My last post, on the troubling existence of two versions of a filmed and seemingly real-time interview with a doctor on the front lines of Syria’s civil war, has touched a nerve with some readers. It seems that they think I and others should turn a blind eye to the BBC’s apparent breaking of the most basic rules of journalistic reporting. My critics worry that my comments give succour to people who are pro-Assad.
That suggests to me that either they are on the wrong site or they don’t understand the rationale of this blog. So here is what I hope is a clear statement of what I do and why I do it.
On my main website I write mostly about Israel-Palestine. That’s my specialist subject and it’s my reporter’s patch – where I live.
My blog has a different focus. I am a journalist, and I am fascinated both by the processes by which news is produced and the ways we as journalists and the media more generally try to keep you, the readers, ignorant of those processes. Why do journalists not talk about journalism, their “profession”? Are we magicians worried about losing our trade secrets? Or is it that the mythologies of journalism are designed to keep you passive consumers, deferential to a supposedly authoritative media?
I think it’s the latter reason, which is why I use my blog to highlight the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of our western media. It’s a space of sanity for me where I try to explain why I think you, as news consumers, are being constantly spun by the media. It’s where I can make the case that news is the modern equivalent of “soma”, the drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World that its citizens were fed to keep them docile and happy.
I can do it only because now no one is my boss, and because no media organisation pays me to write the blog. I have real independence to say what I think. Doubtless I have grown more sensitive to media distortion because I have been reporting from Israel-Palestine for more than a decade. When you witness year after year daily examples of media mendacity in your area of expertise you start to wonder why the media keep getting things so wrong. Is this just the most sustained cock-up ever, or is there another explanation?
It’s true that the issues raised in the blog tend to identify problems with reporting that favours western interests. That should hardly be surprising. We should expect the corporations that own our media to be promoting the same agendas as the political elites they own too. It’s a self-sustaining and self-reinforcing system.
To finish, someone objected rather bizarrely to my last post that I wouldn’t dare question the suffering of Gaza’s victims after an Israeli bombing attack. That, of course, assumes that I am doubting the suffering of these victims – something I specifically stated in my previous post I was not doing.
But the argument itself illustrates my point about how we can easily become passive, unaware news consumers if we don’t maintain critical distance at all times. We should treat our media with great distrust on any matters where elite, corporate interests are concerned.
So the analogy the reader should have made is: what would have happened if a BBC reporter were discovered to have broadcast two versions of a real-time, on-the-spot interview with a British doctor during an Israeli attack on a school in Gaza? In one interview, the doctor states that the bomb used was an incendiary device and in the other that Israel used a chemical weapon.
I can tell you something: it would never have got on air in the first place. I know that for a fact from personal experience. The Guardian sat on my report of Israel’s use of what appeared to be a nerve agent early in the second intifada. I and other journalists tried to get the story out. No one in the mainstream media would touch it because it was seen as an offensive allegation, given the use of such agents in the Nazi death camps against Jews.
James Longley included video evidence of an incident that occurred in Gaza in an independent film he made called Gaza. I eventually published my report of an incident that occurred in Bethlehem in an Arab newspaper barely anyone reads. You can read it here
Let’s assume, however improbably, that the BBC did air the two interviews. The Israel lobby would have made merry murder of this “blood libel” against Israel within hours. The BBC would have issued an instant apology before even investigating. The reporter involved would have been suspended on the spot and almost certainly later dismissed from his job.
Don’t believe me? Then you should read what happened to Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, when he did something much, much less troubling: he expressed in a column a reasonable opinion about Israel’s behaviour in the Six-Day War, an issue he’s written a book about and has some expertise in.
It is because of this yawning gulf between what journalists can say about Syria, Libya, Iran etc and what they can say about Israel that I choose to write about Israel-Palestine and why I write a blog about the lies the media feed us.