue, but its substantive distortions, misrepresentations, and blatant anti-Israel bias seriously violate the norms of journalism and the high standards which the network purports to espouse.

 

Appeared in the Jerusalem Post on this date.



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