The BBC's tainted spectacles

It's of little wonder the BBC has spent eight years and over £270,000 in taxpayers’ money on legal fees to prevent the public from seeing an internal “Balen” report

Is the BBC living up to its responsibilities?
Shlomie Liberow
On 19 July 2012 14:48

In an age of instantaneous and constant access to information, coupled with extreme exponential growth of hours per day engaged in online social connections, radical changes have occurred in the public’s up-to-date knowledge of current events.

No longer is the general public oblivious to atrocities occurring in sheltered, journalist-free zones. It’s an age where High-Definition footage forcefully charges the user when logging in online for a casual morning update.

From a WikiLeaks cable to an incriminating YouTube video, these information bites radically alter the scope of damage as a result; within a few short hours a story can cause major waves not least with the help of Twitter, Facebook and other user populated networks. 

It is an invaluable tool to keep the powerful in check and as recent leaks have demonstrated, even the most guarded dictators have taken desperate steps to taint and frame the raging online discussions.

These include subtle attempts, such as Asma Assad’s Vogue coverage with the help of glitzy western PR firms, through to more brutal tactics employed by the PA and Iran among others to intimidate, imprison, and engage in cold-blooded murder of bloggers not sympathetic to the regimes spin on reality.

It is a new battlefield arena and arguably no less important than closed doors, high level diplomatic wiggling.

The furious reaction of the public fuelled with media rallying ultimately feed into each other and create a perpetuating cycle, help remove the issue from a rigorous framework where every claim is vetted, critiqued, backed up and impartiality is a given, into an arena where accusations are stacked up gleefully by the dozen.

The media has an absolute obligation to accurately report in all instances, but, nonetheless, it’s of less concern to pedantically scrutinise whether the report on despotic regime X swindling the international community of a billion or more is accurate in nature if we have already shifted the discussion into an arena where the regime is inherently corrupt and the desired reaction will be generated.

Little relevance is given to exactly how many innocents had their life brutally cut short as a result of the regime's actions, once we have categorized it as undeniably brutal. It sadly becomes an abstract statistic but the public outcry is all the same.  

Once we have shifted the applied framework, to one of critique, post-image redemption -- emotion, disturbing imagery, attempts to engage the public with the victims -- plays the dominant role.

This is a part of human psychology and was keenly demonstrated by the viral KONY 2012 campaign where, literally overnight, millions of people became preoccupied with a ruthless tin-pot dictator. It is a proven means of involving the typical, apolitical individual with little harm.

The shifting prism of reframing conflicts into an “all accusations fly” forum and its perpetuating cycle is initially triggered by the media and it is with them that the utmost responsibilities lie. Once that has occurred and one side has been sufficiently demonised, one could, for example, blame a relevant party for sole responsibility for global warming and it will carry naturally without protest.

If it were to be scientifically proven otherwise, 40 percent (of the public) may not have seen the study due to little media attention; 20 percent may be convinced the scientists were using flawed methodology and were possibly bought off by the regime; another 30 percent might concede but blame the scientist for playing a major role in the issue; and the remaining 10 percent could begrudgingly alter opinion but justify the animosity since the same regime is responsible for, say, the global mad-cow disease epidemic in the 80s.

This hardly seems ludicrous when Israel has had accusations levelled at it over organ harvesting of Haiti tsunami victims, over sending sharks to Egypt’s beaches to deter tourists, and over sending AIDS infected prostitutes to the West Bank to spread infection.

One would have confidence in a tax-funded broadcasting authority to operate in the heavily scrutinised natural framework where articles are meticulously researched, supported and pass a high criteria of objective, honest reporting in light of the extreme influence it wields.

Even when the general public is in full-geared frenzy screaming “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty”, such an authority has an obligation for impartial reporting. But it appears the BBC has taken upon itself the unholy crusade of deeming parties in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict it fancies as either inherently “good” or “evil” and acting accordingly as if it was a truism.

The BBC has conclusively labelled and characterised the players into two mundane distinct columns of wholly good and depraved evil; a characterisation which reeks of sanctimonious self-conviction built off a wholly reductionist platform.

A typical heavily nuanced media report will have its intricacies undoubtedly lost on a proportion of consumers but when the report begins at that stage, already having been heavily stripped with little contextualisation, it has reduced, depreciated and mocked the journalistic profession and its expected duties.

I will not reflect on the BBC’s egregious, tendentious reporting, committed almost weekly, but looking at its more subtle conduct demonstrates this very behaviour.

A report last week relating to a plot to target members of the English Defence League (EDL) was accompanied with an image of an arbitrary EDL rally with a strikingly focused Israeli flag at its centre.

There have been marginal attempts by the EDL to align itself with Israeli supporters, when in attendance of rallies relating to Middle East. They have been publicly rebuffed and at protests where the two camps are present, there is two distinctly separated protest pens.

The BBC did not find it necessary to make that distinction and after having raised the problem with the BBC, the reply I received completely dismissed the issue with the following response:

“If the EDL wish to protest waving the Israeli flag, that is their right. It is not for the BBC to censor such images in the same way that we would resist attempts to restrict coverage of the EDL because some people did not agree with their views.

We understand there may be concerns about the motivation behind the use of this flag, but with respect that is not an issue which should have any impact on how the BBC reports on the EDL.”

Such blatant disregard for neutral reporting is sadly what’s become expected of the BBC. 

It’s of little wonder they spent eight years and over £270,000 in taxpayers’ money on legal fees to prevent the public from seeing an internal “Balen” report commissioned after accusations of systemic Israel-bias were levelled.

Shlomie Liberow is a Fellow at StandWithUs UK and President of Goldsmiths University Jewish Society

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