As reported in the Jewish Chronicle, Britain’s broadcasting watchdog Ofcom – whose regulatory mandate includes the BBC – recently ruled that a media outlet celebrating the terrorist murderer of tour guide Eli Kay as a ‘martyr’ on TV was acceptable as presenting events from a ‘Palestinian perspective’.
[Ofcom] has allowed a terrorist murderer to be celebrated as a “martyr” on TV, in a ruling branded “shameful” by the parents of his victim.Eli Kay, a 26-year-old tour guide, was shot dead by Fadi Abu Shkhaydam in Israel’s capital in November. The Palestinian gunman left four others wounded before police shot him dead. After the attack, London-based [Arabic language] Al-Hiwar TV station repeatedly referred to Shkhaydam as a “shaheed”, or “martyr”.
Al-Hiwar’s audience base – according to research by our CAMERA Arabic colleagues and open source information – is largely Muslim Brotherhood aligned and pro-Palestinian viewers in the Middle East and UK.
The day after the [deadly] attack [on Kay], an Al-Hiwar presenter spoke of “yesterday’s shooting operation” in which an “Israeli settler” had been killed by a “martyr”, as revealed by translations provided to the JC by CAMERA Arabic.
Kay was not a “settler”, but was from the central Israeli city of Modiin.
On screen, a strapline showed the phrase: “A Palestinian’s martyrdom”.
The Ofcom code prohibits “material promoting or encouraging engagement in terrorism”.
UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI) reported the channel – which has described terrorists as “shaheeds” in many other instances – to Ofcom, whose code prohibits “material promoting or encouraging engagement in terrorism”. (UKLFI also reported Al Hiwar to the Police counter-terrorism unit, pointing out that the station appears to have breached section 1(3) of the Terrorism Act 2006, because calling a terrorist a “martyr” could be seen as indirectly encouraging terrorism.)
In response to a complaint over the use of the term “martyr” in covering the atrocity, an Ofcom spokesperson told the JC:
“This programme dealt with a range of ongoing topics related to tensions in the West Bank. In our view the statements made within it did not encourage terrorism. While we understand the use of the Arabic term ‘Shaheed’, meaning ‘martyr’, had the potential to offend, we took into account that viewers of this channel would expect programmes to be presented from a Palestinian perspective.”
Ofcom also said:
“[We] understand ‘shaheed’ is often applied to victims of violent deaths and not just deaths in war and conflict”, adding: “viewers were likely… to interpret the term as a factual reference and not an attempt to laud, condone or glorify the murderer of Eli Kay.”
As Caroline Turner, director of UKLFI, said in response to Ofcom’s ruling, “Ofcom appears to give carte blanche for London-based TV channels to broadcast terrorist propaganda.”
However, equally distrubing is the convulted logic and moral reasoning which informed Ofcom’s decision.
For starters, it’s unclear how the mere fact that, in the pro-Palestinian perspective, terrorist murderers of Israeli civilians are considered martyrs is relevant in the application of Ofcom’s stated prohibition of “material promoting or encouraging engagement in terrorism”. It’s hard to understand how simply because Palestestinians – and their supporters – likely won’t be “offended” by such a term is relevant in Ofcom’s enforcement of their guidelines.
Further, does it follow from their reasoning that if, say, Channel 4 News or BBC had described the terrorist who murdered Eli Kay in a similar manner, it WOULD have, in fact, violated Ofcom’s prohibition against the promotion of terrorism – by virtue of the fact that, unlike Al-Hiwar’s viewers, those broadcasters’ viewers do not consider terrorists martyrs, and would be ‘offended’?
In other words, it seems that Ofcom now has two distinct sets of standards for the broadcasters they regulate: one for broadcasters whose audience is pro-Palestinain, and one for all the others – a policy seemingly informed by the belief that the biases, bigotries and terror sympathies of viewers grants a sort of impunity to broadcasters when they violate the broadcasting watchdog’s codified standards.
So, for instance, section three of Ofcom’s guide prohibits “material which contains hate speech” which they define as content which “contains derogatory treatment of individuals, groups, religions or communities”. As such, Ofcom sanctioned a London-based community radio station in 2020 for broadcasting antisemitism. But, per their ruling on Al-Hiwar, would Ofcom similarly carve out an exception to their prohibition against such anti-Jewish racism for broadcasters with pro-Palestinian audiences because antisemitism is the norm within their community?
It’s difficult not to conclude that Ofcom has decided to hold Palestinians and their supporters in the UK and Middle East to a lower standard of moral accountability than the rest of the audiences of broadcasters they regulate. In doing so, they haven’t only violated their fundamental obligation to apply their rules evenly and consistently, but have succumb to insidious bigotry of low-expectations that compromises coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by some of the very broadcasters they regulate.