It is accepted practice that journalists keep a certain
distance when interviewing subjects for a news story. Listeners expect
newscasters to remain neutral and unemotional. Not so, however, at the BBC.
Interviewers for the British network regularly hector Israeli representatives
while allowing Palestinian speakers to broadcast their messages unchallenged.
And often BBC broadcasters use interviews as opportunities to air their own
negative opinions about Israels policies.
This was the case recently with BBC World Services
Julian Marshall who interviewed Israels Deputy Prime Minister and former
Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert on September 14, 2003, about his statement that
Israel would consider killing Arafat.
Marshall approached the interview like a teacher
disciplining a wayward student who has misspoken. Citing U.S. Secretary of
State Colin Powells deploring of Israels stated option of removing
Arafat, he introduced the interview as follows:
BBC - MARSHALL:
Have Mr. Powells words given Ehud Olmert any cause to reflect upon what
OLMERT: No, I think that this
is a question that must be considered. We didnt talk in any definite
terms about the timing, but this is an option which must be seriously
considered. I think that it is widely recognized now that Yasir Arafat is
personally responsible for the downfall of a more moderate government which was
destined to campaign against terror. And because of this, it was brought down
by Yasir Arafat. He was responsible for inspiring and encouraging the continued
suicidal attacks against the State of Israel which started this time in both
placesfrom Ramallah where he sits. He is the main obstacle for a serious
new direction for the political process in the Middle East.
Marshall could not restrain his hostility in imputing
broader, ulterior motives to the Israeli leaders statement. The
Are you trying to
provoke the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert?
Not at all. Do you
really seriously think an Israeli reaction after the repeated killings of so
many innocent people is a provocation? Dont you understand the impact of
what is happening in our part of the world? Do you think that this is a game
for us? Do you know that as mayor of the city of Jerusalem, I had to go to more
than 50 sites of suicidal attacks in my city in the last 10 years seeing the
pieces of bodies that were torn apart by people that were inspired and most
times financed by Yasir Arafat?
Marshall came to Arafats defense, snidely challenging
only assume that - that Mr. Arafat is the architect of all this
OLMERT: No, I dont assume
that. What I say is established on very good evidence, on intelligence that we
BBC-MARSHALL: And killing Mr.
Arafat would bring that terror to an end, would it?
OLMERT: What I said is that the
elimination of Mr. Arafat is no different from the elimination of any other
head of a terrorist gang. And I dont know that there is any dispute in
the Western world about the right to take such measures in order to stop
terror. I think that this is precisely what other nations are doing, including
Great Britain together with America in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan against
Marshall did not stop there. He continued to champion Yasir
Arafat as a head of state while expressing contempt not only for the Israeli
leader but for the Israeli state as well.
MARSHALL: Do you
think it is appropriate though as the deputy Prime Minister of a country that
considers itself to be one of the few if not the only democracies
in the Middle East, you should be advocating the assassination, the
killing of a man who is effectively a head of state?
OLMERT: There are three major
errors which I am sure youve made innocently. Number one, we dont
consider ourselves to be a democracy. We are a democracy, no less
than Great Britain. The second thing is that Yasir Arafat is not a head of
state. There is no Palestinian state, he was not elected as a head of state,
and he is considered by a large part of the Western world to be at terrorist.
And thats why the President of the United States and the American
administration, for instance, decided that he is entirely irrelevant.
MARSHALL: But the European
Union, a collection of Western democracies, do not hold that view of Mr.
Arafat. They continue to have dealings with him.
OLMERT: They also didnt
hold this position probably about Saddam Hussein. Does it make Saddam Hussein
any better a person? A more moral person? Any less of a murderer than he was?
So there are sometimes disputes. The difference between you and us is that
thank God for you, you dont have to suffer from the consequences of what
Arafat is doing and we have to bear the consequences of what he does in the
streets of our cities. And if Yasir Arafat is responsible for it, he has to be
held responsible for it.
MARSHALL: But if the
Palestinians were to follow your logic and to look upon Ariel Sharon as an
obstacle to peace, why shouldnt they therefore go down that road of
wanting to remove him?
OLMERT: Do you think that had
they been able to, they wouldnt have done it already? Do you think that
they didnt try to do it? Do you think that they didnt send
terrorist groups in order to try and perpetrate precisely this against
him, against myself, against others in the Israeli government? Did they not
kill an Israeli cabinet minister?
There is no such sneering, sarcastic questioning of
Palestinian leaders. On September 16, 2003, Marshall questioned Yasir
Arafats security advisor, Jibril Rajoub about his conditional truce offer
toward Israel. Rajoub never explained exactly how the Palestinian Authority,
refusing to disarm or dismantle terrorist groups, would enforce a halt to
violence by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade -- the very
groups that carried out terrorist attacks during the previous truce. Marshall
questioned Rajoub gently, allowing him to convey his message that Israel was to
blame for the situation in the Middle East, and that the ceasefire was
dependent only on Israels willingness to reciprocate.
Despite the recent breakdown of the hudna, or temporary cessation of
hostilities declared by Palestinian militant groups, Mr. Arafat believes that a
general ceasefire with Israel is still possible if Israel reciprocates. The
proposal was made public by Mr. Arafats security advisor,
Brigadier-General Jibril Rajoub.
RAJOUB: According to my own
experience, I think that the only way, the right way is to have a ceasefire
declared by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government in which there
will be mutual understanding and mutual listening. Reciprocity should be the
principle of implementation of the ceasefire from both sides and toward both
BBC - MARSHALL: But you are
attaching a number of conditions to the ceasefire in terms of Israel.
RAJOUB: Ceasefire means
ceasefire. It means that all kind of attacks from both sides should stop.
Israelis cannot only ask the Palestinians to stop shooting on them. They keep
on confiscating land, building settlements, keeping on the policy of
assassination, closure and curfews. Everybody should know that those are the
direct reasons for the tension and confrontation and reaction.
BBC - MARSHALL: But on your
side, can you deliver a ceasefire? Can you get Hamas and Islamic Jihad to stop
their attacks against Israel?
RAJOUB: We have the
capabilities, we have the determination, we have the interest, we have the
motivation. As soon as the Israelis accept a ceasefire, reciprocity from both
sides, I am pretty sure that the Palestinian side will implement its part of
such a package deal.
MARSHALL: Does this also have
the support of the new, incoming Palestinian government, the new, incoming
Palestinian Prime Minister?
RAJOUB: Listen, it will be the
responsibility of the incoming cabinet to discuss, to follow-up, to negotiate,
to talk with everybody in order to have a ceasefire. Im pretty sure
according to my own experience and according to the logic that this is the only
way to assure security and to get out of this cycle of violence and the
MARSHALL: Why this particular
initiative and at this time? Is it because Yasir Arafat is threatened with
expulsion, is threatened with possible assassination?
RAJOUB: Listen, this did not
come as an initiative. It came through our understanding to the whole
situation. ..For Yasir Arafat, everybody knows that Yasir Arafat is a fatalist
and I dont think that he is worried about his life or about anything
else, because everybody should know that touching Yasir Arafat either by
killing him or expelling him, it will lead to a catastrophe to the Israelis as
to the Palestinians.
Listeners should demand that broadcasters maintain a neutral
during all interviews. As long as BBC continues to allow its
correspondents to express contempt for some of the people they interview, it
cannot be considered a fair, objective or reliable news source.