Monday, August 28, 2006

The Campaign Against Orla Guerin

Orla Guerin, until recently the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, appears to the object of a well-organised witch-hunt by the pro-Israel lobby. She has had the honour of being attacked by, inter alia, Barbara Amiel in the Daily Telegraph (wife of fraudster Conrad Black), by the New York Sun, and by various right-wing bloggers. Tory A-lister and prodigious blogger Iain Dale has called for her to be sacked. (An interesting insight into the Tory attitude to press freedom, and reminiscent of NormanTebbit’s attack on Kate Adie in 1986. Adie’s crime was to report that the US bombing of Tripoli had, well, actually killed people). Over at Dale’s blog they clearly believe that the BBC has a “left-wing bias” (seriously, try not to laugh); back then, of course, Tebbit was claiming the same thing. When Guerin was awarded an MBE last year, the Israeli Government criticised the decision and levelled the, by now, utterly routine accusation of anti-Semitism. Natan Sharansky, an Israeli Government Minister, accused her of “total identification with the goals and methods of the Palestinian terror groups”. The latest furore centres on her August 14th report from the Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, in which she said it had "been wiped out". This is compared to the report by Channel 4's Alex Thomson, who reported that the town centre had been "destroyed on a really wholesale scale" but the suburbs had been "pretty much untouched". It would have been better if when Guerin said “town” she had instead said “town centre” (which is obviously what she meant) but it is hardly an example of “lying”, as is being claimed. Both reports agree that the town centre has been destroyed (Thomson says it has been “pancaked”). Thomson has since issued a statement defending Guerin and referring to “an incredible well-organised Zionist lobby” eager to seek out supposed signs of “bias”. Thomson’s report is actually very damning: e.g. it shows that the Israeli’s used cluster bombs in residential areas and films an unexploded bomblet close to a hospital. Guerin’s real sin, of course, is to show some sympathy for the victims of the Israeli bombing (that’s enough to brand her a “terrorist”). The BBC is already far too pro-Israel in my book (for evidence see Greg Philo and Mike Berry’s Bad News From Israel, 2004). However, the BBC’s Independent Panel which reported in April 2006 pretty much rejected the findings of Philo and Berry, and decided that the overall coverage was fair and balanced; but nevertheless the Panel concluded that there were shortcomings and they almost all favoured Israel. This, of course, sent the right-wing and pro-Israel press into a frenzy. The truth is that the pro-Israeli lobby want the BBC to refer routinely to “Palestinian terrorists” and “Hizbollah terrorists” but to “Israeli Defence Forces” or better still Israeli “peacekeepers”. They want the BBC to refer to Palestinian and Hizbollah “bombs” and to “daring” Israeli “strikes”. They want the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to be called an “incursion” (have you ever heard this word used in any other context?). They do not want the cameras to show the civilians killed or displaced by Israeli bombs. They want reportage of Israeli victims to be extensive, and of Palestinian or Lebanese victims to be minimal. They want the kind of mindless pro-Israel bias that is characteristic of almost all the US media, and any deviation from that is to be punished as “anti-Semitic” and “supporting terrorism”. The BBC has not sunk quite so low; let’s hope it never does.


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