I haven’t written on the situation in Gaza, partly because there is a lot of good stuff out there already, and partly because it would take a lot more time than I have had to do it properly, and the suffering of the people there deserves more than ill-written ramblings. Having said that, I think that the recent furore over the Disasters Emergency Committee (a coordinating body of leading UK charities) is worth considering for what it tells us about the media, and the way it covers controversial political issues. The first thing I would like to do is register my disgust at the decision of the BBC, and now Sky, in refusing to air the appeal. I am pleasantly surprised that it is the commercial channels – already suffering from falling advertising – who are most vulnerable to any potential boycott or other consequences that are going to air it, starting tonight about 6.25 on ITV1.
Why then are Sky and the BBC refusing to show it? The answer given is that they feel it might be seen as a violation of impartiality. Not only is this nonsense in itself (these charities are mostly UK-based and Christian as well as the Red Cross and it is clear aid will be available to both sides of the border if needed) but I think that anyone who has watched either channel covering, to give some examples, the former Yugoslavia, or Zimbabwe can only find the notion that these channels do not take sides laughable (regardless of whether or not we think they have taken the correct side).
It is quite clear that the BBC will happily deliver far from impartial reports on situations on countries that stand outside the mainstream consensus of the western world, but will not risk rocking the boat on the situation in Palestine/Israel. Given the political leanings of Newscorp, I am less surprised at Sky’s decision, given for example that this might be used against Fox in the States by right-wing rivals. We already know that the western media has been censoring the reality of the suffering in Gaza – Channel 4’s Unseen Gaza being a recent exception. The question is why is Palestine/Israel being treated in this way by the BBC?
Clearly there is an issue of fear of the pro-Israeli lobby on this specific issue, but more broadly the BBC has been far from impartial. For example, when the second intifada broke out, Palestenian policemen killed in fighting were often described as gunmen, then later militants, compared to Israeli soldiers. This is loaded language, according one side the status of legitimate representatives of their people, and the others a lesser status as armed representatives of a faction. In this context, when for nearly a decade its coverage has been less than impartial, the BBC’s decision, though still lamentable, is less surprising. The BBC’s efforts at charity fundraising already prove quite nauseating, but after this Pudsey et al will seem more of a joke.