This piece began life as an article on the topic of Gaza, but after staring at my screen for 20 minutes, my face as blank as the Microsoft Word document in front of me, it evolved into something else.
Trawling through the internet, reading article after article about the missile strikes on UN buildings, the deliberate targeting of children playing football on the beach, and the deaths of 25 members of the same family, it has left me feeling both numb and redundant.
For the last three weeks I have been following the tragic developments of the situation in Gaza, and I have been watching as the events have been interpreted and manipulated by the various news agencies.
In my youth there were many things that I accepted unquestionably, the existence of Santa, the fact Robbie Fowler was truly God, and that if I did cross my eyes, and the wind changed, I would be stuck like that. I also believed in the news. I believed in the news because I took it at face value. Like that notorious woodcare product, I trusted that it did exactly what it said on the tin.
As I grew older and the naivety became cynicism, I realised that not everything was what it claimed to be. The tooth fairy was murdered by knowledge, the carrots that helped me to see in the dark were exposed as frauds, and MySpace profile pictures were found to be less than accurate representations of people’s faces.
The same is true for news. It would be much simpler, and much easier, if news outlets told you the truth. If they just presented you with objective fact, like an overweight moggy presenting you with a gift in the form of a semi-conscious rodent. That is not how the world works though. For if the news truly told you the truth, there would not need to be so many news outlets. Surely just the one would suffice.
The BBC has long been a bastion of objectivity in a media world full of hyperbole and gossip. It was once widely regarded as one of the best news outlets on the planet. Fox looked on in envy, Rupert Murdoch attempted to topple it, and Channel 5 paid no attention at all, preferring instead to run such essential TV as the reality show, The Farm.
Times though, have changed. For all its sporting analysis, soaps and historical dramas, the BBC has lost its sheen. Nowhere is this more apparent than on its reporting on Palestine.
As a news outlet that prides itself on being one of the best in the world, it is vital that the BBC have access to the latest top news and stories. Nothing kills a reputation like being starved of information and interviews, and both Israel and the BBC know this.
Though Israel cannot censor foreign reporters and journalists, it has other weapons in its arsenal. The British press cannot be gagged, but they can certainly be threatened, blackmailed and banned from reporting at all. These are the choice methods used by Israel to get media outlets telling the “right” stories.
In late 2001 Israel lobbied against the BBC to ban Faisal Bodi from reporting on Middle Eastern affairs as they felt he was giving an anti-Israel opinion. The BBC gave in to those demands and Bodi was pulled from The World Tonight.
In 2002 Israel imposed “severe restrictions” on international press during an offensive on the West Bank. As well as this, the Israeli military actively engaged foreign reporters. Four Turkish journalists were arrested; BBC, French and Swedish crew came under fire; a Washington-based reporter and a Palestinian cameraman were both shot and wounded; and an Italian freelancer named Raffaele Ciriello was killed by Israeli gunfire.
In 2003 Israel cut links with the BBC because of a documentary that was to be aired based on Israel’s nuclear and chemical weapons programme. The Israeli government released a statement saying: “The way the BBC is trying to portray Israel competes with the worst of Nazi propaganda“.
In 2004 a BBC reporter was barred from entering the country after he published an interview without it going through Israeli censors beforehand.
In 2005 Israel expelled a senior BBC journalist, again over censorship laws.
The attacks on BBC personnel seemed to work. Stories with a pro-Palestinian stance became less and less common, and the BBC even began its own internal censorship and bias.
As early as 2004, Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC Middle East correspondent himself, wrote that BBC’s coverage allowed an Israeli point of view to dominate. This claim was supported by research conducted by the Glasgow Media Group.
In 2009 more than 11,000 complaints were issued in three days after the BBC refused to run a television appeal on behalf of an aid agency working in Gaza. Two years later, in 2011 the BBC made the unquestionably biased decision to censor the word “Palestine” in a song on BBC Radio 1Xtra.
The following year, in 2012, the BBC faced protests as they ignored a four week mass hunger strike by around 2000 Palestinian prisoners. Despite giving substantial air time to other hunger strikers at the time, “possibly the biggest [hunger strike] in modern history, received minimal coverage on BBC Online and, until its final few days, none on BBC television and radio news.”
That is the background to the situation the BBC now finds itself in. With Al Jazeera, RT and even Channel 4, with the excellent Jon Snow, all giving more accurate coverage than the BBC, is it any wonder that people are beginning to see that it has become little more than a pro-Zionist mouthpiece.
Israeli soldiers capture “prisoners”, whilst those taken by the opposition are “hostages”. Israeli civilians and military personnel are “killed”, as Palestinians are said to have “died”. The events in Gaza, which have resulted in over 1000 deaths, 80% of which have been civilian, are labelled a “military operation” rather than the more accurate term, massacre.
To typify the attitude the BBC has towards this issue is a headline I saw recently that stated: “Shellfire kills 15 in Gaza school”. The use of those words are no accident, the framing of such an event, in that manner of speaking, would make even Herr Goebbels proud. “Shellfire” caused the deaths of these 15 people, it was not the weapon that launched the shell, nor the person who gave the order, and not the state who hires the personnel to fight in their military.
It is an utterly ludicrous headline, on par with “Bullets kill 7 in US High School”. Such a headline would simply never be written, so why in the case of Gaza is it so? As much as the BBC would like to sugar-coat the truth, the fact is that an Israeli shell hit a UN shelter, and this resulted in the deaths of 15 innocent civilians.
That truth is too hard-hitting though it seems. Not wanting to face what would be the inevitable cries of anti-Semitism, and unable to distinguish between the interests of Israel, and objective journalism, the BBC has muzzled itself, and in turn has lost both its bark and its bite.