A letter to the Beeb

I’ve always been unhappy with the anti-Israeli bias in BBC’s coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  This bias has not diminished (I did not expect it to) in their coverage of the recent Gaza conflict.  In what I believed would be a request that fell upon deaf ears, I submitted an email requesting them to reconsider this bias.  Commendably, I received a response.  My initial email, the BBC’s response, and my response to the response are included below.  I will update this post with any further correspondence that takes place.

to the BBC on January 7th, 2009:

I would like to appeal to you to avoid anti-Israel bias in your publication. Israel’s response to Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilians is proportional and necessary. The situation in Israel is dire as neighborhoods of innocent Israelis are being deliberately attacked with rockets as often as dozens of times a day. In 2008 alone, Hamas has fired 3,000 rockets at Israel. A significant fraction of these rockets were fired during the six month long “cease fire”.

Israel withdrew from all of Gaza more than three years ago in hopes of peace and a two-state solution. Now, Israel has an obligation to defend its citizens from the threat of Iran-backed terrorists now just as it did when Iran-backed Hezbollah attached Israel not long ago. Israel is no different from any other sovereign nation that must protect their citizens from those who would kill them.

Hamas’s ties to Iran are unmistakable. Iran’s President has said he wants to wipe Israel off the map.  They are developing nuclear materials in defiance of the world while supporting, training and arming Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others. Israel and the Palestinians need a lasting peace–which will only come when the Iran-backed terrorists are defeated. Media bias against Israel sways public opinion against it and forces Israel to cut its operations short under international pressure. This in turn enables Hamas to continue its terrorism and results in the loss of Israeli civilian lives. I urge you to avoid biased and one sided reporting (only reporting on Israeli actions and leaving out Hamas’s rocket firing and use of Palestinian civilians as human shields) and to perform thorough fact checking before reporting.  I also urge to avoid unfair, one-sided articles such as this one.  The article reports sitting in a peaceful Sderot cafe.  Are you kidding me?  Sderot has been and is the target of hundreds of Hamas rockets in the past months, where are the BBC stories reporting on the carnage and mayhem that those rockets cause to Sderot civilians?

Sincerely,
X

from the BBC on January 23rd, 2009:

Dear X

Thanks for your e-mail.

Firstly, please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

I understand that you’ve been disappointed by our coverage of the Gaza conflict. I note your concern over a report from Sderot and that you feel we only report on Israeli actions.

We’ve reported the casualty figures from both sides: the fact is, however, that there have been many more Palestinian deaths than Israeli. We’ve also explained clearly and frequently that Israel sees this conflict as a necessary defensive action because of the rocket attacks it has faced for many years. It is for the audience, not the BBC, to judge whether, in its view, the action is justified.

We’ve reported from Sderot frequently in the past – and our Middle East correspondent Paul Wood did so again on 30 December for both radio and television – this is part of his script:

“People head for the shelters in the town of Sderot. This is the routine now. The Palestinian rockets are crude, but the fear is real. A rocket fell in the building behind me just a couple of minutes ago.”

You can also see Paul Wood’s article on the BBC news website, headlined “Taking cover on Sderot front line.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7805464.stm)

We report the facts on the ground impartially. But this isn’t an evenly balanced conflict. The fact is that many more Palestinians than Israelis have died in the fighting.  We cannot ignore this fact but must report on it fully but fairly.

In addition we’ve devoted considerable time to coverage of the causes of the conflict – for example, Israel’s stated need to take action against the Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza. To that end, we have reported in detail both on the rocket attacks and on Israel’s rationale.

Whether the means justify the end is not for the BBC to judge and we would not aim to ‘paint’ anyone as the ‘aggressor’: our role is to report on the causes and the impact of the conflict freely but fairly, providing enough context for the audience to make up its own mind.

I realise that you may continue to feel there is an element of bias in our reporting from Gaza. Therefore, let me assure you I’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

All feedback we receive, whether positive or negative, is always appreciated.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your views.

Regards,
Y

to the BBC on February 1st, 2009:

Dear Y,

Thank you for taking the time to reply.

There are a number of problems with reporting just the casualty numbers without the underlying details of the situation and letting readers make their own decisions based on the numbers.

One, while Israel does everything it can to prevent casualties, Hamas does everything it can to maximize them.  Since Hamas has started shelling southern Israel and the western Negev a few years ago, Israel has scrambled to install rocket alert sirens and shelters in all towns within Hamas’s reach.  Hamas on the other hand utilizes their resources not to ensure the safety of its citizens but to rearm itself.  In fact, not only does Hamas not attempt to prevent casualties on its own side, but it attempts to maximize them by the use of human shields and by the launching of rockets from schools, mosques, hospitals and other highly populated areas.  Here is a quote from Nuaf Atar who was captured by the IDF during the conflict, “Hamas had set up rocket launchers and fired rockets into Israel from within school compounds since the operatives knew that the Israel Air Force would not bomb the schools.”  Letting readers come to conclusions based on numbers alone without explaining that Israeli casualties are lower because of the country’s efforts to keep their citizens safe while Hamas’s are higher because of their use of human shields and complete disregard for their own citizens’ lives is misleading.

Two, the numbers alone do not convey the fact that this conflict was instigated completely by Hamas.  After Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005 Hamas has been goading them into a confrontation by firing rockets at Israeli cities.  If it weren’t for this rocket fire there would be no casualties on either side.  Further, Israel had refrained from responding for an unprecedented amount of time in the hopes of avoiding extensive casualties.  If Hamas put down their weapons there would be peace; if Israel put down theirs there would be no more Israel.

Three, the numbers alone do not tell the truth about who Hamas really is.  Hamas is an organization that has humiliated and executed members of the rival Fatah.  It is an organization that shoots their own citizens in the legs if they oppose the use of their land and homes as rocket launch pads.  It is an organization that hijacks UNRWA food supplies and refuses to feed supporters of the rival Fatah.  It is an organization that booby traps their civilians’ houses with explosives in the hopes that Israeli soldiers along with those civilians are killed.

Four, the accuracy of the numbers themselves are disputed.  A recent investigation by the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, concluded that, “no more than 500 or 600 could have been killed in the IDF attacks, and that most were men between 17 and 23 recruited to Hamas’s ranks.”  In 2002 after an Israeli operation in Jenin to combat the second intifada it was originally reported that 1,500 were dead.  In the end it turned out to be only 54 – of whom 45 were militants.  If publications such as the BBC initially report the orders of magnitude higher death toll, how many readers would notice the correction if and when it were published?

I greatly appreciate the time you take to consider and reply to my feedback.

Best Regards,
X

from the BBC on February 27th, 2009:

Dear X,

Thank you for your e-mail.

We wanted to let you know that we’ve received your further complaint and will respond as soon as possible, however we hope you understand that the time taken to do so can depend on the nature of your complaint and the number of other complaints we’re currently dealing with. We issue public responses to concerns which prompt large numbers of significant complaints and these can be read on our website at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

We would be grateful if you would not reply to this email – in the meantime, we would like to thank you again for contacting us with your concerns and appreciate your patience in awaiting a response.

Thank you for taking the time to contact the BBC.

Regards

Z
BBC Complaints

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1 Response to “A letter to the Beeb”


  1. 1 Z February 2, 2009 at 5:27 am

    Thank you for addressing the significant problem of Israel bias in the BBC (along with many other news sources). It is important to bring attention to these misleading facts, especially since so many people around the world get their news from the BBC. I hope that they carefully consider your letter.


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