[News] Why is the BBC so afraid of the word "Palestine"?
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 3 12:03:44 EST 2012
Why is the BBC so afraid of the word "Palestine"?
2 February 2012
This week, the BBC issued its final ruling on a
controversy which has been raging for nearly a
year after the words Free Palestine were
censored from a freestyle rap played on Radio 1Xtra.
Appearing on the popular Charlie Sloth Hip Hop
M1X last February, the artist Mic Righteous
performed a rap which included the lyrics: I can
scream Free Palestine for my pride/still pray for peace.
BBC producers replaced the word Palestine with
the sound of breaking glass and this is the
version that was aired and which can be seen on a
on the BBC website (the censorship occurs at 2:59).
The edited performance was repeated in April on the same show.
BBC upholds censorship decision
Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has spent the last
eight months trying to find out why the decision
to censor an artist who raised the issue of Palestine was made.
During the course of a long correspondence, the
BBCs head of editorial standards for audio and
music, Paul Smith, wrote that the shows producer
did not edit out the word Palestine because it
was offensive referencing Palestine is fine,
but implying that it is not free is the contentious issue.
In that single sentence, a senior BBC executive
revealed the BBCs complete disdain for the
Palestinians and their suffering, and its
shameful disregard for international law when it is being broken by Israel.
The United Nations is clear in its recognition of
Israels illegal occupation of Palestinian land,
and UN Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of
Israel from the West Bank and Gaza. The chant
Free Palestine is basically shorthand for the same demand.
It is obvious why Israel, the occupier, would
want to silence calls for a free Palestine, but
not so clear why the BBC feels the same. PSCs
attempts to find out, backed up by a concerted
campaign of pressure from members, resulted on 31
January 2012 with the BBCs ruling that it had
been overcautious in making the edit but that
the final content broadcast on the Charlie Sloth
show had not been biased and therefore did not breach its editorial guidelines.
And so this taxpayer-funded public broadcaster
evaded our accusation that it had displayed bias
against Palestine through its censorship of an
artists work, and instead defended itself by
saying that the final content, from which the
word Palestine had been removed, was not biased against Palestine.
It is a level of manipulation and duplicity that
would not be out of place in Joseph Hellers
novel of self-contradictory, circular logic, Catch 22.
Artists speak out against censoring Palestine
The musician and political activist
who has made regular appearances on the Charlie
Sloth Hip Hop M1X, said of the BBCs decision:
This censorship sets a dangerous precedent for
the future of the BBC, where it seems people are
free to criticize any state in the world, even
their own, but not Israel. Moreover, it seems you
are free to recognize the plight of any group of
people in the world, apart from Palestinian people. One can only wonder why.
Lowkey was one of 19 artists, MPs, academics and
lawyers who signed a letter to The Guardian
newspaper on 23 May 2011 protesting the edit as
an attack on the principles of free speech
on the BBC).
The film and television director
Loach was another signatory, and he also
condemned the BBCs final ruling this week,
accusing the corporation of making a perverse, political judgement.
He added: The BBCs bias towards Israel is
consistent, relentless and has been clearly
documented by the Glasgow Media Group in
News from Israel and
Bad News from Israel. One small example: when
Palestine was admitted to
Radio 5 Lives news bulletin in the afternoon had
one interviewee to comment. Guess what? It was an
Israeli. No Palestinian was allowed to speak. In
general, the Palestinian voice is not heard.
Palestinian voices missing from flagship BBC program
The absence of the Palestinian voice from the
BBCs considerable output is glaring. Even more
so when compared to the frequency with which
Israeli government ministers, opposition leaders
and spokespersons are invited to air their views.
The Today program on BBC Radio 4 is promoted by
the BBC as being its flagship news and current
affairs program. Broadcast daily except Sundays,
it is widely acknowledged as setting the political agenda for the day.
In the 12 months from February 2011 to February
2012, Today conducted at least six in-depth
one-on-one interviews with Israeli spokespersons,
Ayalon, Israels deputy foreign minister, and
Livni, the leader of
now Israels opposition party which previously
led the government and ordered
Cast Lead, Israels 2008-09 massacre in Gaza.
