BBC accused of bias in Gaza flotilla documentary


London : The BBC has been accused of making up its own editorial rules to defend a whole series of complaints made about the alleged pro-Israeli bias in a documentary about last year’s killing of nine activists in international waters.

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Campaigners for fair reporting claimed to have won a major victory with the BBC ruling that Panorama’s Death on the Med breached its rules on accuracy and impartiality on three critical points.

But according to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), the whole process for making complaints was less than satisfactory with the internal investigation carried out by the BBC’s own Editorial Standards Committee, rejecting 40 other issues.

‘Until an independent adjudicator, one who is also free from political control, is appointed to examine the complaints of impartiality, bias and inaccuracy so often made against the BBC there will be little incentive on its part to learn any lessons and one-sided programmes like Death in the Med will continue to be made,’ the PSC said.

In a statement obtained by IRNA, it revealed that PSC members ran up against an ‘impenetrable wall of non-independence’ during the complaints process regarding the Panorama programme, which was screened on BBC1 in August 2010.

The BBC, despite being state-funded by a television licence tax, writes its own editorial and content standards guidelines and then sits in judgement of complaints made that the guidelines have been breached, PSC said.

The corporation is accountable neither to the OFCOM broadcast regulator and its code of conduct rules (which other broadcasters are) nor the Press Complaints Committee, as are newspapers and publications.

PSC has a particular interest as its director of campaigns and operations Sarah Colborne was a survivor from the flotilla. It has also made its own video of the attack from testimonies and smuggled footage.

It accused the BBC of ‘retrospectively altering’ what was the purpose of the documentary after receiving complaints from nearly 1,500 complainants and also reducing the number to just 19 when it reached the appeal stage.

Complainants had originally been told that Death in the Med set out to examine ‘what really happened that night on the Mavi Marmara’ and they tailored their submissions accordingly.

But in its appeal correspondence, the BBC decided the programme explored a ‘specific aspect of the story which Panorama considered key to understanding why events turned out the way they did on the Mavi Marmara.’

‘In relating that narrative, the programme focussed on what it called a hardcore of 40 activists who were affiliated to the Turkish charity, the IHH,’ PSC said.

The process had begun with initial complaints about the biased nature of the programme, in which presenter Jane Corbin embedded herself with an ‘elite branch’ of the Israeli navy in order to examine Israel’s attack on an aid flotilla sailing for Gaza.

The PSC suggested the complaints alleging that Death in the Med was so biased that it completely failed to show ‘what really happened’ so strong that the BBC felt ‘compelled to change the goalposts at such a late stage.’

In contrast, the chair of BBC Sir Michael Lyons welcomed the findings as showing that ‘by having a robust system in place to reassure licence fee payers that issues are picked up and lessons are learned, the BBC can have the space and credibility to make these types of programmes.’

Points upheld included the failure to mention preliminary autopsy findings on the manner in which nine of the passengers were killed, which was fundamental because of what it might say about the motivation of the Israeli Defence forces.

The programme showed images of some of the injured being airlifted but also failed to mention that many did not receive treatment for hours and that many of the passengers were seriously mistreated.

The third was that Panorama should not have dismissed the medicines carried by the flotilla as out of date and did not give the full extent of the amount of aid being brought for the people of Gaza.