So far, about 1,450 people have signed CAMPAIN’s Open Letter to the BBC. After two rounds of further correspondence, it has now been escalated to the BBC’s ‘Executive Complaints Unit’.
BBC reporting of events that occurred last Easter illustrates the sort of bias that motivated us to write the letter. This article shows the need for balanced reporting and the inclusion of essential facts and context.
Coverage of the deaths of British-Israeli Women
The BBC reported on the tragic deaths of three British-Israeli women during the Easter period. While it is vital to report such events, the BBC failed to address the context and background of these brutal killings.
The family involved in the tragedy resided in Efrat, an illegal settlement in an occupied territory with prevalent security risks. The father of the family, Rabbi Dee, should have been aware of this danger in 2014, when he took his British family to live there. Jeremy Salt raised this matter in an insightful article called Innocence and Evil on the West Bank, by asking of Rabbi Dee:
"Did he not know how dangerous it would be, did he not understand that there is probably no occasion in human history when an occupied people have not taken up such arms as they might have to defend themselves, their families and their land?"
The West Bank is Palestinian under international law and the continued expropriation of Palestinian land is a major cause of violence, and cannot be ignored. The BBC's failure to discuss the ongoing collective punishment, destruction, and dispossession of Palestinians living under occupation further perpetuates an unbalanced narrative. By doing this it helps to embed a lie.
As they searched for the gunman responsible for the killing of the Dees, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian child, but the BBC only mentioned it in passing. Such under-reporting conveys the message that the lives and security of Israelis are more important than those of Palestinians, and that international laws and human rights are irrelevant when it comes to Israel. It encourages a perception that the death of innocent and unarmed Palestinian children is acceptable collateral damage.
As a media outlet, the BBC has a responsibility to provide accurate, balanced and unbiased reporting that includes all perspectives and contexts. Failure to do so proves detrimental to the public's understanding of significant events and perpetuates inaccuracies. Reporting should provide facts, and it is up to individuals to interpret them in a way that is aligned with their beliefs. However, it is unacceptable to deliberately omit facts, or contextualise them in a biased manner.
The issue at hand is not just confined to the BBC, but extends to other mainstream outlets including the Guardian, The Independent and Sky News. The need for balanced reporting, without favouring one group over another, is crucial for the accumulation of accurate information and the formation of a balanced understanding.
The tale of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount)
For a similar reason, former Middle East correspondent and founding member of CAMPAIN, Tim Llewellyn has complained to the BBC about the BBC News Channel interview with Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian academic and spokesperson, on Thursday 6th April.
Llewellyn noted that the presenter continuously interrupted her and used “points that might well have come from an Israeli spokesperson”. It is hard to understand the purpose of the interruptions, other than, perhaps, to prevent Hanan Ashrawi from giving her view of the reasons Israeli riot police were using armed force against worshippers during the holiest month of the Islamic calendar.
Instead of highlighting this crucial context, the presenter steered the interview towards the Palestinian Authority's shortcomings, which are hardly relevant to the topic under discussion, given that it does not regulate East Jerusalem or control the worshippers there. At one point, the presenter used the phrase "we've seen this movie played out over and over again”, which was belittling and dismissive of Ashrawi's explanations and the history of violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The interviewer should, instead, have asked Ashrawi to expound on why the violence repeatedly happens on the Haram. Rather than providing this crucial contextual information, the BBC typically obscures the causality of such violence by describing it as "clashes" that "break out."
A major contextual factor is the accords about non-Muslim access to the Temple Mount, dating back to 1967, and involving Israel, the Waqf - the religious authorities who supervise the site, and Jordan, which is accountable for the site's entire management.
These mostly discourage Jews from gathering there, particularly during Holy Days and Holy festivals like Ramadan; but Israel and Israelis have increasingly violated them over the last 40 years or so. In the last ten years, the violations have increased and become more violent, and in recent days Israeli police have escorted scores of Jewish extremists to the Haram. In other words, the Israelis engender the violence and then exacerbate it while blaming Palestinian worshippers. By not reporting this background the BBC encourages the belief that the clashes are due to the inherently violent nature of Palestinians.
In conclusion, the BBC's coverage of the deaths of British-Israeli women during the Easter period and the violent invasion of the Haram serve as a reminder of the importance of including context and perspectives in news reporting. It is time we recognise the power of the BBC and other news media in shaping views and opinions in accordance with their own unacknowledged biases and loyalties, and demand reform.