Friday, 1 October 2010

The BBC’s Biased & Shameful Coverage of the Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla is a Betrayal of its Charter

In the New Statesman yesterday and in the Morning Star, Tribune and Weekly Worker tomorrow/this weekend, an advert signed by over 200 people will appear. It criticises the disgraceful and shameful coverage by the BBC of the murders on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31st this year. The advert has been signed a wide variety of activists, Britain’s first Green MP Caroline Lucas, Tony Benn, Michael Mansfield QC, Leon Rosselsson and a host of academics such as Avi Shlaim and Moshe Machover.

We originally submitted it, after having raised the necessary cash to
The Independent. They refused to carry it and I copy below the correspondence with their Managing Editor, Imogen Haddon. The Independent, which seems to be anything but, said its excuses were ‘legal’. But the lawyer who objected, one Janet Youngson, admitted to me that she had previously worked at the BBC! She dressed up her own political objections to the advert in legal obfuscations. We made it clear that we were happy to make it explicit that the opinions were our own but her favourite saying was that ‘it makes no difference if you say ‘in our opinion’ they murdered x).' Which of course is true, saying 'in my opinion' doesn't change a libel to a non-libel, but the point was that an expression of opinion such as this was not libellous in any case, but fair comment.

The whole point of course is that the Israeli military did murder those on board the Mavi Marmara. This has now been confirmed by the
Report of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The Guardian’s legal objections were minor and it was lack of funding that prevented us running it there. The Independent’s objections were wholly political. I wrote to Ms Haddon on 27th September, after the New Statesman, Morning Star and Tribune had agreed to run it, saying we’d run out of cash but that she had a moral duty to print it for nothing. Surprisingly Ms Haddon doesn’t believe in such
things and has not replied!

I have a feeling that none of the above papers, plus the
Weekly Worker, will be sued. Strange thing that - murderers tend not to sue their critics.

Tony Greenstein

The BBC - The Voice of Israel

On 16th August BBC Panorama’s ‘Death on the Med’ was, in its own words, ‘given unique access’ to the Israeli Naval Commando which attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing nine activists on the Mavi Marmara.

In return, the BBC broadcast what amounted to a half hour justification of the murder of 9 aid workers and the wounding of 50 more aboard the Flotilla. The BBC’s Orwellian production portrayed the victims of Israel’s premeditated attack on the ships as the ones guilty of violence. The BBC even broadcast a clearly faked clip, purporting to come from the Flotilla saying ‘go back to Auschwitz’. Even the IDF admitted on June 5th that this had been ‘edited’ and was not from the MM.

Whilst the rest of the world expressed incredulity at Israel’s claim that its commandos had acted in self defence, BBC’s radio and TV news broadcast, without comment, Benjamin Netanyahu’s absurd claim that “Israel did all it could to avoid violence”. Likewise Mark Regev, Israeli government PR chief, went unchallenged as he justified the murders and vilified the victims.

Throughout its coverage BBC News 24 broadcast uncritically Israel’s own film “evidence” of their commandos being attacked, when it was fully aware that this had edited out the initial lethal attack. This was both unethical and immoral. Israel’s military had also stolen all photographic evidence to the contrary, as well as the recording equipment and personal possessions of the witnesses to Israel’s attack. The BBC’s behaviour is an incentive to other states to behave similarly. By the time the Flotilla survivors were free to tell their side of the story, the BBC news agenda had conveniently moved on.

Anyone relying on BBC news would not have heard world famous Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, recount the beatings inflicted on activists after they were detained. They were also not shown the photographs smuggled past Israel’s pirates, showing activists giving medical treatment to Israeli commandos disarmed aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Nor did the BBC’s viewers hear about the American Jewish student, Emily Henochowicz, who lost an eye on May 31 during a protest against the attack on the Flotilla, when Israeli soldiers fired a teargas canister directly at her.

Knowledge of Israel’s routinely violent attacks on Palestinians and peaceful international protestors would have provided meaningful context to the attack on the Flotilla. Instead a BBC correspondent stated on May 31st: ‘Of course the Israeli military is very well experienced at dealing with crowd control.”

If the Iranian or North Korean states had carried out a lethal attack, in international waters, on a ship flying another country’s flag, can one imagine BBC broadcasting uncritical interviews with apologists for any resulting deaths?

The BBC’s decision to broadcast uncritically Israeli film of the attack reflects a consistently pro-Israeli bias in its coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, something highlighted in a report presented to the corporation’s Governors in April 2006. The report stated that “BBC coverage does not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture.”