There was also an interview with the outgoing
Israeli ambassador to London in June 2011 and
with his successor three months later.
The outstanding characteristic of each interview
is that the BBCs heavyweight journalists,
including John Humphreys and James Naughtie, both
famous for their aggressive interviewing style,
conducted them without challenge or interruption.
Moreover, the interviews focused on the issues of
Israels security in the light of the Arab
Spring and the threat of Iran. Israels
aggression towards the Palestinians and its daily
violations of international law were not considered topics for discussion.
In that same period, not a single Palestinian
leader or spokesperson was accorded a similar
one-on-one interview on the Today program. While
Israelis were interviewed, on average, once every
two months, the Palestinian viewpoint was simply not sought.
This culture of promoting the Israeli perspective
while denying the same rights to the Palestinians
was vividly highlighted during the three day
Abbas to London last month. Abbas met Prime
Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, as
well as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the
principal leader of the Church of England, to
discuss the Jordanian-backed peace talks.
During a press conference with Abbas, Clegg
condemned Israels West Bank settlements and
described them as an act of deliberate vandalism to peace negotiations.
Yet on the Today programme, and across the BBC,
it was as if Abbas visit had never happened. The
BBCs self-proclaimed flagship news and current
affairs program made no mention of it over the
three days he was in London, it found nothing
newsworthy to report on from the press conference
with Clegg, and there was certainly no long,
uninterrupted interview with any Palestinian
figures, despite this being the ideal opportunity to seek their views.
Even more incredibly, on the first day Abbas was
in London, the Today program not only ignored
him, but chose instead to interview Israeli
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who
happened to be in Manchester, for a full six
minutes during which he wasnt challenged on any
of Israels well-documented violations.
Palestine does not exist
This is all shocking enough, but it doesnt end there.
In the same letter in which he disputed the
occupation, the BBCs Paul Smith went on to say:
Palestine does not exist at the moment
Palestine refers to a historical state or an aspiration.
According to BBC journalists who have spoken to
PSC, this is the BBCs unofficial policy on
Palestine and hence the desperate attempts to
keep the word out of its broadcasts. An
exception, they say, will be made during the
Olympics when reporting on the efforts of the Palestinian competitors.
But this does not go far enough. In November, PSC
wrote to the BBC to ask why Canon Giles Fraser,
the recently departed Canon Chancellor of St.
Pauls Cathedral, London, had been allowed to say
he was visiting Israel during a report for the
Sunday program when, in fact, the towns he
visited were Bethlehem and East Jerusalem both in the occupied West Bank.
We received this reply: He didnt refer to going
to Palestine because at the moment there is no
independent state of Palestine. The aim of the
peace process is to establish a state of
Palestine alongside a state of Israel but until
this happens many people prefer not to use the word.
So there you have it as far as the BBC is
concerned, Palestine is a dirty word. Its
controversial and using it may offend people who deny its existence.
Who benefits from the erasing of Palestine from
our news reports? The same people who benefit
from the BBCs complete failure to place news
events from the occupied territories in the
context of occupation, blockade, house
demolitions, land theft, arbitrary arrest and
trial of civilians, including children, in
military courts, the destruction of farmland and
olive groves by settlers, air and land attacks
and much more. The same people who benefit when
the BBC consistently invites Israeli spokespeople
onto its programs to voice their fears for
Israeli security, without mentioning the daily
terror of the Palestinians under occupation.
The result is coverage which is incomplete and
misinformed at best and complicit in an illegal
occupation at worst. Frighteningly, it is
produced and broadcast by a media organization
which commands the lions share of the audience
in the UK and has a worldwide reach.
And, in the time of the
uprisings, when the BBC is covering the struggles
of millions of people for freedom, its greatest
shame is that it remains committed to editorial
practices that make Palestine invisible.
Amena Saleem is active with the Palestine
Solidarity Campaign in the UK and keeps a close
eye on the medias coverage of Palestine as part
of her brief. She has twice driven on convoys to
Gaza for PSC. More information on PSC is
available at: <http://www.palestinecampaign.org>www.palestinecampaign.org.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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