David Macilwain (VIC) responds to ABC’s Lauren Crozier on the BBC’s “Death in the Med” 8Oct10 October 8, 2010

While I appreciate that you have responded to my criticism of the perspective of ‘Gaza – Collision Course’, and have apparently considered it in some detail, the conclusion you have arrived at – that the program was ‘scrupulously balanced’ – is seriously disturbing, and demonstrates a near total failure by the review to understand the issues involved, as well as a worrying readiness to align your organisation with a country that continually flouts international law, UN resolutions, and the Geneva Conventions.

It was not necessary for you to do this – you could have simply said that ‘the views expressed in the documentary are not necessarily shared by the ABC”, and there would have been no further grounds for criticism. You have however chosen to put your full backing behind this disingenous and misleading piece of Israeli propaganda, and you are now going to have to justify not simply your actions but those of Israel in its military occupation of Palestine, and illegal imprisonment of Gaza.

If you immediately take issue with my contention that this was Israeli propaganda, then just consider this; Israel allowed Jane Corbin access to film from Israeli boats, and to enter Gaza.

Currently Nobel Peace prize holder Mairead Maguire is awaiting deportation from Tel Aviv for supporting local women peace campaigners; Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur was held similarly and refused entry to Gaza last year; Richard Goldstone received no cooperation from the IDF or Israel in preparing his report – which condemned Israel’s assault on Gaza as a possible war crime despite him being a world respected juror and a ‘Zionist’.

Consider this also:- Israel siezed all the cameras and laptops from people on the Mavi Marmara, as well as jamming their broadcasts, so the film that we were able to see, – and which Israel found it acceptable for us to see – was very limited; we saw the same footage of Turkish activists beating an Israeli on the deck at least five times, but we saw no footage of people being shot dead or injured by Israeli commandos. As was revealed only this weekend by the UN investigation in Geneva, some of those killed appeared to have been summarily executed, which means shot in the back and in the head at short range. Israel of course rejects this finding ‘because the human rights council is anti-Israel and has an agenda’, but these executions were already known to have taken place, as many people witnessed them.

For a detailed analysis of the UN fact finding mission’s report I would like you to read the report by Gareth Porter IN FULL.

We may return to the question of ‘what actually happened a little later, but I think it is necessary to spell out a little of the context to this event, so that it will be clear to you just what I believe constitutes a balanced view in terms of international law and conventions.

First point – there is no question about the illegality of Israel’s attack on the aid flotilla. You say the report ‘included the accusation that the ship was in international waters’, which is true, and that was one of its first errors – an ‘accusation’ is something open to dispute, like the ludicrous ‘accusation’ that there were terrorists on board. The ship was in international waters, and as such it was the subject of piracy. The UN mission has also stated this to be the case, so on this point, and all that follows from it there can be no dispute; Israel launched an unprovoked and illegal armed attack on a civilian vessel.

Second point – Israel’s maintenance of the blockade on Gaza, which the Aid Flotilla intended to break, is also illegal, and there have been numerous demands by the international community that it should cease. In this case however Israel has the backing of the US, and the tacit backing of the EU, as both have rejected the legitimacy of the Hamas government for political reasons and the UN is unable or unwilling to act against them.  In pursuing this blockade Israel has already launched armed attacks on many vessels inside the notional 12 mile limit of Gaza’s shore, regularly killing or injuring innocent fishermen.

One might argue that the aid convoy was entitled to bring whatever it wished to Gaza – even weapons, as there is no difference in law between the Port of Gaza and the Port of Jaffa, where Israel can bring in whatever it likes, and of course it does like armaments particularly. But it is not necessary to argue this, as the flotilla was not bringing in anything except useful things like building materials and medicines and other simple harmless items which Israel chooses to deprive Gaza of.   The donated medicines – and remember this aid was all privately donated – are useful long past their dates of course, defying Corbin’s disgusting suggestion that this aid was just for show; of all the contentious stuff in the program this was really the worst, as well as a true hallmark of Israeli propaganda – innuendo to create suspicion and distrust.)

