Letter of complaint to the BBC

June 12, 2010
Richard Kuper



To: The Director General, BBC, 201 Wood Lane, London, W1Z 7RJ

Dear Sir :

Re: Complaint re BBC’s Coverage of Attack on Gaza Freedom Flotilla 31.5.10.

We, the undersigned, wish to submit a complaint in respect of the BBC’s coverage of Israel’s attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and its murder of at least 9 activists on 31st May 2010.  The BBC’s coverage of Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmora [MM] was even worse than its coverage of Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2008/9 and your news coverage was little more than an extension of Israel’s PR offensive.  .

For example, in its first response to the murders on the MM, and repeated throughout the day, the BBC’s correspondent on BBC News 24 stated that:

“Well clearly when you’ve got as many as 600 people on board these ships at night in the high seas, it is a very very difficult situation and you can imagine a rather chaotic situation. Of course the Israeli military is very well experienced at dealing with crowd control. But certainly you’ve got live fire being fired as well as teargas canisters which is what is being reported was fired then that is a very dangerous situation in a crowded space.”

If we deconstruct this apologia, there are certain obvious assumptions being made, as well as equally obvious questions unasked:

  1. If boarding a ship at night in international waters, not merely the ‘high seas’, is such a ‘very very difficult situation’ then it begs the question as to why Israel chose to attack the ship at night.  But since the BBC anchorman assumed that Israel had a right to do whatever it wanted to enforce its illegal siege, then attacking the ship and the activists on the MM at night would ensure that they are bewildered.  It would also prevent what was happening from being witnessed by the outside world.
  2. It is true that the Israeli military is ‘very well experienced with crowd control.’  That though is part of the problem.  On the same day as the murders on the MM, a Jewish student from the United States, Emily Henochowicz lost an eye at a protest at a checkpoint at Ramallah.  To be more precise, she didn’t ‘lose’ her eye.  It was destroyed by a tear gas canister fired directly at her.  http://jta.org/news/article/2010/06/03/2739415/us-jewish-student-loses-eye-at-roadblock-protest But as you say, the Israeli army is ‘very well experienced’ when it comes to handling peaceful protest.

Our main points of concern with your coverage are:

  1. The MM was fired upon before being boarded and there is strong evidence that two people had already been killed by shots fired directly from the helicopter before the descent of navy personnel.  This would suggest that the plan was to provoke a confrontation from the start, as it cannot seriously be expected that people would do nothing to resist the boarders after shots had already been fired killing people.  This evidence, e.g. from the world famous Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, has of course been ignored by the BBC, as have the reports of activists being beaten up and assaulted after having been detained. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/02/gaza-flotilla-raid-gunfire-ship-blood Of course if you start from the assumption that the Israeli military can do no wrong, then this is quite logical.
  2. The BBC repeatedly showed throughout coverage of the affair a video of masked and armed Israeli navy personnel being attacked by activists on the MM, with one of them being thrown to a lower deck.  At no time did the BBC give any indication of the provenance of this video still less give it any context.  The BBC not only used an Israeli PR film, without mentioning its source, but it failed to inform viewers that alternative footage from the human rights activists aboard the ships was not available because Israel had taken especial care to confiscate all phones and cameras.  The fact that the BBC did not think this evidence was relevant speaks volumes as to the BBC’s complicity in justifying the attack on the flotilla.

Any news organisation with an ounce of principle or integrity would have refused to use a tainted Israeli film unless film from those who were attacked was also used.

