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BBC: British Broadcasting Censorship – OpEd


By Porya Mohajer Soltani

BBC has once more been hit by a wave of criticism in regards to its stance towards Palestine. This is while it claims to be ‘impartial’. And of course, like all the times before this one, Ofcom does not intervene.

In a free-market economy, the more power one possesses, the more rules of the game one will write. And BBC is not only the largest broadcaster in the UK, but also the largest in the world. So while all broadcasters in the UK are regulated by Ofcom (Office of Communications), BBC has its own board that governs it, the BBC Trust. And when Ofcom states that it does not want to harm its relationship with the BBC in any way by committing any sort of intervention, one can only imagine how much power the broadcasting giant has and consequently, how many rules of the game it is writing.

Having power however, does not stop you from being criticized. So when the British based artist Mic Righteous appeared live on BBC Radio 1Xtra, in December last year to deliver a performance, two words were censored from his lyrics. Two words one might hear in the streets of the UK, but not so much in their broadcasted media. Yes, I’m talking about ‘Free Palestine’!

The move has recently, triggered anger amongst Palestine supporters. Even an event on Facebook has been created, under the title ‘BBC – Don’t Censor Palestine!’ calling for a boycott on all BBC channels as a sign of protest from the 21-22 of May. In a response to the anger it caused, BBC released a statement saying how it did what it did as it needs to stay impartial in regards to controversial subjects. This however, is not the first time the BBC explains how it needs to stay ‘impartial’ in regards to Palestine.

During the 2009 Gaza War, Tony Benn the current President of the Stop the War Coalition appeared on BBC, trying to appeal for financial support to end the humanitarian crises in Gaza. He was however, constantly interrupted by the anchor. Angrily, he said how this was because “the Israeli government objected.” Without any surprise, BBC responded with their ‘being impartial’ statement, that time too.

Yet during the war, for every 10 pieces of coverage the BBC gave the Israeli regime, only one was given to the Palestinians. Talk about being impartial! But I guess all the blame cannot be put on BBC. After all, the Israeli regime did not allow any journalists to cross the border, entering Gaza and reporting how the situation looked like there. They even required everything to be approved by their regime before it was broadcasted, to ensure their security. I guess this brings us back to Mr. Benn’s angry statement!

Nevertheless, the media’s super-regulator Ofcom is supposed to be an advocate for public-service broadcasting in the UK. To establish effective competition by the creation a successful market to ensure a ‘thriving media’ industry. But how successful is a market, if tens of thousands of its consumers submit letters of complaints against the biased behavior of their largest media producer. As this is what happened for the above mentioned cases. Does public opinion not matter?

Oh wait, it must have slipped my mind! If you are BBC, you don’t really care for the government-approved regulatory authority, as you have the BBC Trust. Even though the BBC Royal Charter (2006) states that the Trust will perform its role in the public interest.

Now it gets really interesting. Guess who appoints the members of the BBC Trust? Appointments are made by the Queen in Council, with recommendations from government ministers.

Is this fact supposed to tell that BBC does not work in line with the British government or that it is not state-funded? Just because it receives most of its annual budget from the license fees paid by all UK households with some sort of broadcasting device?

Is it really relevant to know who the direct supplier of the money in your wallet is? In an economy, money is always in circulation anyway. The money in your wallet has been in everyone else’s wallet as well. What’s important is who decides the price of what you are about to receive. And the license fee paid to the BBC is set by the British government.

Furthermore, it is no secret that both above mentioned entities seek more global influence. And of course, you do help your close friends, and they do help you in return. How else would BBC be able to block the appeal made by Mr. Benn on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC). This committee consists of the UK’s 31 largest aid organizations such as the Islamic Relief, Action Aid, the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Save the Children. All they wanted was to send immediate humanitarian aid such as medicine, food and clothing to Gaza. Broadcasters usually air their appeals without any problems. And the DEC has even set out criteria’s that need to be met before making an appeal. Hence all their actions fall under the UK laws. As an effect of this, the population of the Gaza strip was suffering from a heavy humanitarian crisis.

Interestingly, being ‘impartial’ towards Palestine goes for the whole BBC family, even BBC Arabic.

Ms. Buthayna Hamdan, a student from Birzeit University, conducted a study in late 2008 to compare BBC Arabic’s coverage in regards to both Palestine and the Israeli regime, for a period of one month. Her findings were rather shocking, as one would assume with the name given to this channel, it would try to convey news from an Arab perspective. During the study period, she found how the news were not only tilted in favor of the Israeli regime, but that they also neglected several cases of death, injury and detention of the Palestinians of all ages. Furthermore, the channel always referred to the Israeli regimes military as ‘defense forces’ even at times when they had launched offensive attacks.

This leaves one pondering, if you have a friend that is a publisher, would something against both of your common interests ever be published? I guess the pursuit of profit crosses all boundaries.

And history tells us all about these boundaries being crossed.

In 1953, lead by the BBC, the CIA launched ‘Operation Ajax.’ A coup d’état aimed at removing the then democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh, and to reinstall Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on as the ruler. This was as Mosaddegh had plans to nationalize Iran’s oil industry.

Half a century later, evidence revealed how the newsreader for BBC’s Persian Service radio was to give a keyword, chosen by Pahlavi, at a specific time, while on air, to indicate Britain’s support for the coup.

So after the recent events in the UK, will BBC change the course of history? Or will Ofcom just keep regulating everyone but the BBC?

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One thought on “BBC: British Broadcasting Censorship – OpEd

  • May 25, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    It’s hard to have any empathy for a people that have claimed refugee status for over 60 years. They are refugees by their own actions since 1948.
    Give BBC something good about “Palestine” and it might get through. The Arab Bloc within the U.N. has helped subvert and warp this nefarious organization into bias against Israel with exaggerated truths and lies. Palestine needs BBC support when they have the majority of the U.N., I don’t think so.
    Palestine needs to break ties forever with Hamas for peace.



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