Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

When the BBC calls

When the BBC calls, should you answer? Not if you are a critic of Israeli policies, writes Richard Falk

Al-Ahram Weekly

The siren lure of big-time media is partly a romancing of the ego, partly a rare moment to inject a moment or two of truthfulness into the endless spinning of Israel’s narrative that stresses its “humane response” to Hamas’s flurries of rockets and alleged human shield tactics in the present Gaza conflict.

Four times in the past week I have received invitations to be a guest on BBC programmes dealing with Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Each time the female producer, with a charming British accent, has expressed her strong interest in arranging my participation at such and such a time. And each time I have agreed, although my presence in a Turkish village with limited Internet access has made it logistically awkward to do so, requiring the kind cooperation of a neighbour with superior digital facilities.

Each time I was ready at the appointed hour, and each time I was given a last-minute explanation for why my appearance was cancelled. A couple of times I was told that I was a casualty of breaking news, and the other two times there was no reason, merely a “We apologise, but we have to cancel today’s appearance.”

On each occasion, as if part of how the producers are trained, I was told that those in charge of planning the programme were eager to have me appear as soon as possible and that I would hear from them in a day or so. On the basis of previous experience, on the few occasions when last-minute news altered programming, I was shifted to later in the programme or rescheduled for the next day. My BBC experience in this respect has been “terminal,” as in a disease.

Needless to say, the phone lines have been quiet since each of these dumping incidents. I wonder about this pattern of invitation and cancellation. I am quite sure that there was separate programming for each of the invitations with no coordination between them. Was there some master censor at the BBC that reviewed the guest list just prior to the scheduled broadcast, somewhat in the manner that a submarine commander might review the crew of an enemy passenger ship in wartime?

Perhaps the BBC was concerned that there might be a faint and ugly stain of balance that would tarnish its unsullied reputation for pro-Israeli partisanship. Unless a BBC Edward Snowden steps out of the shadows of deception and into the sunlight of disclosure, I will never know.

I feel self-conscious sharing this little saga at a time when so many in Gaza are dying and bleeding and all of us should be grieving. As I write I feel humble, not arrogant. But it seems that somewhere buried in these trivial rejections there is occasion for concern that the media’s claim of objectivity in liberal societies is above all a sham, that even powerful players such as the BBC are secretly captive. Its reportage and commentary qualifies less as news than as hasbara (propaganda), at least when it comes to Israel-Palestine.

In any event, my advice to the media savvy is that if you have caller ID, and you can see that it is the BBC calling, don’t bother answering. I hope I have the good sense to follow my own advice should the phone ever ring again.

But I am not even sure I should sustain such childish pique. How can we turn our backs on the opportunity, however slim, to weigh in for a minute or two on the side of those being so cruelly victimised? So more soberly considered, I hope that I will have the maturity to answer the BBC’s call next time and even keep showing up, however many times I am brushed off at the last minute. By the way, I have yet to be put to the test. Maybe in the interval BBC staffers have been handed a blacklist to avoid the slight tremors of embarrassment associated with last-minute cancellations.

I am not vain enough to suppose that an earlier article written by me on this subject was passed around as a reminder of how to avoid inviting the wrong people to appear on news programmes dealing with the Middle East.


The writer is a scholar of international law and international relations. He taught at Princeton University for 40 years. In 2008 he was appointed by the UN to serve a six-year term as special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights.

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