  1. The BBC has also failed to comment on the fact that mobile phones, cameras and other possessions of the activists on board the flotilla have not been returned to their owners and the State of Israel has effectively engaged in larceny and theft.  This is in addition to the theft of individual personal items of those detained by navy personnel.
  2. The BBC repeatedly referred, in its hostile questioning of returning activists, to the fact that they had ‘provoked’ the attack on them.  One wonders whether a householder would also be accused of ‘provoking’ a violent burglar?  It is no longer fashionable to label as ‘provocative’ women who are raped, so why then is it acceptable to describe human rights and aid workers who are murdered or wounded as ‘provocative’ for having sought to breach an illegal blockade?
  3. The BBC continues to use the launching of ‘rockets’ from Gaza into Israel as an excuse for every human rights abuse by Israel.  In the BBC’s eyes these ‘rockets’ provide Israel with permanent immunity from criticism.  The original reason for a blockade was the election of Hamas but we wouldn’t expect consistency from the BBC, still less any memory of the past.  However, if you are going to make repeated reference to Israel’s pretext for attempted genocide, it is strange that you keep silent about the fact that in the past 7 years, such ‘rockets’ have killed 20 Israelis compared to the death of some 7,000 inhabitants of Gaza from Israel’s targeted munitions.  Even the murder by Israel of 5 Gazans last week has not been mentioned by the BBC.

Perhaps the BBC might clarify whether it is official policy that the death of a Palestinian is not considered as newsworthy as that of an Israeli Jew since you rarely cover Israeli bombing raids or rocket attacks?

  1. The BBC has failed to raise or emphasise, in its numerous interviews with Mark Regev, Israel’s PR spokesman, that Israel’s attack on the flotilla was an act of piracy and in complete defiance of international law.
  2. The BBC has failed to raise with Israeli spokespersons why, if Israel’s justification for the murder of at least 9 activists was self-defence, why they object to an independent international inquiry.  It would seem an obvious question to ask but BBC News doesn’t seem to have got round to considering why Israel objects and whether that might relate to the series of excuses that Israel has given for the latest carnage.
  3. There is increasing proof that Israel is resorting to crude forgeries in the videos of the attack.  For example it has admitted it cannot substantiate a voice, purportedly from the MM, telling the Israelis to ‘go back to Auschwitz’.  Or maybe the BBC might consider the spoof racist video put out by Israeli civil servants? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jun/06/israel-youtube-gaza-flotilla Or is forgery by the Israeli government’s PR chiefs not worthy of mention?
  4. Hurriyet, the main Turkish daily, has printed photographs from recovered memory cards showing that, even as activists on the MM were under attack, they were medically treating injured Israeli attackers.  Surely this is relevant when Israel insists its forces were subject to a ‘lynch mob’.  Why is this also considered irrelevant or is it a case that it contradicts the message that Israel and the BBC wanted to get across?
  5. At least 3 of those who died on the MM could have been saved, but were allowed to bleed to death by Israel.  This is a war crime, as is an attack on unarmed civilians.  Yet this has not been covered by the BBC.  Again the BBC’s aggressive interviewers, who behave like poodles when questioning Mark Regev, don’t feel the need to raise such matters when confronted with Israeli spokesman.
  6. About 7 years ago, the government of Ariel Sharon threatened to cut off relations with the BBC unless the latter changed its coverage.  Reporters like Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen were moved or silenced.  The BBC, instead of defending its reporters and its coverage, caved in after the BBC were barred from Ariel Sharon’s press conference in London. (BBC Says Sorry to Israel, 12.3.05. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2005/mar/12/israel.broadcasting BBC appoints Middle East tsar, 11.11.03. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2003/nov/11/bbc.television.

We saw the fruits of the BBC’s capitulation when the BBC refused to broadcast a Disaster Emergency Committee Appeal for the people of Gaza in January 2009, since the whole thrust of the BBC’s coverage had been in support of the immiseration of the people of the Gaza.

