Why my film is under fire

The pro-Israel lobby intimidates journalists to ensure

that most coverage remains biased in its favour 

John Pilger 

Monday September 23, 2002

The Guardian 


An unforeseen threat to freedom of speech in British

broadcasting emerged last week. It was triggered by

the showing of my documentary, Palestine is Still the

Issue, on ITV. The film told a basic truth that is

routinely relegated, even suppressed - that a historic

injustice has been done to the Palestinian people, and

until Israel's illegal and brutal occupation ends,

there will be no peace for anyone, Israelis included. 

Most of the film allowed people to tell their

eyewitness stories, both Palestinians and Israelis.

What was unusual was that it disclosed in detail the

daily humiliation and cultural denigration of the

Palestinians, including a sequence showing excrement

smeared by Israeli soldiers in a room of children's

paintings. The film was accurate, restrained and fair;

the longest interview was with an Israeli government

spokesman. Every word and frame was subjected to a

legal examination for accuracy and to ensure it

complied with the fairness regulations in the

Broadcasting Act. 

Our historical adviser, Professor Ilan Pappé, the

distinguished Israeli historian. He wrote to Carlton

Television that "the film is faultless in its

historical description and poignant in its message".

None of this deterred the chairman of Carlton, Michael

Green, a supporter of Israel's policies, from abusing

the programme makers in the Jewish Chronicle, calling

the film "inaccurate", "historically incorrect" and "a

tragedy for Israel". 

Not one of his accusations was, or can be,

substantiated. Professor Pappé called the attack "an

attempt to delegitimise any criticism of Israel". This

was followed by an unprecedented rebuke of its

chairman by Carlton's Factual Department, which stood

by the film's accuracy. 

What is disquieting is that Green had actually seen

the film before it went to air, and had not alerted

the programme makers to his concerns, waiting until

the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Conservative Friends

of Israel and the Israeli embassy expressed their

"outrage" at a film transmitted after most people were

in bed. 

A "pro-Israel" film is now being demanded by them and

Green. What does this mean? My film was

pro-Palestinian in as much as it was pro-justice. Most

of those interviewed were patriotic Israelis,

including the war veteran father of a teenage girl

killed in a suicide bombing. He and others put the lie

to the standard Zionist cry that any criticism of

Israel is anti-semitic, a claim that insults all those

Jewish people who reject the likes of Ariel Sharon

acting in their name. 

So what does "balance" mean? A film approved by the

Israel lobby? This lobby is currently orchestrating an

email campaign against my film; curiously, many of the

emails are coming from America, where it has not been


At the heart of this is a failure to acknowledge the

overwhelming imbalance in the British media in favour

of the Israeli point of view. ITV deserves great

credit for funding and broadcasting my film, which

sought to redress a little of this. The BBC would have

never dared to incur the wrath of one of the most

influential lobbies in this country, as Tim Llewellyn,

the BBC's Middle East correspondent for many years,

says in a letter in today's Guardian. He accuses the

BBC of "continuing to duck" its public service duty to

explain "the true nature of the disaster [of the

occupation] and Israel's overwhelming responsibility

for it". 

This general bias is verified by a remarkable study of

the television coverage of the Middle East, conducted

last May by the Glasgow University Media Group. The

conclusions ought to shame broadcasters. The research

shows that the public's lack of understanding of the

conflicts and its origins is actually compounded by

the "coverage". Viewers are rarely told that the

Palestinians are victims of an illegal military

occupation. The term "occupied territories" is rarely

explained. Only 9% of young people interviewed know

that the Israelis are both the occupiers and the

illegal "settlers". 

The selective use of language is striking, says the

study. Words such as "murder", "atrocity" and

"terrorism" are used almost exclusively in relation to

Israeli deaths. The extent to which broadcasters

assume the Israeli perspective, says Professor Greg

Philo, "can be seen if the statements are reversed ...

We did not find any [news] reports stating that 'The

Palestinian attacks were in retaliation for the murder

of those resisting the illegal Israeli occupation.'" 

For years, journalists have complained about Zionist

hate mail and the pressure of the "regular call from

the Israeli embassy" to current affairs editors. This

can take a subtle form: pressure is applied to

correspondents in Jerusalem, who then shape their

reports accordingly in the interests of what they tell

themselves is "balance", but is, in effect, censorship

by omission. The system gets the Israelis off their

backs and "makes life bearable". 

If Michael Green and his vociferous friends succeed in

intimidating ITV and the Independent Television

Commission, the freedom of broadcasters to be more

than mere channellers of "official truth" and to offer

viewers suppressed facts and a true diversity of

perspective, will be destroyed. No matter how big and

powerful the corporate media, journalists and

broadcasters have a duty to resist on behalf of the

public we are meant to serve. 



Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims

Contact IslamAwareness@gmail.com for further information