Earlier today I read the BBC’s report on the fifth anniversary of the Bil’in protests against the Annexation Wall.
It was not one of the worst the BBC has done on I/P; yet I got angry at the enforced, distorted "balance" which gave Israeli military spokesperson the chance to misrepresent the situation with the absolute minimum of debunking. As usual, right? But then there were other bits about the story that were troublesome:
1) Reporter Heather Sharp did not mention that the settlements themselves are illegal (only that the wall is). 2) No attempt was made to describe what Israel is doing there ("the fence is cutting the villagers off from their land"), which is that Israel is basically stealing land for the exclusive use of its Jewish citizens and pushing the dispossessed, non-Jewish owners aside (you don’t have to write a dissertation on colonization in a brief news item, but you must qualify what’s going on!) 3) She cast into doubt the fact that the land in question is Palestinian ("…land the villagers claim as their own"). 4) The imprisonment of Abdallah Abu Rahma, a huge deal in Bil’in, was relegated to a minor, passing reference at the end of the report that omitted the specifics of his name and what he’s charged with ("arms possession"—aka making an art piece out of used tear-gas canisters, amongst other made-up charges).
Below is a version of my letter of complaint to the BBC.
Nowhere did Heather Sharp mention that the Israeli settlements of Matityahu and Modi’in (that are encroaching upon Bil’in) are themselves illegal, not just the fence. That would have given a different impression of the whole story, and of the IDF spokeswoman’s statements, for which the BBC provided ample and credible-sounding coverage—for the sake of "balance". Sharp also did not mention the condemnations of Israeli policies and actions relevant to Bil’in’s struggle by almost all major human rights organisations.
Forced journalistic balance of this kind is an egregious concept when one party is a powerful colonial occupier wielding supreme force over the other party. Can Palestinians try Israeli criminals in their courts? Can they take Israeli politicians and military commanders who are breaking the ICJ ruling, the highest order of International law, to account? Can they detain Israelis arbitrarily as Israel does? Finally, can Palestinians imprison Israeli murderers (like the ones who killed Bassem Abu Rahma in this story)?
This is an argument about the need for a different articulation of balance.
Joe Sacco talked about balance and objectivity in relation to his work in a recent interview. "I find it very difficult to be objective when to me there is a clear case of a people being oppressed," he said. "I’m not sure what objective means in a situation like that. I would rather be honest about what’s going on."