The Report noted that historical and other context was frequently absent and coverage failed to reflect “the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation.” It also found that “the death of an Israeli killed by the Palestinian side was more likely to be reported by the BBC than the death of a Palestinian killed by the Israeli side.” These failings have been highlighted by the BBC’s coverage of the siege of Gaza

There needs to be a fundamental change in the BBC’s news coverage in order that the context of events is always present in its coverage and that it doesn’t use Israeli film unquestioningly. Why did Panorama not investigate the attack from the standpoint of those who were killed and injured instead of allowing itself to be bought off with ‘unique access’ to the killers?

And how was Panorama's 'Death on the Med' able to gain exclusive interviews with Israel’s naval commandos when the Israeli government has told the UN inquiry and its own Turkel Commission that they will not allow them to testify?

We wish to see the BBC stand up to threats from Israel instead of caving in, as occurred when the government of Ariel Sharon targeted correspondents Orla Guerin and Jeremy Bowen. (BBC Says Sorry to Israel, 12.3.05. The Guardian, BBC appoints Middle East tsar, 11.11.03.)

Let us see no more of the blatant bias exhibited by the BBC’s refusal, in January 2009, to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza.

1. Dr. Vahitha Abdul-Salam
2. George Abendstern
3. Dr Emile Aboud
4. Dr Shadi Abu-Hayyeh
5. Jackie Alsaid
6. Beatrice Andrieu,
7. Mike Arnott,
8. Malcolm Bailey
9. Dr David Baker
10. Professor Mona Baker
11. Fiona Balaban
12. David Bangs
13. Frank Barat
14. Geoff Barr
15. Jinan Bastaki
16. Dr. A.F. J. Bell
17. Paul Bemrose
18. Tony Benn
19. Richard Berks
20. Greta Berlin
21. Jo Bird
22. Rica Bird
23. Jim Black
24. Patrick Black
25. Dr. Susan Blackwell
26. Prof. Haim Bresheeth
27. Andy Brown
28. Dr. Judith Brown
29. Dr.Chris Burns-Cox
30. Dr Timothy Bushell
31. Dave Campbell
32. Val Cane
33. Jean Calder
34. Patricia Chaffee
35. Linda Clair
36. Nigel Clark
37. Ruth Clark
38. Eve Clement
39. Jerrold Cohen
40. Sheila Colman
41. Sheila Coombes,
42. Prof Andrea Cornwall
43. Mike Cushman
44. Martin Cutler
45. Dr Adam Darwish
46. Teresa Delaney
47. Lilian Joan Dell
48. Barbara Denuelle
49. Dr Merav Devere
50. Professor James Dickins
51. William Dienst
52. Carol Diggle
53. Greg Dropkin
54. Dr John Drury
55. Professor Mick Dunford
56. Professor Mohamed El-Gomati
57. Mark Elf
58. Tom Eisner
59. Andrew Elliott
60. Susan Elliott
61. Dr Catherine Farnworth
62. Dr Abdul Ashraf Fattah
63. Mrs Jackie Fearnley
64. Jonny Feldman
65. Alf Filer
66. Mark Findlay
67. Deborah Fink
68. Mr RC Finney
69. Sylvia Finzi
70. Pete Firmin
71. Gerry Flintoft
72. Jenny Flintoft
73. Naomi Foyle
74. Linda Frank
75. Garth Frankland
76. Kenneth Fryde
77. Terry Gallogly
78. Jasmine Gani
79. Charles Gate
80. Dr Ramez Ghazoul
81. Dr Sarah Glynn
82. Olga Gora
83. Nina Gora
84. Tony Greenstein
85. Dr Anne Gray
86. Mick Hall
87. Ann Hallam
88. Peter Hallward
89. David Halpin
90. Mira Hammad
91. Keith Hammond
92. Mr C G Hanley
93. Fajr Harb
94. Mr RG Hart
95. Peter Harvey
96. Dr Rumy Hasan
97. Abe Hayeem
98. Martin Hemingway
99. Mr Henning
100. Mrs Henning
101. Andy Hewett
102. David Hillman
103. Mr D Hoadley
104. Prof Richard Hudson
105. Gaynor Hudson
106. Mary Hughes-Thompson
107. Fazia Hussain
108. Bob Jarrett
109. Marilyn Jarrett
110. Monica Jones
111. Michael Kalmanovitch
112. Samira Kawar
113. Judith Kazantzis
114. Reem Kelani
115. Dr. Paul Kelemen
116. Hudda Khaireh
117. Sadia Kidawi
118. Bernard Kilroy
119. David Landau
120. Dr Stephen Leah
121. Joe Lee
122. Leah Levane
123. Dr Les Levidow
124. Bruce Levy
125. Ros Levy
126. Professor Abby Lippman
127. Caroline Lucas MP
128. Ziyaad Lunat
129. Jenny Lynn
130. Phelim MacCafferty
131. Bill MacKeith
132. Professor Moshé Machover
133. Ms. Iman Mahmoud
134. Beryl Maizels
135. Naeem Malik
136. Saleh Mamon
137. Michael Mansfield QC
138. Mike Marqusee
139. Zoe Mars
140. Professor Nur Masalha
141. Dr Ian Mason
142. Dr. Willem Meijs
143. John Metson
144. Martine Miel
145. Muna Mohamed
146. Keith Mollison
147. Dr Margaret Monica Jones
148. Patrick Montague
149. Siobhan Mooney
150. Kevin Moore
151. Shena Moore
152. Ms JJ Moore-Blunt
153. Patricia Morrison
154. Dr Dalia Mostafa
155. Mohamed Ibrahim Mostafa
156. Bahadur Najak
157. Simon Natas
158. Diana Neslen
159. Kathleen O’Connor Wang
160. Safiya O'Donnell,
161. Annie O'Gara
162. Ken O’Keefe
163. Dennis O’Malley
164. Nicola Oestreicher
165. Ernesto Paramo
166. Felicia Parazaider
167. Dr Susan Pashkoff
168. Mrs G Patton
169. Mr T Patton
170. Janet Pavone
171. Professor David Pegg
172. Romayne Phoenix
173. Susan Pike
174. Veronica Planton
175. Shae Popovich
176. Caroline Poland
177. James Porter
178. Penny Porter
179. Dr Natasha Posner
180. Jawad Qasrawi
181. Mr M A Qavi
182. Dinah Raman
183. Roland Rance
184. Andrew Read
185. Roger Reeve
186. Professor Dee Reynolds
187. Dr John Richardson
188. Dr Chris Roberts, Reader
189. Professor Hilary Rose
190. Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
191. Leon Rosselson
192. Sandra Ruch
193. Daniel Russell
194. Liz Russell
195. Michael Sackin
196. Professor Myriam Salama-Carr
197. Dr Gabriela Saldanha
198. Ariel Salzmann
199. Professor Donald Sassoon
200. Dominic Saunders
201. David K. Schermerhorn
202. Alice Severs
203. John Severs
204. Michael Shanahan
205. Sue Shaw
206. Professor Avi Shlaim
207. John Siddique
208. Andrew Silver
209. Peter Smith
210. Chris Soames-Charlton
211. Mary Starkey
212. Heather Stroud,
213. Steve Stroud,
214. John Strover
215. Dr Derek Summerfield
216. Simon Tate
217. Ruth Tenne
218. Baroness Dr Jenny Tonge
219. Dr Norman Traub
220. Patricia Tricker
221. Pip Tindall
222. John Tymon
223. Yvette Vanson
224. Stanley Walinets,
225. Pam Walton
226. Dr Peter Watt
227. Irving Weinman
228. Lee Whitaker
229. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
230. Devra Wiseman
231. Pam Wortley
232. Dr Monica Wusteman

