At the heart of the BBC’s very raison d’etre are the public purposes defined in its Royal Charter. One of those purposes is titled ‘Global Outlook’ and it defines the BBC’s role as a provider of (accurate) information which will enable audiences to understand world affairs and reach informed opinions on international topics.
Within the framework of content provided there is of course room for both factual information and clearly signposted comment and opinion, but the promotion of unchallenged falsehoods and propaganda from terrorist organisations is something for which one can be fairly confident the BBC’s funding public does not expect to pay.
As of April 2014, the BBC World Service is funded by licence fee payers just like domestic content.
On July 9th the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast an interview with Hamas’ Osama Hamdan in Beirut which can be heard here.
At the beginning of the interview Hamdan presents his ‘Alice in Wonderland’ account of cause of the current round of conflict and Operation Protective Edge, with little interference from the programme’s presenter.
Hamdan: “For 28 days Israelis launched attack against the Palestinians in West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, then Hamas start to react against that…”
Of course what Hamdan is actually describing here are the search and rescue operations for the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teenagers and Israeli responses to the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip which was deliberately escalated immediately as those operations began. He insists:
“There must be a clear position that Israel started that and the Palestinians have no choice…”
The presenter promotes the context-free notion that:
“It’s the Palestinians – and many of them civilians – who are dying…”
Hamdan uses that cue to say:
“Well the Palestinian civilians are dying every day by the Israeli attacks and those civilians are asking their leadership to do something to protect them. It’s clear that on the political level no-one is responding for the Palestinian political leadership…”
An astute interviewer might have asked Hamdan at that stage why then the Hamas leadership is currently located in Beirut and Qatar and would have also picked up on his overt and revealing criticism of the Palestinian Authority with which Hamas signed a unity agreement just weeks ago, together with the consequent justification of Hamas’ ‘Hizballah-style’ tactic of claiming to be the protectors of the people by means of its own private militia, despite being party to a government with security forces of its own. This interviewer, however, missed all that – just as she also passed up on the opportunity to challenge Hamdan’s cynical use of ‘two state-solution’ rhetoric despite (hopefully) knowing that Hamas rejects the concept of two states for two peoples.
She does, however, find time to ask a leader of an internationally designated terror organisation why not enough of its missiles are hitting Israeli civilians:
“Hamas rockets that are being fired are either landing on open ground or being intercepted by Israel. What’s your reaction to the fact that they’re not even making their targets?”
The most egregious part of this interview comes towards the end when Hamdan is permitted to promote unchallenged lies and conspiracy theories regarding the murders of Gil-ad Sha’ar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frenkel.
Presenter: “Just for the record, does Hamas condemn that action of abducting Israeli teenagers and having them killed?”
Osama Hamdan: “Before knowing the complete details we will not comment on this issue.”
Presenter: “Why will you not comment on something that is very straightforward? The involvement of three teenage civilians…”
OH: “Maybe Netanyahu did that. Who knows? Maybe Netanyahu did that. Maybe his intelligence did that – who knows? If Netanyahu did that we will condemn Netanyahu. He’s killing Israelis in order to launch attacks against the Palestinians.”
Presenter: “But surely you would condemn just the very act of taking three teenagers who are civilians – they are not in uniform – they are civilians.”
OH: “No: I want to remind you that two of them are militants [sic]. They are serving in the Israeli army, two of them. And according to the international law they are settlers and the settlers according to the Geneva Accord, they are not civilians. They are 19 years old, that’s true, but they are serving in the Israeli army. Doesn’t [it] make any sense…”
Presenter: “Do you in that….”
OH: “…for you and I’m telling you that there is someone who is 19 years old shooting bullets against the Palestinians and serving in the army. Do you consider him as a civilian also? He’s serving in the army….”
Presenter: “Am I to understand…Sir….am I to understand that you are justifying the taking of teenagers and having them killed?”
OH: “I want to say clearly and I don’t want anyone to put words in my mouth. Those – two of them they are soldiers serving in the Israeli army. The third also is a settler. I accept the definition of the international accords for those people. If the accords consider them civilians, well it’s OK. But I know and you know: according to Geneva Accord and the international agreements, they are not defined as civilians. Israel is trying to create a fake story which will not be buyed [bought] by the Palestinians and I wish no-one can buy it from someone like Netanyahu who is lying and destroying all the chances for the peace in the region.”
BBC audiences learned nothing factual about the circumstances which brought about Operation Protective Edge from this interview. They were, however, exposed to the defamatory lies and propaganda of an internationally designated terrorist organization without any genuine effort being made by the BBC presenter to ensure that audiences did not go away with mistaken impressions regarding the kidnapped boys themselves, the perpetrators of the crime or the civilian status of people who live in the ‘wrong’ place according to both Hamas and the BBC.
What audiences might perhaps have gained though is a chilling insight into how the kind of rhetoric which stereotypes and demonises ‘settlers’ and promotes cherry-picked interpretations of ‘international law’ can be used to contextualize, excuse and even condone violence against Israelis.
Worryingly, the BBC’s own promotion of ‘settler’ stereotypes and its frequently touted selective interpretations of ‘international law’ is not worlds away from the Hamas position on that topic.