The BBC’s funding public might reasonably expect its journalists – and not least interviewers – to act as a medium for the conveyance of information from interviewees which contributes towards fulfilling those above defined purposes and helps them broaden their knowledge and understanding of international issues.
All too often, however, we see that instead of asking the questions which will prompt the interviewee to provide essential information, BBC presenters use the opportunity to get on their soap-box and audiences actually learn more about their personal opinions than anything else.
On July 9th the Israeli Ambassador to the UK was invited to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. With Operation Protective Edge having commenced the day before, this was an opportunity for listeners to hear the answers to a whole range of questions on topics which might have interested them, such as – for example – how much does it cost to defend Israeli civilians using the Iron Dome missile defence system and what sort of other national projects does Israel have to sacrifice in order to be able to provide such protection to its civilians? They might also have been interested to learn about the costs of damage to property and businesses in Israel caused by the missiles fired from the Gaza Strip and how Israel copes with such issues.
Another topic which might have interested audiences is how Israel manages to keep the flow of humanitarian aid, medicines and fuel into Gaza going even as it is being attacked by terrorists from that territory and why does it still provide electricity to and accept patients from the Gaza Strip even as conflict rages? Listeners might also have been interested in hearing about Israel’s policy of warning civilians in Gaza before air-strikes are carried out – how does it work? What are the mechanisms? They would certainly have come away with a better understanding of the issue had presenter John Humphrys asked why a ground operation might be the only way to search out the thousands of missiles stored underground by assorted terrorist organisations.
The Radio 4 ‘Today’ interview was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Gaza invasion ‘credible option’, says Israeli ambassador“. There, the synopsis once again promotes the erroneous notion that missile fire by terrorists is a reaction to Israeli actions rather than the other way round.
“Palestinian militants have fired more rockets at Israeli cities after Israel carried out dozens of air strikes on Gaza in the early hours of Wednesday.”
The item opens with Ambassador Taub saying:
“As you know, we have 3.5 million people today – that’s close to half of our population: 40% – who have to live their lives within reach of bomb-shelters because of these missiles being fired. But as we try to protect them, we are also trying to – as much as possible – protect the lives of Palestinians who the terrorists are hiding behind.”
Rather than taking the opportunity to expand audience knowledge on the topic of Hamas’ use of the local population as human shields, John Humphrys could only retort:
“You’ve just killed 25 civilians – or mostly civilians – including women and children.”
Of those first 25 casualties, at least six (Abdul al Saufi, Rashad Yassin, Mohammed Shaaban, Khader al Bashliqi, Amjad Shaaban and Hafez Hamad) were – according to Palestinian sources – members of terrorist organisations; mainly Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Seven civilians – including children – were killed when they elected to act as human shields at a house in Khan Yunis.
“Also among the dead Tuesday were seven people, including three teens, who were killed in an airstrike on the three-story cinder-block house of a Hamas operative in the teeming city of Khan Younis, Hamas officials said. The operative was apparently not among the casualties.
One of the occupants of the house, Sawsan Kawarea, said she received a call from someone who identified himself as “David” from the Israeli military — apparently one of the warnings Israel says it issues to prevent civilian deaths.
“He asked for me by name. He said: ‘You have women and children in the house. Get out. You have five minutes before the rockets come,’ ” Kawarea said in an interview outside the crumbled building.
She ran outside with her children, she said. A first small missile struck the house — what Gazans call an Israeli “warning rocket.” After that strike, a crowd of young men ran into the house and up to the roof, thinking they would either protect the house from another strike or die defying the Israeli bombardment.”
Listeners to the ‘Today’ programme, however, were not informed of the complexities of the situation or of Hamas’ calls to the civilian population of the Gaza Strip to ignore Israeli warnings aimed at reducing casualties. Neither were they given any context on the topic of how Israel’s record on civilian casualties compares with that of other Western armies. Instead, Humphrys chose to promote the simplistic and misleading sound-bite ‘Israel kills women and children’.
Although much of the interview was devoted to the subject of a possible ground operation (termed by Humphrys repeatedly as an “invasion”), it was not clarified to listeners that it is the fact that terrorist organisations store weapons and missiles underground in residential area which makes such a ground operation necessary. Humphrys did however promote his own personal – and jaw-droppingly irrelevant – proposals as to how to stop a plethora of terror organisations in the Gaza Strip from indiscriminately firing military grade missiles at Israel’s civilian population.
“But you know as well as everybody else that in the end you’ve got to talk and you’ve got to talk seriously and you have to make concessions – for instance stop building settlements – as a beginning.”
As Ambassador Taub pointed out, Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip nine years ago and what the BBC terms ‘occupied territories’ are not the issue as far as Hamas is concerned. Nevertheless, we see a senior and experienced BBC presenter electing to promote the misleading and simplistic smoke-screen of “settlements” rather than clarifying to audiences the real background to and reasons for Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians.
Whilst audiences learned little about the actual topic to which this interview ostensibly relates, those with existing knowledge of the issue did gain insight into the irrelevance of the BBC’s grasp of what lies behind the conflict between Israel and Hamas.