Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jenin redux: BBC and others report Hamas figures for Gaza dead as fact, ignore Israeli counter-claims

The row over the BBC's refusal to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for Gaza has give the corporation a wonderful opportunity to grandstand about its 'impartiality', but iIronically the furor is providing a smokescreen for the BBC's reporting on the conflict itself, which has been anything but impartial.

The BBC (along with Sky) is right not a broadcast an appeal which is, in effect, raising funds for the temporarily defeated side in an ongoing conflict. The public are free to donate to those charities if they want, but supposedly impartial news organisations should not be promoting the appeal.

If anyone's in any doubt about the emotive and political nature of the ad the BBC refused to run, here's how the New York Times described it:
As shown on Monday night, the video focused heavily on the plight of Palestinian children — small boys and girls wounded and sobbing, being rushed into hospital emergency wards and, at one point, a parent clutching a tiny white shroud. Other scenes were of apartment blocks collapsed into piles of twisted steel and rubble.
But in the case of the BBC, 'supposedly' is the operative word. While it claims the moral high ground in the row over the appeal, its reporting on the aftermath of the Gaza fighting continues to betray a bias the effects of which are far more insidious than the effects of broadcasting of the DEC ad would have been.

As I've written in a piece for Pajamas Media, the BBC, along with much of the rest of the world's media, is continuing to report Hamas's figures for the number of people killed in the conflict, without mentioning that the figures are disputed, and without reporting Israel's own figures, which suggest that a majority of the casualties were Hamas fighters. Here's the paragraph on casualties in today's lead BBC story on Gaza:
The Israeli offensive in Gaza killed about 1,300 Palestinians, of whom 412 were children; 21,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. Thirteen Israelis were killed during the three weeks of violence.
In another report, in which the BBC's Christian Fraser attempts to manufacture an Israeli 'war crime' based on uncorroborated claims by Palestinians, the BBC again states as fact that 400 children were killed in the Israeli assault:
One of the most alarming features of the conflict in Gaza is the number of child casualties. More than 400 were killed. Many had shrapnel or blast injuries sustained as the Israeli army battled Hamas militants in Gaza's densely populated civilian areas.
Bizarrely (and belatedly) the BBC is actually running a story on the conflicting casualty claims here, yet in its lead stories, both on the web and on TV, it continues to use the Hamas-approved numbers.

As I said, the BBC isn't alone. Here's a Reuters story about the DEC row, which will have been repeated by news outlets around the world:
But the BBC and Sky, which have 24-hour news channels watched in the Middle East and have closely followed Israel's three-week war in which 1,300 Palestinians were killed, have said they will not broadcast the appeal.
And here's CNN:
The conflict, which began December 27, has left more than 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
The New York Times, meanwhile, at least carries the Israeli claim of a slightly lower number of deaths, but again neglects to mention that many of the Palestinian dead were combatants:
About 1,300 people were killed, according to medical officials in Gaza (Israeli military officials have put the number at about 1,200), and more than 5,000 were reported injured.
Compare these figures with the claims of five or six hundred dead, and reports of many empty beds in Gaza's hospital, from the Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi, and with the latest estimates from the IDF:
A continuing IDF investigation into the number of civilian Palestinian casualties during the Israeli offensive in Gaza indicated that only 250 of the fatalities were civilians.

The military estimates that between 1,100 and 1,200 people were killed during the offensive. Some 700 of are believed to be militants and most are believed to be Hamas operatives.

The IDF is still trying to ascertain the identity of the remaining fatalities, but security sources said many would probably turn out to be militants as well. "Hamas is familiar with the numbers and is doing everything it can to concealed them," said an IDF source.
As I point out in my Pajamas piece, we're unlikely to ever get a definitive death toll for this latest conflict - Gaza under Hamas has been a basket case at the best of times, and the latest fighting has only added to the chaos. And which numbers you believe will probably depend largely on which side you support in the conflict.

But if the MSM is happy to report as fact uncorroborated claims from a regime made up of liars, murders, torturers and crooks, it shouldn't have a problem reporting conflicting claims made by the military of a free and democratic nation, whose statements and actions are subject to intense scrutiny by its own media and courts.

Instead, the figure of 1,300 dead Gazans - mostly civilians and including over 400 children - has now been incorporated into the mythology of Palestinian victimhood, and is being used to incite hatred against Israel worldwide.

We've been here before, with Jenin in 2002 and Lebanon in 2006. There will never be peace in the Middle East so long as myths continue to be reported as news, and it's hardly surprising that the outlook remains bleak when much of the world's media shows no interesting in uncovering and reporting the truth.

Thanks to Rusty and Carl for linking.

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