Please Contribute
This advert has been paid for by subscribers to this advert. We wish to place more adverts in the press and we would ask you to help us to redress the bias against the Palestinians in the BBC’s coverage. Coverage paid for by all licence payers. Please make cheques out to J-Big and send to:

The Campaign to End BBC bias against the Palestinians, PO Box 164, Brighton BN1 7WB

E-mail Correspondence with The Independent

Monday, 27 September 2010

Imogen Haddon
Managing Editor
The Independent and The Independent on Sunday
2 Derry Street
London W8 5HF

Dear Ms Haddon,

In your e-mail of 14.9.10. you stated that there was nothing more that could be constructively done regarding the advert we tried to place with you concerning the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The reasons you gave were the fear of defamation and the ASA.

Last week the Fact Finding Mission, set up by the UN's Human Rights Committee, issued a Report. I attach it for your convenience. It is clear that there is now a lot that you can constructively do.

In their Report, the UN Mission [Para 20] confirmed our view of the video and other footage released by the Israeli state:
In light of seizure of cameras, CCTV footage and digital media storage devices and of the suppression of that material with the disclosure only of a selected and minute quantity of it, the Mission was obliged to treat with extreme caution the versions released by the Israeli authorities where those versions did not coincide with the evidence of eyewitnesses who appeared before us.’
This entirely backs up what we said about the immoral behaviour of the BBC in using, without comment, Israeli military video footage when that same military had confiscated all evidence to the contrary.