It is also noteworthy that Israel in fact showed little interest in inspecting the goods being carried, as pointed out in the attached article, which confirms their intention to inflict injury on civilians for political reasons. They also made a point of displaying the seized ‘arms’ on the dockside – a pathetic collection of implements which was all the people on the boat had to defend themselves from a brutal attack by totally ruthless commandos. Notably there were NO FIREARMS.

Perhaps here I need to remind you, or inform you – about the reality of the siege of Gaza.  When Hamas was elected by free and fair elections in 2006, the US and Israel could not stomach this result, despite Israel having originally encouraged Hamas as a force against the PLO.  After the US and Egypt and Israel collaborated with Mohammed Dayan in an attempted coup against Hamas in Gaza and were routed, Hamas took control of Gaza, and Israel began its blockade. The Strip was already in a severe humanitarian state when Israel launched its assault on Gaza last year, but thanks to their attacks on civilian infrastructure such as waterworks, flour mills, sewage processing plant, as well as the demolition of tens of thousands of homes, it was reduced to crisis condition.

Despite UN resolutions, and numerous reports on the human rights abuses during and since that assault, Israel continues with its illegal blockade, imprisoning 1.5 million people in atrocious conditions and denying them access to basic necessities, particularly materials with which to rebuild their shattered homes and infrastructure. Meanwhile in the occupied West Bank it provides generous subsidies to settlers from foreign countries to come and live on Palestinian land.  If you don’t understand and remember this essential perspective, and accept that the situation for Palestinians is one of illegal military occupation, then you cannot judge whether your reports show balance.

As an example, Ann Barker last week reported on the settlement freeze, and showed what appeared to be balance – she spoke to a Palestinian farmer in the West Bank, as well as settler leaders in a nearby illegal Jewish colony. The Palestinian farmer said he could produce documents showing that the land had been in his family since Ottoman times, and then we heard the settlers detailing how they had been promised the land by someone in a book dating back much further. A reporter with some credibility would have pointed out to the Palestinian that he had no need of documents to prove his ownership, because the UN said in 1967 that Israel had illegally occupied his land and must withdraw, (resolution 242 ) and the 4th Geneva Convention states uncategorically that an occupying power must not settle any of its citizens on such land.  Your broadcast of this report without alteration or comment is further evidence that you are either in ignorance of the reality, or are prepared to support Israel against international laws and conventions.

But back to the credibility of ‘Collision Course’.

As you are aware, the screening of Death on the Med by the BBC was the subject of much criticism from supporters of the Aid Flotilla, and any idea that these people’s opinion can just be ignored is seriously prejudiced – 600 people from 40 countries took part in this latest attempt to break Israel’s siege of Gaza. A 15 minute video produced by Antony Lawson analyses and dissects the ‘documentary’ in detail, and can be viewed through this link to the Australians for Palestine website:-  http://australiansforpalestine.com/29664

It will explain clearly to you why the examples of ‘balance’ that you refer to are nothing of the sort, and shows the way that the film distorts truth and misleads the viewer who lacks any detailed knowledge.

The response to this criticism from the BBC was totally inadequate, but no more was expected. After Israel’s attack on Gaza, the BBC refused to broadcast an appeal for humanitarian aid to help the devastated strip cope with its five and a half thousand seriously injured people, and to help rebuild its infrastructure. This refusal was completely unjustified and probably unprecedented, and is an unfortunate indication of the degree to which the Israel lobby in Britain is able to control the political and media agenda.

So my question is, given that your response to my criticism was equally inadequate, was it as much as I could expect?  Your response was in fact, far worse than I expected, with your claim of ‘scrupulous balance’ indicating just how wide is the gulf in our perceptions. To claim that Corbin’s film showed  balance would be to invite argument and heated debate; claiming this balance was ‘scrupulous’ shows that such debate is useless. You might as well claim that there was no Nakba.

And this is where it becomes quite serious. By refusing to acknowledge that this film is effectively pro-Israel propaganda you legitimise Israel’s illegal behaviour. Every report which deals with Israel then becomes suspect, as suspect as reports from ‘embedded’ journalists in the Invasion of Iraq, and as suspect as the viewpoint of Mark Regev, or Alan Dershowitz, but without the ‘honesty’ – your audience thinks they are hearing an Australian viewpoint that reflects the public viewpoint.

