[News] Why is the BBC so afraid of the word "Palestine"?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 3 12:03:44 EST 2012

Why is the BBC so afraid of the word "Palestine"?

<http://electronicintifada.net/people/amena-saleem>Amena Saleem
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 
BBC’s head of editorial standards for audio and 
music, Paul Smith, wrote that the show’s 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 BBC’s 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 
Israel’s 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. PSC’s 
attempts to find out, backed up by a concerted 
campaign of pressure from members, resulted on 31 
January 2012 with the BBC’s 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 
artist’s 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 Heller’s 
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 BBC’s 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 BBC’s final ruling this week, 
accusing the corporation of making “a perverse, political judgement.”

He added: “The BBC’s 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 Live’s 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 
BBC’s 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, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, and 
Livni, the leader of 
now Israel’s opposition party which previously 
led the government and ordered 
Cast Lead, Israel’s 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 BBC’s 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 
“Israel’s security in the light of the Arab 
Spring” and “the threat of Iran.” Israel’s 
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 
visit of 
Authority leader 
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 Israel’s 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 
BBC’s 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 wasn’t challenged on any 
of Israel’s well-documented violations.

Palestine “does not exist”

This is all shocking enough, but it doesn’t end there.

In the same letter in which he disputed the 
occupation, the BBC’s 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 BBC’s 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. 
Paul’s 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 didn’t 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. It’s 
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 BBC’s 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 lion’s 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 media’s 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.

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