Friday, December 23, 2005

BBC: a leopard cannnot change his spots

The BBC claims to be independent and objective. It needs to in order to continue receiving its subsidy paid from everybody’s TV licence. But in reality it isn’t. However, they know the art of diplomacy. Below is a response I got when complaining that in a programme announcement they referred to the West Bank and Gaza as allegedly occupied territory. I asked them whether that meant that the territory wasn’t really occupied but only seemed to be and whether that was not a misrepresentation of Palestine’s status under international law.

To start with, it took them a whole month to come up with an answer. Here it is:
“Dear Dr Bleher,
Thank you for your email regarding BBC Radio 4 on 21 November. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and I regret that you have had to wait so long on this occasion.

As you are undoubtedly aware, when the Arab-Israeli War ended, the Israeli government began establishing settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, despite international pressure. In this respect, settlements are considered illegal under international law, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention and subject to a number of
UN Security Council Resolutions and this is reflected in our reports which make frequent references to “occupied territories”.

As you will also be aware, Israel disputes the relevance of the Fourth Geneva Convention and our news reports on television, radio and on our website have stated that successive Israeli governments maintain the West Bank and Gaza Strip are disputed and that Israel has valid claims in this territory.  

May I take this opportunity to assure you that the BBC is committed to impartial reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We appreciate your feedback on our coverage which has been registered and thank you again for taking the time to contact us with the strength of your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Denise Tattersall
Divisional Advisor
BBC Information”

Here you have it in a nutshell: the Israeli settlements in Palestine are illegal but Israel disputes the validity of the law. Consequently the BBC must balance its reporting in order to remain objective and also pretend that the law does not matter when it comes to Israel.

I suggest the BBC apply this same standard to all their reporting. When reporting the theft of a vehicle, for example, they should pay regard to the fact that the thief did not think the property laws had much relevance for him and therefore has a valid claim to the car. By their own standards expressed in the above reply the BBC are far too judgmental when reporting murder, rape, theft or other crimes as fact and should pay more attention to the possibility that these, too, can be seen from different perspectives. Ultimately, it all depends whose side you are on!

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