While I am under no illlusions about the extent of racism in Australia, particularly against Middle Eastern Muslims, I also believe most Australians have some considerable sympathy for Palestinian suffering, and suspicion and dislike of Israel’s racist aggression against them. Some recent overt displays of contemptible behaviour by Israel include the attack on the Aid Flotilla, and the Gaza Massacre, but also the assassination of Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai by Mossad agents using forged passports, and while these events did cause a ‘backlash’ against Israel in Australia the presentation of these events by the ABC and other media significantly affected their perception, and a pro-Israel bias was rapidly reestablished.

It could be said to a degree, that the ABC is not entirely responsible for its failure to present balance around the Israel Palestine conflict – where balance means specifically NOT giving equal space to the viewpoint of each side. The assault on Gaza was a special example of this – press access was denied to Gaza where the war crimes were being committed, and the press given its approved propaganda from the media base near Sderot. I would argue that the ABC in this circumstance should have refused this ‘access’, and obtained its information from sources on the ground such as Al Jazeera. By playing Israel’s game, you and countless other Western press organisations allowed this atrocious massacre to continue for 21 days until Israel felt like stopping for Obama’s inauguration.

It has to be said also that we have a prime minister and a foreign minister who have an unquestioning and unbreakable support for Israel, and it is inevitable that the ABC will ‘toe the line’.  But the Gillard and Rudd have made no secret of their pro-Israel bias, whereas the ABC is claiming to have no such bias. Or is it?

So I request that you reconsider your view on ‘Death on the Med’, with the help of the information I have provided. I hope to hear your response within a week, and on the basis of it will decide whether it is necessary to take this complaint further, that is to the ombudsman or the minister for communications.


Dear Mr Macilwain

Thank you for your email regarding the BBC report Gaza –  Collision Course, broadcast by Foreign Correspondent on 7  September.

Your concerns have been investigated by Audience and  Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program  making areas within the ABC.  We have reviewed the broadcast, assessed it  against the ABC’s editorial standards and sought and considered material  provided by ABC News.

The report set out to examine the confusion and debate over  what actually occurred on the Mavi Marmara by presenting both sides of the  issue.  The report was scrupulously balanced through the presentation of  a range of principal relevant perspectives including three Israeli commandos  who boarded the boat; the Head of the Israeli Defence Force inquiry into the  events; the Free Gaza coordinator, Lubna Masarwa; the Head of the IHH, Bulent  Yildrum as well as IHH volunteers and other activists on board the boat,  including former US marine, Ken O’Keefe.

The report included the accusation that Israel had broken  international law by seizing a Turkish ship in international waters and that  it had fired first at those aboard the ship.  The report also included  the counter accusation that some of the protestors aboard the Mavi Marmara  were actually terrorists and that it was they who had instigated the violence  by wielding metal bars and stabbing the Israeli commandos landing on the ship  with knives.

The report made it clear that the flotilla was still in  international waters when seized, ninety miles from Gaza.  The program  also made it clear that a number of inquiries into the incident were ongoing.  The report was balanced and impartial, providing both sides the opportunity to  state their views, and no one view was unduly favoured over  another.

The broadcast included footage from a variety of different  sources, including from the Israeli Defence Force, some from the IHH, Cultures  of Resistance and others from individuals who were on board the Marvi  Marmara.  The BBC has issued a statement that all of the footage featured  in the broadcast was meticulously double- and cross-checked to verify its  accuracy and that any footage of uncertain events during the raid were clearly  labelled as such.

Audience and Consumer Affairs believe the report is in  keeping with sections 3.4 and 3.5 of the ABC Code of Practice.  Balance  was achieved through the presentation of a range of principal relevant  perspectives, none of which were unduly favoured over another, and the issues  raised in the report are based on news values.  A copy of the Code of  Practice is available online at the attached link: http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm.

Thank you for allowing the ABC the opportunity to respond  to your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Lauren Crozier
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs

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