BBC self-censors on gay rights in Middle East

On June 7th 2013 Tel Aviv’s annual Gay Pride Week – now in its fifteenth year – culminated in a festival attended by over 100,000 participants who were addressed by the city’s mayor and representatives from five political parties among others. 

Picture: Jerusalem Post, Ziv Shemesh

The BBC ignored the event completely, with no reporting on the Middle East page of its website or in the ‘In Pictures’ features for that day or that week

One brief reference to the event was, however, to be found at the bottom of a strangely headlined article concerning the arrest of suspects in the investigation into the shooting at the Bar Noar (not “Bar Noah” as stated in the BBC article) LGBT youth club in 2009 which – contrary to the headline’s implication – appears at this stage not to have been motivated by anti-gay sentiment on the part of the perpetrators.  

HP BAr Noar arrests

Bar Noar article

“The arrests came on the eve of the annual pride parade in Tel Aviv, which has one of the largest gay communities in the Middle East.”

The writer of this article does not attempt to explain to its readers exactly how he or she reached the conclusion that a city of 410,000 people – or 3.2 million if one includes the entire Tel Aviv metropolitan area – has “one of the largest gay communities” in comparison with cities such as Tehran (12.2 million), Cairo (9.2 million) or Riyadh (4.7 million). But it is actually highly unlikely that the BBC writer would be able to accurately quantify the LGBT communities in any of those – or other – cities in the Middle East for the simple reason that in the vast majority of them, same-sex relationships are illegal and any gay communities are forced to remain under the radar.

Zebra crossings painted in rainbow colors
Tel Aviv municipality repainted some zebra crossings in rainbow colours. Photo: Ministry of Tourism

Of course the BBC writer should have stated that Tel Aviv is the only city in the Middle East to hold a Gay Pride event at all, that Israel is the only country in the Middle East which affords legal protection and rights to its LGBT population and the only country in the region in which openly gay people serve in the military. 

Using the BBC’s own definition of the Middle East (according to the twenty countries given profiles on its website’s Middle East page), we see that homosexuality is still punishable by death in six Middle Eastern countries and by fine and/or imprisonment in ten additional ones. In Egypt, Lebanon and the PA controlled territories the situation is ambiguous, with homosexuality not specifically outlawed, but often punished under different laws relating, for example, to “morality”. In Iraq and Jordan homosexuality is not illegal, but the state does not defend gay rights and vigilante killings occur. In Israel homosexuality was decriminalized in 1988 – although the law had not been enforced since 1963. 

ME homosexuality

Rather than hiding behind the euphemism of “one of the largest gay communities in the Middle East” the BBC should be accurately informing its audiences about the real situation facing LGBT communities in that region. However, the pernicious combination of self-imposed political correctness – together with an institutional lack of impartiality regarding Israel – instead results in the BBC continuing to self-censor on the one hand, whilst insidiously using the tragic case of a criminal shooting in a gay youth club to once again foster the theme of Israel as an intolerant society on the other. 

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