The BBC and the mainstream media backed Israel

Every upsurge in Israel’s war on the Palestinians reminds us just how biased the mainstream is—and how that in turn encourages Israeli aggression.

Worst among a bad lot stands the BBC. The day before Israel’s devastating attack on the Al-Ahli Hospital, it was discussing, “Does Hamas build tunnels under hospitals and schools?”

Lyse Doucet, the state broadcaster’s chief international correspondent, said, “Such a vast underground network, on such a small sliver of land, seems likely to wind under densely packed neighbourhoods of homes, hospitals and schools.

“There have been reports that some passages have entrances located on the bottom floors of houses, mosques, schools and other public buildings to allow militants to evade detection.”

The statement was implicit backing for Israeli’s claim that “militants” shelter among civilians. And just a few hours after BBC News tweeted its conclusions, the Israelis rained down death upon those sheltering in Al-Ahli.

The BBC felt no pressure to understand why Palestinians must use tunnels to bring food, medicines and goods into Gaza. And there is certainly no discussion of why people in Gaza need weapons to defend themselves.

How can we explain its prejudices? The corporation tells the world that it is a source of impartial news but how could that be when it is essentially a part of the British state?

The BBC is accountable to ministers for its operations. The government sets the terms under which it operates, and it appoints its most senior figures—including the director general.

Those individuals are involved in the day-to-day managerial decision making. And, most importantly, the government sets the BBC’s licence fee, which is its biggest source of income, and is currently deciding future funding.

Ministers rarely interfere with the BBC’s editorial decision making because they don’t have to. They’ve put placemen in to do their bidding.

Policy decisions, such as how to report international conflict, are taken by those at the top of the corporation—and the rules are then passed down through the hierarchy. That means individual journalists rarely have control over how they cover a story.

Last week BBC North Africa correspondent Bassam Bounenni announced his resignation, saying he’d quit “for the sake of my professional conscience”. No wonder.

As the biggest broadcaster and news organisation in Britain—and one of the biggest in the world—the way in which the BBC covers issues affects all others. Its news coverage of Palestine rarely offers context or history to current events. There is no acknowledgement that Israel made Palestinians refugees in their own land.

That means the war is either depicted as an age-old blood feud, which no one could possibly understand. Or worse, Palestinians are represented as the aggressors, with “gallant” Israel only trying to defend itself.

According to media analyst Greg Philo, that means Israelis are twice as likely as Palestinians to be interviewed about the conflict by TV journalists.

The overall narrative that such biases create is not unique to the BBC, it is shared to varying degrees among all Western news organisations, state or privately-owned.

And, it means that even liberal outlets, including The Guardian newspaper and Channel 4 news, share the assumption that Palestinian resistance is “terrorism”. At the very least, it is said to be a wrong equivalent to that of Israeli state terror.

And because both accept that Israel has a right to exist, they also accept it has the right to use military force against those that disagree.

So, liberal news may report with compassion the pain of a Palestinian as they lie dying in the rubble. But watch how that sympathy vanishes if they are found to be part of the resistance.

For them, to be a “good” Palestinian is to be powerless. In times of war, all the institutions of state—including the BBC—are brought together to back “our side”.

And it is at such times we see most clearly that there is no such thing as a “free press”.

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