Last year, an independent panel was commissioned by the BBC Board of Governors to review whether the network’s coverage of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict was impartial. The panel concluded there was no systematic or deliberate bias on the part of the network, but that the BBC does not consistently give a full and fair account of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Nowhere is this shortcoming more evident than in BBC’s reporting on the latest Middle East crisis in Israel, Lebanon and Gaza. Even while Israeli cities are being bombarded by Katyushas, Kassams, Fajr’s and other weaponry deployed by Hizballah and Hamas, the BBC Web site is replete with articles devoted exclusively to Israel’s military operations in Lebanon and Gaza, and the preponderance of photos, graphics and human interest stories present the toll of these operations on Lebanese and Gazan residents. By contrast, attacks against Israel are mentioned only in the odd news story which also includes discussion of Israeli counter-attacks.
The human dimension of the Hamas/Israel and Hizballah/Israel wars are depicted only in terms of Arab — not Israeli — victims. For example, the following behind-the-scenes, human interest stories appeared on July 17 on BBC’s Middle East Web pages as background to the Middle East conflict:
There was nothing at all about the toll on Israel’s residents under attack in their cities by Arab missiles and rockets.
Similarly, World Service News Hour on the morning of July 17, 2006 opened with a news report on Israel’s “relentless bombardment of Lebanon” and an accounting of its victims. There were sound bites from the mayor of the Lebanese city of Sidon and from Kofi Annan, but the Hizballah missile attack on an apartment in the middle of Haifa, one of Israel’s largest cities, was mentioned only in passing.
This was followed by a live report from Roger Heering in Beirut about the atmosphere in the city, a discussion with the Lebanese health minister Mohammed Khalifah.who blamed Israel’s imprisonment of Arabs as the reason for Hizballah “resistance,” and an interview with a man identified as Hussein fleeing the areas of the bombings.
The next segment featured a report from BBC correspondent Jim Muir as he travelled south of Beirut discussing the situation of the people in that area, their anger at Israel and support for Hizballah. The program then moved to an interview with Sidon mayor Abdel‑Rahman Bizri who condemned Israel and the U.S. and expressed admiration for Hizballah’s “resistance.” describing the terrorist group as “heroes.” This was followed by an expression of gratitude by the Syrian information minister, Muhsen Bilal, for the friendship and support of the visiting Iranian foreign minister. BBC News Hour next moved to correspondent Heba Salih from a news conference in Damascus by the Iranian foreign minister.
There were no interviews or live reports from Haifa or any Israeli area, no interviews with Israelis holed up in bomb shelters or fleeing the missiles, and no interviews with any Israeli government representatives.
As for analysis, host Claire Bolderson interviewed Mouin Rabani of a Jordanian NGO, the International Crisis Group, about the proposal of sending UN troops to stabilize the area. Rabani voiced a pro-Arab perspective critical of Israel and the U.S. Exonerating the Lebanese government from its failure to extend authority to the Israeli-Lebanese border and disarm Hizballah (as per UN Resolution 1559), Rabani emphasized the need to prevent “Israeli invasions into Lebanese airspace.” He criticized the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for allowing Israel to respond to Hamas and Hizballah attacks (what he called “the wholesale destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip”) and for her interpretation of the underlying causes of this conflict.” There were no interviews with anyone sympathetic to Israeli or U.S. positions.
In fact, the only Israeli viewpoint heard in the broadcast was in a “dialogue” with a Lebanese representative. The Israeli, Charles Hurvitz, was introduced as a resident of a village near Haifa, “one of the cities that’s been hit by Hizballah rockets,” while the Lebanese, Diana Mukhaled, was identified as a resident of Beirut, “a city that’s been under attack by the Israeli air force since last Thursday.” (It is noteworthy that this reference to Hizballah attacks on Israel—one of the very few within the hour-long news show—is delivered in passive language. This is in striking contrast to the active language used to describe Israel’s military offensive in Beirut.) And while this is supposed to be a dialogue, with both parties giving their perspectives, the Lebanese resident is the one who begins as well as the one who concludes, and is given at least triple the amount of time the Israeli is to make her points.
BBC’s reporting on the latest Middle East conflict typifies the lack of full and fair context mentioned by the independent panel’s report.
1)The focus and emphasis is on Israeli military actions in Lebanon and Gaza while attacks against Israel are mentioned only fleetingly and in passive language.
2) There are no interviews or human interest stories examining Israel’s toll in a conflict started by Hamas and Hizballah.
3) There are no live reports from Israel, but there are several from Lebanon.
4) The Israeli perspective is allowed to be drowned out by the Arab perspective both in the disproportionate number of anti-Israel speakers and the time allotted to each.