Dora McPhee (VIC) writes to the ABC re screening of biased documentary “Death in the Med” 10Sep10 September 13, 2010

ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs
GPO BOX 9994
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Dear Sir or Madam,

I write because I am deeply concerned about the screening on September 7 of “Gaza – Collision Course” on ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent. The renamed film was the Panorama documentary “Death in the Med” by Jane Corbin, which was broadcast in the UK on the BBC on August 22, 2010. At the time it was extensively criticised for its pro-Israel bias despite its nod to “balance” by including some viewpoints from the peace activists who were on board the Mavi Marmara as part of the Free Gaza Flotilla.

The BBC’s defence of this program did not satisfy many critics who saw it as a breach of the BBC’s aims of impartiality. Given the controversy this program invited it seems the ABC’s Mark Corcoran has erred in not pointing out to viewers that the program was in fact highly controversial in his introduction of this documentary. Instead, the program was billed as shedding light on the deadly events with never before seen video footage and accounts with much praise for the Panorama team that were given the BBC’s imprimatur. This would lead viewers to assume it was a fair and honest portrayal of the facts.

However, we are not told that the Israelis confiscated all video equipment and footage and that the footage now released by them is highly selective. We are given no indication on whether these snippets have been edited or shown out of sequence to support one version of events. Although Israel successfully controlled news of its deadly commando raid on the Free Gaza Flotilla it was incumbent on the ABC to tell its viewers that emerging evidence from eye witnesses and survivors of the ordeal have seriously challenged Israel’s version of events and that many of these accounts are not even covered in this program. In particular the UK activist, Ismail Patel, who witnessed the point blank shooting of a fellow activist clearly undermining the claim that the IDF only shot at activists in self-defence is a case in point as reported in The Guardian.

I draw your attention to Richard Lightbrown’s  “Analysis of BBC Panorama ‘Death on the Med’ exposes blatant pro-Israel bias”, which scrupulously tracks its criticism of the program against the transcript. This anaylsis can be found on the following site:

Not only was an inordinate amount of time given to spokespeople seeking to give the Israeli version of events, but also through the clever framing of the so-called “balance” pieces from the peace activists’ side there was a subtle reaffirmation of the Israeli position in numerous instances. This sort of “balance” within a documentary is far more insidious and manipulative than a film that is outright one-sided in that it allows the ABC/BBC to profess “balance” when in fact the opposite is true. The framing, what was left unchallenged or completely omitted and how language was used to prejudice the portayal of the activists, were all subtle ways employed to influence viewers to draw certain conclusions. Specific examples of this practice are outlined in detail in Richard Lightbrown’s analysis, which I urge you to read.

Since the programme was aired on the BBC, Ken O’Keefe, one of the activists interviewed, has written an open letter to the BBC Panorama’s Jane Corbin indicating that he had only agreed to participate in the documentary if it was made plain that the activists had let the commandos go after disarming them and treating them for their injuries incurred in the confrontation. This was an important point as it seriously undermines the Israeli narrative that the activists were intent on using violence and terrorised the Israeli commandos as implied by the documentary.

Instead the documentary gives the false impression that the said commandos escaped rather than being treated for their injuries and then released. Again, the ABC should have mentioned to viewers that Ken O’Keefe was unhappy with how Jane Corbin used his commentary, thereby reneging on her agreement, as he could see how it had been manipulated to heighten the narrative of activist violence, while she downplayed the fatal violence perpetrated by the IDF. There was no discussion of how the activists had a right to defend themselves against assault in international waters nor that the captain of the ship had moved the ship deeper into international waters to avoid such a confrontation when it was clear the Israelis were intent on boarding the ship in the middle of the night.

What is even more egregious is the testimony of the commando supposedly wounded by a knife attack to the abdomen who testifies that he somehow miraculously jumped ship and swam to safety. We are not shown verifiable evidence of his abdominal wound and it beggars belief that with such a wound he was able to swim to safety without serious ramifications. This testimony is not even challenged for its veracity by Corbin even though O’Keefe had clearly told her all wounded IDF commandos were treated and released. We are left with the impression that it was the IDF that was in danger and not the activists, nine of whom were killed and scores of whom were injured. How some of them came to be injured fatally is not even addressed and yet they lost their lives and surviving witnesses to their deaths are not given a voice.

In fact the most glaring omission was any footage or eyewitness accounts of the killing of the nine activists and yet this footage must be in the possession of the IDF. We know from witnesses that an activist was shot while filming the confrontation. Where is his film clip one wonders? Nor are we told – and this is a crucial point – of the autopsy results that show gun shot wounds in some cases from behind and above and others directly to the head, which seriously calls into question the Israeli version of events. A Press TV journalist who was also an eyewitness has given a detailed account of events that simply does not tally with Jane Corbin’s documentary.  None of these issues was ever brought to light in the documentary – things that should have been germane in bringing us closer to the truth, which the documentary claims to do.

The IDF have since admitted that the audio recording they claimed to be broadcast from the flotilla: “Shut up, go back to Auschwitz….etc”, had been doctored, after intense criticism claiming that it was a forgery had made them retract this claim. And yet this recording is used in the documentary. While Corbin notes the authenticity has been questioned she then proceeds to say “For the Israelis it was a warning sign things wouldn’t go smoothly”, which implicitly suggests she accepts the claim that it is genuine for how could a “faked” recording have been a warning sign? The documentary contains many such instances of sly innuendo while parading as an exercise in “balance”.

I recently wrote to the ABC regarding the refusal to screen “Hope in a Slingshot”, which details Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians in the West Bank, by Australian director Inka Stafrace. That this program was deemed to be an opinion piece dealing with a contentious subject and therefore could not be shown and yet the ABC has no qualms in showing Jane Corbin’s highly contentious and flawed documentary on an incident that is still being investigated, is highly disturbing.

Sitting through Corbin’s skewed version of the Mavi Marmara debacle, which heavily favoured the Israeli defence forces’ version of what took place while discrediting the peace activists and their attempt to break Israel’s criminal siege and blockade of Gaza was indeed galling, particularly when the distributor of an Australian documentary “Hope in a Slingshot’ was told her film could not be screened on the ABC until a program taking an opposing position was available for broadcast. There clearly seems to be one rule for what is deemed a pro-Palestinian documentary and another for a pro-Israeli documentary that is paraded as an attempt to reveal the truth.

As the Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire wrote:  “There is so much commentary in this documentary that is inaccurate that it does a grave disservice to investigative journalism and the BBC.”

I ask the ABC to look into this matter.

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