False Balance

Gaza city burningThe BBC is obliged by its charter to present “balanced” reporting of news, something that makes it unique in English-language broadcasting. Sometimes that shocks right-wing politicians into spluttering indignation. They’re much more accustomed to the unquestioning support of Britain’s press and the wealthy proprietors.

(Often there are assertions that the BBC has a left-wing bias, but to challenge that you only have to look across the roster of journalists and editors: overwhelmingly white, male and upper- or middle-class. Many previously worked in the right-wing press. Hardly a hotbed of revolutionary fervour.)

But people in the BBC have a problem with “balance” when they interpret it only as “telling both sides of the story”. In the case of climate change, this has meant giving equal prominence to the views of one unqualified denialist versus those of thousands of scientists. Admittedly, that particular issue is being reported more accurately now that everyday evidence of climate change is right in front of our noses.

The quest for “balance” is affecting how the BBC reports the current situation in Gaza. Every report of air strikes by Israeli forces has to be bookended with their justification for it. In fact, the Israeli assertion that the campaign is an attack on those firing rockets is blandly repeated, unquestioned.

Even accepting the naive notion that there are just two sides to the story, the BBC journalists are ignoring the possibility that both sides can be in the wrong. Firing homemade rockets randomly across the border into Israel is absolutely wrong. Firing missiles into population centres in Gaza is absolutely wrong.

Not that the consequences have been equivalent. Hundreds dead and thousands maimed on one side and no casualties on the other. And surely the real story for journalists on the Israeli end is to ask “why are they really doing this?” Why wage war on a defenseless and destitute population in the name of stopping terrorist rockets? Some investigation and insight would be proper journalism, and truth needs no “balancing”.

I’m not a journalist, but I have drawn my own conclusions. First, rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah is anathema to the current Israeli government. When three young Israelis were murdered, the government quite shamelessly exploited their deaths by blaming Hamas, in defiance of all logic and probability. Palestinians were rounded up, and some killed (“resisting arrest”, presumably), to harass Hamas into responding.

Whether the subsequent rocket attacks were started by Hamas or some even more militant group is hard to tell, but they provided a pretext for military action, the ultimate purpose of which is to destabilize Hamas-Fatah relations and keep the Palestinians weak.

That’s my take on the motives, but will the plan work? Will it make Israel more secure and let the citizens of Ashdod and Ashkelon sleep easy at night? Of course not. It’s a stupid plan cooked up by a corrupt and incompetent government with no respect for law or human life. Progress can only be made when Israeli voters choose a government which is honest and moral. But that doesn’t happen often, in any country.


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