You also objected to our comments regarding the fake 'Auschwitz' tape that the Israeli Military broadcast. Here too the UN Report [Para. 110] confirms what we said:
However, the Mission is not satisfied that these recordings are authentic, nor has the Israeli government made this material available to the Mission for appropriate examination. The Mission was given positive evidence that no such statements were made by anyone involved in communications on the flotilla.
I have produced a detailed analysis of the UN Report for your perusal.

The rejection of a paid advertisement on 'legal grounds', when it is now clear that such objections were politically and factually mistaken, should be a matter of some concern to you. If the Independent stands for anything it is, or should be, freedom of speech. If the Independent is indeed independent and if this is not just sales patter, then you should be big enough to admit that you were wrong and to rectify what happened. It is bad enough that the libel laws stifle open discussion and debate about matters of public concern in this country. It is even worse when newspapers engage in self-censorship using these laws as a pretext.

Everything that we alleged has been confirmed in the UN Report which was meticulous, although of course immediately dismissed by Israel as 'one-sided' 'biased' 'anti-Semitic' etc.

The advert will be appearing in the New Statesman, Morning Star and Tribune, small publications without your resources. I believe that you owe it, not just to us but to the wider interests of a free press, to now publish this advertisement free of charge. This would demonstrate your commitment to oppose the chilling effects of the libel laws, including their encouragement to publications such as yourself to self-censorship. The money we would have paid you has gone to other publications so it would be a matter of you paying to rectify your own mistake.

I realise that it is not easy for you to admit that you got it wrong over this but I hope that you will be able to admit that, in hindsight, since the UN Report was not available at the time of our exchanges, we were right in what we said and that the Independent has a wider duty not to engage in censorship dressed up in legal mystification.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Greenstein

From: ""
To: tony greenstein
Sent: Tue, 14 September, 2010 12:48:49
Subject: Re: Censorship of Advert

Dear Mr. Greenstein,

Thank you for your e-mail below.

I am aware that our lawyer spoke to you about the advertisement. I am sorry that it has not helped you, but I consider that we have done as much as we can to assist you and explain the position. I realise that you do not agree, but my view is that there is nothing further that can be done constructively, so I will regard our correspondence on this as at an end now.

Yours sincerely,

Imogen Haddon
Managing Editor
The Independent and The Independent on Sunday

From: tony greenstein
Date: 11/09/2010 22:52
Subject: Re: Censorship of Advert

Saturday, 11 September 2010
Imogen Haddon
Managing Editor
The Independent and The Independent on Sunday

Dear Ms Haddon,

I was rung up by your libel lawyer, Janet Youngson I believe her name is, yesterday regarding the advert we tried placing with the Independent on 19th August concerning the BBC’s coverage of the attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I assumed, after our recent correspondence, that she would be able to give me a list of specific points which you had problems with, in order that we could hopefully agree to any amendments or alterations deemed necessary to enable you to run the ad.

Ms Youngson immediately made it clear that she was unable to provide a list of objections because, in her own words, she had marked nearly every paragraph as requiring changes. I told her that I was happy, for example, to make it clear that it wasin our opinion that the Israeli Military’s ‘
Go Back to Auschwitz’ clip, that was uncritically broadcast by the BBC, was a fake rather than simply stating it as such. Ms Youngson’s response was that that changed nothing. It was equally defamatory, she said, to say that ‘in our opinion you are a murderer’.

There is however a difference, as there usually is, with such broad brush analogies. The Israeli navy commandos did murder 9 unarmed peace activists in international waters, most shot at close quarters to the head. Likewise the ‘Auschwitz’ clip contained no background sounds or noise, like the other clips the IOF broadcast, so it could have been recorded by anyone, anywhere and at any time. This was, of course, after the Israeli military had withdrawn their claim that it came from the Mavi Marmara. Ms Youngson’s response was that in a libel case the defendant has to prove their assertion, which is true, but this is on the balance of probability. Questions such as Israel’s confiscation of film and recording equipment would, in itself, have enabled powerful inferences to be drawn. I would have been prepared to make it clear that the BBC did not knowingly broadcast a faked tape, though it use of such was clearly grossly negligent, but this too wasn’t acceptable.

Ms Youngson also had problems with the statement that ‘Throughout its coverage the BBC broadcast uncritically Israel’s own film “evidence” of their commandos being attacked, when it was fully aware that this had edited out the initial lethal attack.’‘ Yet this is an established fact. Ms Youngson’s response was that the BBC often show people’s home video clips! Well yes, but this wasn’t a home or mobile movie but a carefully edited IDF clip which excluded the original attack on the ships.

