The BBC’s defence of the ‘Death in the Med’ is far from being convincing or ethical

August 31, 2010 3:30 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

The BBC has published a response (18th August 2010) to extensive criticism of Israeli bias in its recent Panorama programme ‘Death in the Med’ that discusses the killing of unarmed civilians by Israeli Navy Seals onboard the ship ‘Mavi Marmara’ on 31st May. I would like to make few comments on Panorama’s response, copying the BBC’s response in italics.

‘This programme intended to explore the considerable confusion about what actually happened on the Mavi Marmara.’

Clearly the programme failed to do so. It preferred to collude with the Israeli propaganda of lies and manipulation of facts. The programme did not inform the public about the background or the motives of the passengers of ‘Mavi Marmara’, who were from all faiths and from more then 40 countries, united by their human spirit to break the cruel, illegal Israeli siege on Gaza, hoping to end a collective punishment under International Law. The BBC failed to mention that the human rights activists on board ‘Mavi Marmara’ made pledges of nonviolence before leaving their countries, and were all searched along with the cargos before leaving the different ports.

‘Israel says they were terrorists. Turkey insists they were innocent victims.’

So, from the BBC’s perspective, it’s all about what Israel claims and what Turkey says but what about the witnesses on the Mavi Marmara or the coroners and the medical pathologists who examined the victims’ bodies (finding them shot a number of times from close range). Panorama’s response is trying to cover Israel’s shame and the BBC’s staff’s lack of professionalism and we are left to wonder why the praised the BBC journalist never tackled the most important question of how an army can attack a civilian ship sailing in international waters and get away with it. Sadly, the Panorama programme demonised the victims by trying to make them out as violent terrorists and aggressors.

‘With several inquiries underway Jane Corbin uncovered new evidence from both sides in a bid to uncover what really happened.’

Unfortunately Corbin has not uncovered any new evidence and certainly not by both sides, unless the new evidence meant is the BBC’s new record of bias and unprofessional journalism. It was quite clear from the structure of the arguments of the Panorama journalist that she was there to patch the moral hole of Israel’s aggression. She could not rescue the reputation of the BBC, nor has the response of Panorama been able to do so. Quite the contrary, the audience now have more reason to believe that the BBC’s refusal to broadcast the Gaza Human Aid appeal during Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ operation attack on the innocent civilians was an intentional unethical decision. The programme failed to mention that Israeli commandos started shooting from the zodiac assault boats and the helicopters. Nor the fact that audio and video footage used had been provided by Israeli military intelligence and had been proven to be doctored, something the IDF have admitted to.

Panorama claims: ‘Jane Corbin is a world renowned journalist with 20 years experience reporting for ‘Panorama’ on the on-going conflict in the Middle East. She is respected for her dedicated, impartial and balanced work from both sides of the conflict and approached this subject with the same level of fairness which she is known for.’

The BBC knits the stories, evaluates its own success, praises itself and inflates the ego of its staff even when they fail to adhere to codes of journalism. Jane Corbin’s renown and experience does not immunise her from professional failure. If Corbin’s ‘Death in the Med’ report is an example of her ‘impartial and balanced work’ as Panorama’s response claims, it’s about time that the BBC knows neither this production nor its team of defenders are up to a professional journalistic standard. The programme totally failed to cover the suffering of the Palestinian people or the kidnapping of 650 unarmed world citizens via the high-jacking of seven boats in International waters; and it failed to ask the important question of why the Port of Gaza has been a closed military zone for 42 years and why the people of Gaza can’t travel or trade with the world through their port?

Panorama’s defence says: ‘we appreciate some viewers were unhappy about the nature of the video and audio footage we showed. We can assure you that a great level of detail was involved in selecting the footage we showed’

I wonder why all the selected footage has been chosen to support Israel’s side of the story? The BBC’s Panorama programme said nothing about Israel’s kidnapping unarmed citizens, hijacking boats, confiscation of all passengers’ possessions, forcing them all under military arms to go to Israel, detention and violent assault, imprisoning and repatriation – all considered an abuse of their human rights.

Panorama’s response says: ‘All featured footage was meticulously double and cross checked to verify its accuracy’.

The Panorama defence team seems to think that they are addressing an ignorant audience who do not know that missing information is as relevant and even more important than reported and highlighted ones, and the fact that ‘All featured footage was meticulously double and cross checked to verify its accuracy’ does not necessarily mean that such footage was not checked and double checked to support a bias perspective. The BBC was simply giving credibility to the Israeli military rhetoric and planting doubts in the minds of the public about the events on board the ‘Mavi Marmara’. It has done a grave injustice and further injury to the families of all those who were assassinated by the Israeli Navy seals on the 31st May.

Panorama’s defence argues: ‘We also spoke to Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef in Gaza.’

What on earth has a Hamas official to do with the ship? Why was Jane Corbin trying to sprinkle some honey on the poison? Why she did not interview any of the British eye witnesses on board the Mavi Marmara? Why didn’t she interview or mention witnesses such as her colleagues, the journalists who were on board recording the events and witnessing the Israeli attack, and why she did not investigate Israel’s soldiers’ confiscation of their cameras?

The closing defence of Panorama says: ‘Overall we dismiss claims that this programme showed bias in favour of Israel. The programme’s aim was to try to uncover what really happened on the Mavi Marmara. Panorama went to great lengths to give opposing sides the opportunity to air their views and we felt the programme accordingly carried out its analysis in a fair, impartial and balanced manner. We simply allowed viewers to make up their own minds in their own time based on what they saw and heard.’

I would say, as a journalist, and as a member of the public, that Panorama failed in its defence. Panorama did not give both sides the opportunity to air their views as it claims. Its analysis was neither fair nor balanced. The BBC claims that it ‘allowed the viewers to make up their own minds’ and I made up my mind that the standards of the BBC’s reporting are deteriorating in comparison with other national and international television channels. Its employees need refresher courses about balanced journalism and how to accept and admit its responsibility when failing to deliver unbiased news.

For reference you can find the original BBC response here: BBC News – Panorama’s Response.


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This post was written by Iqbal Tamimi

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