Local Time

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Understanding BBC Impartiality

On the news in the United Kingdom, a key feature has been that of the BBC News “impartiality” row. For those unfamiliar with the story, the BBC is a taxpayer-funded (through the licence fee regime ) government news channel. They have refused to show an appeal for emergency humanitarian aid for Gaza, on the basis that it would “Compromise their impartiality.” However, a quick examination of the facts show that the BBC is far from impartial.

The coverage of humanitarian disasters previously carried by the BBC need exploration firstly. They covered the DEC appeal for the humanitarian crisis in Mugabes’ Zimbabwe, a tyrant undoubtedly, but most significantly a tyrant who is against british policy. The DEC appeals can of course be used for propaganda pursposes by the government, and through showing this appeal it tugged on the heartstrings and encouraged pressure upon Robert Mugabe from an angle that he would not have appreciated : The British Public. Another appeal was that of Darfur, in which an appeal by the DEC was shown by the british government. This appeal is significant because it was a situation of a venomous Sudanese government attacking civilian refugees. The BBC showed the Appeal, even though it could be argued that it would contradict “impartiality” through showing victims of violence by the Sudanese Government, therefore by its nature being “Anti-Sudan”.

Now, when we move forward two years, we can see that the BBC in 2006 refused to show a DEC appeal for the attacks upon Lebanon by Israeli forces. In this war, the civilian level of disaster was significant. 350 Schools, 2 hospitals, water and sewage plants, an airport, and 15,000 homes were destroyed. It is also estimated that 1,200 people were killed and 5,000 injured within Lebanon. Despite the clear evidence of a catastrophe, the DEC appeal was not shown.

Let us now examine the present furore. The BBC Claim that through showing the appeal for the catastrophe in Gaza, this would contradict its impartiality. I for one would disagree, as the BBC has already set a precedent for showing such an appeal. An aggressive Government in Sudan targeted civilians in a conflict, resulting in many deaths. Allegations of war crimes were also levelled at the Sudanese government, with clear evidence of these shown through testimony and news reports on the victims of Darfur. Though one could argue that the rebels in the south encouraged the Sudanese governments response, the Sudanese government transcended a proportionate response and instead targeted refugees, civilians primarily instead of the ones they are alleged to be fighting.

Is this not exactly the same situation between the Israeli forces and Gaza? In fact, is this not worse? The Israeli government deliberately manufactured a breaking of the ceasefire and told the press as much, when it is clear that Hamas stuck to their ceasefire arrangements for the entire duration. Whilst this occurred, the Israelis and the british government applied severe sanctions on the population, depriving them of adequate supplies. The Israeli government then launch an attack upon Gaza, not differentiating between civilian and soldier. They killed over 500 Children, destroyed schools, hospitals, sanitation plants, infrastructure, and all using banned chemical weapons. Despite all these facts, which clearly occurred against a civilian refugee population by an aggressive military government in Israel, the BBC believes that to appeal would be “biased”.

What is the difference between Sudan and Gaza? British foreign policy. The British are not in favour of the Sudanese, whom they believe are a barrier to Britain exploiting the region. America view this the same. However, the British Government advocate a two state solution to Palestine, as does America, and as does indeed Israel (on the basis of approximately 7% of the territory given back! ). The problem is that Hamas do not want this, so in the British Governments opinion, and de facto the BBCs, it was legitimate to attack Gaza. They want to see Hamas removed and the Palestinian Authority installed once more in the region. This is the reason that they wish to present to the world that there is no crisis, or if (like now ) they are forced to, they argue by proxy that Hamas are the ones who are responsible, and therefore not entitled to aid. Using the civilian population of Gaza, the British Government and the BBC are fighting a proxy war against Hamas.

There is also another aspect of BBC policy, and that is its expansion within other regions, notably the United States. Unlike the UK, the BBC is trying to establish its nest-egg in the wider markets through the use of commercial revenue, anticipating the cancellation of the licence fee within the medium-to-long term. The issue is that the majority of American public and government are not interested in the Gaza crisis, and instead feel that Gaza “got what it deserved.” The BBC could be worried that any syndicated appeal would decrease its share of the viewing public in the United States, and it could be worried that major sponsors and partners of its programs (such as the Discovery Channel ) would pull out. This would explain their failure to show the Lebanon and Gaza appeals : A fear of revenue loss through criticism of Israel, even if this criticism was simply implied by the devastation on the screens.

However, we should not bear the brunt of the BBC imperialist expansion program, subsidised by our licence fees, whilst the BBC does not represent the interests of impartiality. Instead, I ask everyone to write to mark Thompson at the BBC expressing your disgust with his decision. He can be reached at : mark.thompson@bbc.co.uk.

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