The BBC has continually covered the siege of Gaza from the viewpoint of Israel rather than its inhabitants.  ‘Terrorism’ and Hamas rather than freedom and democracy for Gazans have been the staple of BBC coverage.  Not once has the BBC given any context, e.g. the election of 2006 where Hamas received the most support or the attempted coup by Egypt, the USA and Palestinian Authority or indeed Israel’s role in the creation of Hamas.  Nor does the BBC refer to the fact that Gaza has been occupied for 43 years.  The BBC have preferred the cartoon caricature version of Hamas, as supplied by Israel’s propaganda outlets, rather than looking at the repeated indications that Hamas would accept a genuine two-state solution.  Hamas sets out conditions for peace. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/08/israel1

The BBC regularly accepts, without contradiction, Israel’s claim to be the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’  It is strange then that it has failed to cover the attacks on Haneen Zoabi, a secular Arab woman and Knesset member who has been subject to intimidation and violence by fellow MKs and whose parliamentary immunity has been removed by the Knesset for having been a passenger on the MM and therefore a ‘terrorist supporter’.    The BBC is content to repeat clichés about Israel and democracy but it consistently fails to inquire into the substance of this assertion, such as the growing attacks on Israel’s Arab minority.  It is therefore no surprise that the racist demonstration, complete with cries of ‘Death to the Arabs’ outside the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv on 1st June, was not covered by the BBC.

If Iran or North Korea had attacked a ship flying another country’s flag in international waters, the BBC would not have been so willing to buy into their lies and deceit.  One suspects that BBC reporters would have had something to say if the above countries had refused an international inquiry, because they preferred to conduct their own investigation.

The BBC’s coverage of the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a classic example of what is known as double standards.  We look forward to your assurances that your ‘understandings’ with the Israeli government will be both published and dispensed with as you are not, at the moment, providing neutral or balanced coverage of the situation in Israel/Palestine.  It is time that you stopped being an echo chamber for Israel’s propaganda.

