The British media’s complicity in Israel’s slaughter in Gaza

Just like with the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the British public cannot trust the media to provide accurate, critical or historically contextual coverage of the war on Gaza.

RINTED in full by Jadaliyya, on October 24 Rami Ruhayem, a BBC correspondent based in Beirut, sent an extraordinary email to BBC director general Tim Davie, raising “the gravest possible concerns” about the corporation’s post-October 7 coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“It appears to me that information that is highly significant and relevant is either entirely missing or not being given due prominence in coverage,” Ruhayem argued. “This includes expert opinion that Israel’s action could amount to genocide, evidence in support of that opinion, and historical context without which the public cannot form a basic understanding of the unfolding events.”

On October 18 over 800 scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies signed an open letter warning “about the possibility of the crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces” in Gaza.

The next day the UN experts group noted “there is … a risk of genocide against the Palestinian people.” And then on October 31, the director of the New York office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights resigned in protest, arguing Israel’s actions against Palestinians are “a textbook case of genocide.”

Ruhayem also reasoned that while the Hamas terror attacks were a major news event, it doesn’t mean history started on October 7. “We should incorporate into our coverage an accurate, balanced, fair, and truthful representation of the reality leading up to that moment,” he urged, highlighting three terms usually omitted from BBC coverage: “Apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and settler-colonialism.”

Ruhayem concluded his brave challenge by noting: “This is not about mistakes here and there, or even about systematic bias in favour of Israel. The question now is a question of complicity.”

Unsurprisingly the BBC hasn’t reported on the email, and from what I can tell neither has Britain’s national press, except for The Times. However, it seems Ruhayem is far from alone at the BBC.

Al Jazeera recently reported it had received a letter from eight Britain-based journalists employed by the BBC, making similar complaints. They highlight double standards of the BBC’s coverage of Palestinian and Ukrainian civilians, and how terms such as “massacre” and “atrocity” have been “reserved only for Hamas.”

They also criticise how Palestinian guests are repeatedly asked to “condemn Hamas,” with Israeli officials rarely, if ever, asked to condemn the actions of the Israeli government, no matter how high the death toll in Gaza.

Depressingly, all of this closely echoes the findings of Bad News From Israel, the Glasgow Media Group’s study of British news coverage of the conflict published nearly 20 years ago.

Referring to key historical events in the conflict — 1948 and 1967 — they conclude: “Television news has largely denied its audiences an account” of the conflict’s history “and in doing so has both confused viewers and reduced the understanding of the actions of those involved.”

They note, for example: “Many in our audience samples did not even understand that there was a military occupation or that it was widely seen as illegal.” The research also found there was an emphasis on Israeli casualties by television news — both in the amount of coverage and the language used — despite there being a greater number of Palestinian casualties.

“In our samples of news content, words such as “mass murder,” “savage cold-blood killing” and “lynching” were used by journalists to describe Israeli deaths but not those of Palestinians/Arabs.”

Though it has published some important reports about the assault on Gaza, The Guardian’s coverage has also routinely exhibited a pro-Israel, pro-US-Britain bias. For example, Guardian journalists have repeatedly stated the “conflict began on October 7.”

And the White House’s press office was no doubt thrilled by the liberal paper’s October 16 front-page headline: “US in last-ditch effort to reduce impact of Israeli assault on Gaza.”

In contrast, the Times of Israel reported on October 30: “The Pentagon continues to provide weapons shipments almost on a daily basis to Israel.” The story quoted Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh: “We are not putting any limits on how Israel uses weapons.”

The Guardian also gave the British government the benefit of the doubt when it reported, on October 13, that Britain was sending surveillance aircraft, Royal Navy ships and 100 Royal Marines to the eastern Mediterranean.

Why? “To support Israel and help prevent any sudden escalation of fighting in the Middle East,” defence and security editor Dan Sabbagh explained. No doubt many readers were surprised to learn Gaza was no longer in the Middle East.

It gets worse.

In a November 23 article the Guardian reported the Israeli hostages about to be released were “women and children,” while the Palestinian prisoners being released were “women and people aged 18 and younger” (a correction has since been made).

More broadly, from what I can tell none of the British national media — except for the Morning Star — has deemed Declassified UK’s recent exclusive highlighting a huge increase in British flights from the British military base in Cyprus to Israel after October 7 to be newsworthy.

What explains Britain’s media’s coverage of the conflict? It’s worth remembering the media, especially when it comes to foreign affairs, tends to follow the British government’s narrative and framing, with critical reporting largely limited to criticisms made by the parliamentary opposition.

And we know the British government, itself subservient to pro-Israel US foreign policy, has long had a close and supportive relationship with Israel, with deep military, intelligence and commercial ties between the two countries.

In addition, the evidence suggests a relatively powerful pro-Israel lobby has an impact on British politics. According to the programme-makers of the 2009 Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) is “beyond doubt the most well-connected and probably the best funded of all Westminster lobbying groups.”

Likewise, Declassified UK recently revealed: “Some 13 of the 31 members of Labour’s shadow cabinet have received donations from a prominent pro-Israel lobby group [Labour Friends of Israel] or individual funder [pro-Israel business tycoon Sir Trevor Chinn].”

In his published diaries, Alan Duncan, de facto deputy foreign minister from 2016-19, recounts telling Simon McDonald, then head of Britain’s diplomatic service: “The CFI and the Israelis think they control the Foreign Office. And they do!’”

No doubt Duncan was exaggerating for effect but a similar influence can be seen on media reporting. As one senior editor from a major BBC news programme revealed to Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group: “We wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis.”

★ ★ ★

What all this means is that just like with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the public simply cannot trust the media to provide accurate, critical or historically contextual coverage of the war on Gaza. And just like with Iraq, a huge chasm has opened up between the public and the Establishment.

So while BBC Today Programme presenter Amol Rajan recently let slip that “as broadcasters we generally err on the side … of trying not to give too much airtime to protests,” hundreds of thousands of people marched for a ceasefire in London on November 12.

This huge demonstration seems to reflect broader public opinion, with an October YouGov poll of Britons finding that 76 per cent of respondents also backed a ceasefire. We know the Israeli government is hyper-aware of global public opinion.

Asked on November 13 what the “diplomatic window” for the military campaign in Gaza is, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen answered “two or three weeks,” according to the Times of Israel. As the BBC international editor Jeremy Bowen explains, Israel has two clocks.

“One is military: how long do they need before they accomplish their military objectives? The other is diplomatic: how long does Israel hold legitimacy to carry out that operation before its allies say, ‘you’ve killed enough people, civilians, you need to stop now please’.”

The huge protest marches, train station sit-ins, school walkouts, tens of thousands of letters sent to MPs and direct action by groups including Palestine Action, Fossil Free London and Parents For Palestine are no doubt already influencing the decision-making of Britain’s political and media elite.

The task now is to maintain and increase this popular pressure so the government is forced to shift away from backing Israel’s mass slaughter in Gaza.

Follow Ian on X @IanJSinclair.

Originally published (Morning Star)

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