MEMO/PSC event opens debate despite attempts at censorship
The concerted Zionist campaign to smear the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) failed dismally last night as the two groups co-hosted one of their most successful public events to date. The topic up for discussion was “Complicity in Oppression – Does the Media Aid Israel?” The panellists consisted of Prof. Greg Philo who discussed his new book “More Bad News from Israel” (an excellent academic analysis of the media’s skewed coverage of news coming out of Palestine-Israel); Tim Llewellyn, former BBC Middle East correspondent, and Abdel Barri Atwan, expert Palestinian commentator on the Middle East. The discussion was chaired by Victoria Brittain, former associate foreign editor of the Guardian.
The atmosphere of the evening was lively and informative, despite the cloud of tension that had threatened to overshadow the proceedings. Having advertised the topic of our public lecture weeks previously, the event had come under heavy attack from Zionist and Islamophobic lobby groups. The English Defence League’s (EDL) Jewish division leader Roberta Moore had tried to rally her minions to hold a demonstration outside the event venue at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Centre in London, and other Zionists had circulated a petition and had begun a letter campaign to try and get Amnesty to cancel the event. Even the Labour Party Friends of Israel (LFI) had sent around a mass email trying to get their members to write in and complain to Amnesty about the event. Nevertheless, Amnesty, PSC and MEMO stood firm, unwilling to back down from holding what was a legitimate discussion on an important subject. The irony seems lost on the detractors of this event that they were essentially trying to censor a public debate on the topic of censorship! In the end there was, what must have been – for the Zionists – an embarrassing turn out of demonstrators as probably no more than a dozen people made it and they all left before the event even started. Their presence had no effect on the meeting whatsoever and the event was extremely well received by our guests many of whom gave their thanks to the teams for organising it.
Professor Greg Philo, who kindly signed books at the end of the evening, was the first speaker. He explained that there are clearly two sides to every story and yet for some reason the Israeli narrative is consistently given preference over the Palestinian narrative by news and media outlets in the West. His academic and objective analysis of the news coverage, as set out in his book, clearly shows that the Israeli side is relentlessly churned out while the Palestinian narrative is rarely put forward, and if it is, it is to a much lesser degree. He puts this down to the dedication and cohesion of the Israeli lobby groups and the Zionist propaganda machine that essentially serves to inform the language and tone of the media. He discussed the level of tension inside media bodies and the fact that many news groups are actually afraid of complaints from the Zionist lobby who are experts at sending in complaints in relation to any news items that do not show Israel in a positive light. He therefore emphasised the importance of direct contact with these news and media bodies and the importance of utilising the internal power structures and complaints procedures to ensure a fair and accurate representation of the reality of the news.
Having worked for the BBC for around 10 years in senior positions, including many years as BBC Middle East Correspondent based at times in Palestine, Israel and around the Arab world, Tim Llewellyn was able to give a very valuable insight into the inner workings of the organisation. He stated that although overall he greatly admires the BBC “on this particular crisis the BBC is failing to tell us the truth.” His main focus was the lack of independent review of BBC programmes and decisions. He stated that “the BBC has started to build an iron wall around itself.” He confirmed what we all know, which is that it is almost impossible to raise complaints with the BBC about their programmes. Phone calls and emails are not answered, he said, even from someone like himself who they know well.
He used the BBC’s report into the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara as a case in point. Hundreds of complaints were made about the nature of the programme and finally the BBC did look into it and came up with a 50,000 word report which was “one of the most tendentious pieces of garbage I’ve ever read in my life” full of “self-contradictions”.
He attributed the media’s kowtowing to the Israeli narrative partly to Israel’s massive propaganda campaign, fronted by organisations like BICOM, as well as to the way the Israeli propaganda machine successfully “co-opted the terror of 9/11” and managed to convolute issues in people’s minds. He ended his talk by saying that we must ensure that the BBC “no longer is its own final judge and final arbiter on the question of its own editorial policy” and that the BBC should be made to answer to an “independent body” in the same way that other media outlets do.
Abdel Bari Atwan
Abdel Bari Atwan gave a very riveting and poignant account of his own personal experiences as a commentator on the Middle East and his desire as a Gazan to give a voice to the Palestinian struggle. He elucidated on the Zionist attempts to smear his character over the years in an effort to discredit experienced Palestinian commentators such as him in order to give more weight to Israeli commentators. He expressed his disgust at the fact that an expert and experienced commentator such as himself, who is from Gaza no less, was given almost no airtime on many high profile news outlets at the time of the Israeli attacks on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9 relative to Israeli spokespersons who were given as much airtime as they wanted. This lack of impartiality pervades the Western media and we need to step up our campaigns to persuade media outlets to be more unbiased and fair in their coverage.
All in all the night was extremely successful and the message to come out of the meeting was that the battle to present the truth about Palestinian-Israeli issues can be won if we just all work together to get fairer, unbiased coverage of the facts and issues surrounding the conflict. We must use all forms of media and social networking available to get the truth of the matter out there, as once the facts are laid bare then the wider public can judge matters for themselves in which case they will see Israel for the occupier that it is and the Palestinians as the occupied fighting for the preservation of their homes and their lives.
You can now watch the event below by clicking on the images to begin streaming.
Greg Philo, Research Director of The Glasgow Media Group, and co-author of Bad News from Israel and More Bad News from Israel
Tim Llewellyn, former BBC Middle East correspondent
Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor of Al Quds, London, and Al Jazeera and BBC commentator
With thanks to Sternchen for filming the event.