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Protesters force BBC to confront its pro-Israel bias

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By: Amena Saleem

Source: http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/amena-saleem/protesters-force-bbc-confront-its-pro-israel-bias

Approximately 5,000 protesters brought the roads around the BBC’s London headquarters to a standstill on 15 July, forcing the news organization to confront its one-sided coverage of Israel’s current assault on Gaza.

As the protesters shouted “BBC, shame on you,” Hugh Lanning, Chair of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), handed in a letter to the BBC’s Director General, Tony Hall. The letter calls on the BBC to reflect the reality of Gaza’s occupation and siege in its reporting. The open letter had been signed by 45,000 people in under a week. Signatories include scholar Noam Chomsky, filmmaker John Pilger, film director Ken Loach, musician Brian Eno, journalist Owen Jones and comedian and filmmaker Jeremy Hardy.

Protesters held up placards bearing statements from the letter, including: “We would like to remind the BBC that Gaza has no army, air force or navy” and “The BBC’s reporting of Israel’s assaults on Gaza is entirely devoid of context or background.” Speakers from organizations including Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Palestinian Forum in Britain, Friends of Al Aqsa and Stop the War addressed the crowds.

As BBC employees watched from the top of their building, some recording the protest on mobile phones and tweeting out the footage, Lanning told the protestors: “There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there’s the BBC. Come on BBC, tell the truth — it’s the occupation, stupid.”

“Have we been biased at the BBC?”

Taking place on its doorstep, and with police having to guide out BBC staff who wanted to leave the building, it was a protest against its coverage that the BBC couldn’t ignore.

And the next day, the BBC’s flagship news program Today on Radio 4, ran a seven-minute segment asking, in the words of presenter Mishal Husain, “Are the protestors right? Have we been biased at the BBC in favor of Israel?”

It was an unprecedented segment — and maybe the first time the BBC has publicly held up a mirror to its reporting of the occupation.

Answering the question was Greg Philo, co-author of More Bad News from Israel, an in-depth study of the BBC and ITV’s (another British television network) coverage of Palestine, and professor of Communications and Social Change at Glasgow University.

Philo’s answers also broke new ground for the BBC. Uninterrupted, Philo was allowed to talk about subjects which normally appear to be taboo across the BBC’s output: Israel’s occupation, its siege of Gaza, the forced displacement of Palestinians in 1948, Israel’s “brutal apartheid” as he was allowed to describe it, and the illegality of Israel’s actions.

And, throughout, he emphasised the lack of the Palestinian viewpoint in BBC coverage in general.

Philo also praised those who had been at the demonstration, telling Husain: “I think actually the protesters are doing the BBC a favor. I think they will help the journalists to give a better perspective … I’ve had many senior journalists at the BBC saying they simply can’t get the Palestinian viewpoint across, that the perspective they can’t say is the Palestinian view that Israel is a brutal apartheid state.”

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