Since the beginning of 2011, Israel has killed 49 Palestinians in Gaza, seven of them children.
These were the grim figures as of 10th April, and with April only just beginning, worked out at a rough average of 14 dead Palestinians a month.
Yet, on the morning of 11th April, BBC Radio 4's Today programme carried a report which began with the words: 'In the last four days, there's been a flare up of violence in and around the Gaza Strip', an introduction which wilfully ignored the fact that Israel had been pounding Gaza from land and air since March. It also failed to take into account that violence against Palestinians by Israeli soldiers, as demonstrated by the high death toll, is continuous and ongoing, and not limited to the occasional 'flare up'. The presenter went on to make the unqualified and one-sided statement: 'It started with a missile attack on an Israeli school bus'.
This distortion of reality and the blatant ignoring of facts is shocking and yet, sadly, all too consistent with the BBC's reporting of the situation in Palestine and Israel.
In February 2011, PSC complained about an article on BBC Online headlined 'Gaza militants fire rockets at Beersheba, Israel'. The story began with the news that a rocket fired from Gaza had hit a house in Israel. Then there was the BBC's usual line about Israel 'retaliating' with an air strike on Gaza which injured three people. It was only after this, and four paragraphs into the story, that the journalist mentioned the rocket attack on Israel came after an Israeli tank fired on Palestinians in Gaza, killing one person and injuring 11 others.
So, on the day in question (23 February), Israel launched a tank attack on Gaza, then a rocket was fired into Israel, and, in the final act of the day, Israel carried out an air strike on Gaza. And yet the BBC completely twisted these events around to suit its own agenda, and focused its headline and story on a rocket attack which damaged a house in Israel, while relegating to second place the death of a Palestinian and the wounding of 14 more.
Is this bias? The BBC always strenuously denies such accusations, and yet continues to invite them with the nature of its reporting.
On 23rd March, the Today programme carried news of two rockets fired into Israel but completely ignored the death and destruction wreaked on Gaza the day before, when Israeli tank and air bombardments killed eight Palestinians, including two children and their grandfather.
When PSC wrote to question this, we received a reply which included the line: 'Choosing the stories to include in our bulletins; the order in which they appear and the length of time devoted to them is a subjective matter'.
Subjective? According to the dictionary, this means 'a type of thinking, judgement and experience people can have that is not connected with factual data'. In other words, judgements based on personal viewpoints. Choosing what stories to include in bulletins should surely be an objective (dictionary definition: 'to give a non-biased opinion') exercise, and yet this appears not to be the case for the BBC.
As a result, the BBC's audience is kept more or less in the dark about Israel's atrocities in Gaza and the West Bank, and certainly about the systematic nature of them, while being kept fully informed of every Israeli house and building that is damaged by a home-made Gazan rocket.
This is an unacceptable failing on the part of a public service broadcaster that is funded by the taxpayer. The BBC has a duty to inform those who pay for its licence, and is fundamentally failing to do so.
This failing was picked up in the Thomas Report of 2006, an independent report which was commissioned to assess the BBC's coverage of Israel and Palestine, and it has also been examined in great detail by Greg Philo and Mike Berry, of the Glasgow University Media Group.
In their first book, Bad News from Israel, Philo and Berry examined around 200 news reports from the BBC and ITV and interviewed more than 800 people. They found that the impression given to viewers was of Israelis defending themselves against Palestinian aggression, with many viewers subsequently believing that the 'dispute' was about Palestinians occupying Israeli land.
A second book, More Bad News from Israel, is due out in May and studies television reporting of the situation over the last five years, including Israel's attack on Gaza in 2008/9 and on the Freedom Flotilla in 2010. Among other things, Philo and Berry detail the way in which news often simply reproduces the offerings of Israel's sophisticated public relations machine without giving an alternative Palestinian perspective, and the impact this has on public opinion.
The Thomas Report noted this imbalance in the BBC's reporting and, until this taxpayer-funded organisation stops making arbitrary decisions on what causes the violence ('It started with a missile attack on an Israeli school bus') and parroting the narrative given to its journalists by Israeli spokespeople, and starts basing its reports in the context of fact and international law, then public opinion will remain confused at best, and siding with an illegal occupation and siege at worst.
Complicity in Oppression: Does the Media Aid Israel?
The BBC's former Middle East correspondent, Tim Llewellyn, joins Greg Philo, Research Director of the Glasgow Media Group, and Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of Al Quds, to discuss the mainstream media's coverage of Palestine and Israel.
Does newspaper and television reporting favour one narrative over the other? How does this influence public perception and is real damage done to the Palestinians' hopes for justice? What pressure do journalists come under from their news organisations when trying to report the facts from the Occupied Territories?
Chair: Victoria Brittain, author and former associate foreign editor of the Guardian
Date: Monday 23 May, 2011
Time: 7pm – 9.30pm
Venue: Amnesty International, Human Rights Action Centre, New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA
Organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Middle East Monitor
Registration for this event is essential. Please email [email protected] with your name, contact number and the number of tickets you require.