Her next objection was that I couldn’t prove that the BBC had done this everywhere, including on its Arabic World Service broadcasts. This is true. I don’t have the resources monitor the BBC world-wide. Nor is it necessary since the advert is being placed in a British newspaper. However I offered to change this to BBC News 24, but this was also unacceptable.

What Ms Youngson was really seeking was nothing less than a wholesale rewriting of the advert, the effect of which would have been to make it so innocuous that it would no longer have been our views that were expressed. It also transpired that Ms Youngson had worked at the BBC as a lawyer, because she kept referring to how the BBC worked internally.

We also approached the Guardian to run the advert, but decided for other reasons against this. Their legal department also had objections and, as the e-mail below demonstrates, they had no difficulty outlining what they were. Their objections related solely to a minor rewording of the allegation that the tape which was broadcast was faked and that the IDF had admitted it was not from the MM.

What made the conversation with Ms Youngson even more surreal was that she admitted the BBC would not sue for libel. The idea that the Israeli military would sue, when they are keen to avoid subjecting any of their claims to an independent inquiry, is absurd. Ms Youngson also stated that if another newspaper printed the advert then she’d have no or fewer problems about running it, even though the fact that another publication prints something libellous is no defence to a libel action.

It became clear to me that despite her claims to be speaking as a libel lawyer, Ms Youngson’s and therefore the Independent’s objections to the advert, were political not legal. We could not criticise the BBC’s coverage unless we could prove everything according to the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ test and in any event we were ascribing a motive to their slanted coverage, namely that it was deliberate, whereas I was quite happy to accept that they have been biased for so long, on the Palestinian and other questions, that it is almost subconscious.

The reason that Ms Youngson and the Independent could not supply a list of specific objections was that it objected to the advert in toto but did not feel able to say this. It is clear that any legal concerns were a smokescreen for political objections. I pointed out repeatedly that what we were saying was covered by provisions relating to ‘fair comment’ in libel law, which she did not seem able to take on board. I then decided that there was no point in continuing the conversation and terminated the call.

The advert which we have unsuccessfully tried to place with you was no more than a paid for Op-Ed. There was nothing defamatory about it at all. The objections to it were political not legal. I would have expected the Independent of all papers to have resisted the temptation to engage in such absurd self-censorship. Clearly I was wrong.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Greenstein

From: Jennifer Melmore

To: tony greenstein
Sent: Thu, 9 September, 2010 12:33:27
Subject: Re: Proposed advert

Hi Tony

Legal have just got back to me and said that we'll only be able to run your ad if you can make a few changes to the copy, as detailed below:

'In the 2nd paragraph ("In return, the BBC broadcast what amounted...") the advertiser would need to change the sentance "The BBC even broadcast a clearly faked clip, purporting to come from the Flotilla" to something that doesn't go as far as saying it was faked. Also the sentance " Even the IDF admitted on June 5th that this had been ‘edited’ and was not from the MM. " would have to be changed as the IDF has apprently not said that the broadcast in question didn't come from the MM, just that it wasn't possible to tell which ship in particular it had come from.'

Please let me know what you think,

All the best,

Jennifer Melmore
Client Account Manager

From: ""

To: tony greenstein
Sent: Thu, 9 September, 2010 17:19:40
Subject: Re: Letter of 6th September and Advert

Dear Mr Greenstein,

Thank you for your e-mail of yesterday.

I understand that both Richard Morshead and Pippa Watkins spoke to you in some detail about the difficulties we had with the advertisement. You were due to go on holiday on the following day, the Friday. I understand that you said that you were not, therefore, going to have time to make any changes or to be available to check the copy for the advertisement in whatever form it finally reached. It would not have been possible to run it because of this, in any event.

I have, however, asked Richard Morshead to contact you again to discuss the content of your proposed advertisement with a view to trying to agree a form which is mutually acceptable.

Yours sincerely,

Imogen Haddon
Managing Editor
The Independent and The Independent on Sunday

From: tony greenstein
Date: 08/09/2010 18:16
Subject: Re: Letter of 6th September and Advert

Ms Haddon,

further to your letter and my faxed reply, I have consulted by e-mail the signatories and whilst sceptical they do want to give the placing of the advert in the Indie a chance before moving on.

I seriously do not know, and have not been sent or given, any specifics of what the problems were and the particular phrases that were objected to. But if it is a question of putting 'in our opinion' etc. before things which are stated as a fact, though I do believe this is obvious, then there is no principled objection but for us time is of the essence.

So I would be grateful if you could get whoever did have these objections to e-mail me the specifics and I attach for your convenience the ad as updated.


Tony Greenstein

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