Yours faithfully,

Dave Baker, Visiting Research Fellow Reader in Numeracy/Maths, London Institute of Education,
Professor Mona Baker, Professor of Translation Studies, University of Manchester,
Fiona Balaban (UK/Turkey)
David Bangs, Environmentalist,
Frank Barat, (Russell Tribunal on Palestine)
Geoff Barr,
Jinan Bastaki, (UAE)
Dr. A.F. J. Bell (Australia)
Paul Bemrose, GMB Trade Union,
Richard Berks – Centre for Immunology & Infection, University of York, UK
Greta Berlin (USA/France) (co-founder, Free Gaza movement)
Jo Bird,
Dr Martin Birnstingl,
Patrick Black,
Dr. Susan Blackwell, National Executive Committee member, University and College Union,
Prof. Haim Bresheeth, University of East London,
Andy Brown, Secretary, Leeds Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
Simone Burns, Barrister,
Dave Campbell,
Val Cane, Brighton NUT,
Jean Calder, journalist,
Patricia Chaffee, (USA)
Linda Clair, George Abendstern,
Nigel Clark, Southampton,
Ruth Clark, Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (retd),
Jerrold Cohen, PhD (USA)
Sheila Colman
Mike Cushman, London School of Economics
martin cutler,
Dr Adam Darwish, University of Sussex,
Lilian Joan Dell
Barbara Denuelle,
Dr Merav Devere, Brighton, East Sussex,
William Dienst Jr. M.D., Washington, USA
Carol Diggle
Dr John Drury, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, University of Sussex, j.drury@sussex.ac.uk
Mark Elf,
Dr Catherine Farnworth, Cornwall,
Ashraf Fattah, Lecturer, University of Westminster,
Mrs Jackie Fearnley, Radio 4 PM programme listeners panel,
Jonny Feldman
Alf Filer,
Mark Findlay,
Deborah Fink, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods [JBig],
Naomi Foyle,
Linda Frank, (USA)
Garth Frankland
Terry Gallogly, York PSC
Jasmine Gani,
Charles Gate, Calderdale Green Party,
Olga Gora
Nina Gora,
Tony Greenstein, Brighton Unemployed Centre, UNISON,
Dr Anne Grey,
Mick Hall, Organized Rage,
Ann Hallam, Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
David Halpin, Dove and Dolphin Charity,
Mira Hammad,
Fajr Harb (Palestine)
Dr Dalia Mostafa, Middle Eastern Studies, University of Manchester,
Dr Rumy Hasan, Senior Lecturer, University of Sussex,
Abe Hayeem, RIBA
Martin Hemingway, Green Party Leeds,
David Hillman,
Prof Richard Hudson, FBA, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics, UCL,
Mary Hughes-Thompson, U.S./UK (co-founder, Free Gaza movement)
Fazia Hussain, Regional Officer, Unite,
Lucy M Johnston,
Michael Kalmanovitch, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network , UK,
Dr. Paul Kelemen, University of Manchester,
Hudda Khaireh,
Sadia Kidawi,
Dr Stephen Leah
Joe Lee, ISM, London.
Leah Levane,
Dr Les Levidow, Open University,
Bruce Levy
Ros Levy, Labour Party, Amnesty International,
Moshé Machover Professor (emeritus), Kings College, London
Ziyaad Lunat (Portugal)
Jenny Lynn
Beryl Maizels,
Michael Mansfield QC, Barrister,
Mike Marqusee,
Zoe Mars, Chairperson, Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
Professor Nur Masalha, Professor of Religion and Politics, St. Mary’s University College and SOAS
Bill MacKeith, Oxford
John Metson,
Martine Miel, J-Big,
Muna Mohamed,
Keith Mollison
Patrick Montague, Service Desk Manager, Lancaster University,
Mohamed Ibrahim Mostafa,
Patricia Morrison
Siobhan Mooney, Labour Party,
Kevin Moore, Executive Committee Member, IHBC Scottish Branch,
Shena Moore
Bahadur Najak
Fiona Napier, UNISON  ,
Simon Natas, partner, Irvine Thanvi Natas solicitors,
Diana Neslen, Jews for Justice for Palestinians (personal capacity),
Kathleen O’Connor Wang, USA (Free Gaza volunteer,  passenger on Free Gaza boat, August 2008 and great grandmother)
Annie O’Gara,
Dennis O’Malley, ‘Stop the War Coalition- Cambridge Branch’
Ernesto Paramo,
Felicia Parazaider, (USA)
Dr Susan Pashkoff,
Janet Pavone,
Professor David E Pegg, University of York,
Romayne Phoenix,
Veronica Planton,
Shae Popovich, (USA)
Caroline Poland,
Penny Porter Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign,
Renate Prince,
Jawad Qasrawi, NUJ,
Roland Rance, Jews Against Zionism,
Andrew Read, University of Manchester,
Professor Dee Reynolds, Professor of French, University of Manchester,
Dr Chris Roberts, Reader, University of Manchester,
Professor Hilary Rose,
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, London School of Economics
Leon Rosselson, Songwriter,
Sandra Ruch,
Daniel Russell, Halifax
Liz Russell, Halifax
Dr Mortaza Sahibzada,
Michael Sackin, Green Party, Jews for Justice for Palestinians,
Professor Donald Sassoon, History, Queen Mary College, University of London,
David K. Schermerhorn (USA)
Sue Shaw, Brighton, East Sussex,
Professor Avi Shlaim FBA,  Professor of International Relations, St Antony’s College, Oxford University
Peter Smith
Mary Starkey
Heather Stroud, Malton,
Steve Stroud, Malton
Dr Derek Summerfield, Honorary Senior Lecturer/Consultant Psychiatrist, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London
Simon Tate,
Ruth Tenne, Israeli peace activist resident in UK,
Dr Norman Traub , Southend Stop The War Coalition,
Patricia Tricker
Pip Tindall, Green Party,
Yvette Vanson,
Stanley Walinets,
Pam Walton,
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, [JBig], NUT
Dr Monica Wusteman, Research Fellow, University of York (rtd),
Professor James Dickins, Prof. of Arabic, University of Salford,
Professor Myriam Salama-Carr, University of Salford,
Ms. Iman Mahmoud,
Dr Gabriela Saldanha, Lecturer, University of Birmingham,
Ian Mason, Professor Emeritus, Heriot Watt University

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