Dora McPhee (VIC) responds to Kieran Doyle, (Audience and Consumer Affairs) re ABC screening of the BBC documentary ‘Death in the Med” 6Nov10 November 7, 2010

Kieran Doyle
Audience and Consumer Affairs

Dear Mr Doyle,

I was disappointed to receive your pro-forma reply to my letter of complaint regarding the BBC report Gaza – Collision Course, broadcast by Foreign Correspondent on 7 September. Sadly it does not address my key criticism of the program – that of the framing, what was left unchallenged or completely omitted and how language was used to prejudice the portrayal of the activists thereby leading viewers to favour Israel’s version of events.

Your arguments (highlighted in bold ) do not convince me as I indicate below:

“It is relevant to note that the requirement for accuracy and balance does not mean that all available material must be included in a report.”

Omitting eye-witness accounts of the shootings by the IDF and omitting the damning results of the autopsy report, which clearly calls into question Israel’s version of events strikes me as crucial omissions that severely compromise accuracy and balance. These are not minor details or material that would only give a slightly different reading of events but are germane to establishing the truth of what happened.

“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.”

It clearly did not examine the confusion and debate over what actually happened when crucial evidence was deliberately omitted. There was no footage of the actual shootings that killed the nine peace activists. The footage taken by the photographer on board who was killed while filming the actions of the Israeli commandos was seized and withheld by Israel. Israel’s seizure of all the film evidence and subsequent selective release of film footage to support its version of events was not disclosed by the program nor that at least one person filming the event was shot in the process of documenting what was happening. Surely the fact that the documentary attracted so much criticism and complaint when it was shown by the BBC calls into question whether both sides of the issue were in fact adequately addressed. Not even mentioning the controversy it caused sends the wrong message to viewers who would normally give great credence to anything produced by the BBC and this point was also not addressed by your reply.

“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.”

Meticulously verifying footage that was used does not address the issue of selective use of that footage nor does it address the failure to disclose Israel’s withholding of footage that was seized. Activists shot footage of the Israeli attack, but their cameras, laptops and other recording equipment were taken by the Israelis and have not been returned. One has to ask why this point was not raised during the programme, or put to the Israeli spokespeople? This is another omission that seriously flawed the program.

“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.”

Omitting crucial evidence and eye-witness testimonies does unduly favour Israel’s version of events in this documentary. We repeatedly saw the same footage of Turkish activists beating an Israeli but we saw no footage of people being shot dead or injured by Israeli commandos because this footage was not made available to Jane Corbin no doubt because it was incriminating to Israel. And eye-witness accounts of such shootings are missing even though they are available. This is not balance.

The autopsy reports and the UN investigation in Geneva strongly suggest that some of those killed appeared to have been summarily executed, which means shot in the back and in the head at short range. Nothing in this so-called balanced presentation even hints at this inevitable conclusion. This is not balance.

It is clear that a crucial perspective was not adequately presented by this documentary and one that is now supported by the report of the fact-finding mission of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla which shows conclusively that US citizen Furkan Dogan and five Turkish citizens were murdered execution-style by Israeli commandos.

While the Israeli government refused to co-operate, the mission interviewed 112 eyewitnesses to the Israeli attack in London, Geneva, Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. Experts in forensic pathology and firearms assisted the mission in interpreting forensic evidence of the autopsies.  The account provided by the OHCHR of the events on board the Mavi Marmara refutes the version of events aggressively pushed by the Israeli military and supports the testimony of passengers on board.

“The IDF acknowledges that there is no way of knowing for sure where those comments came from, having originally cited the Mavi Marmara as the source of the transmission.  However, due to an open channel, the Israelis concede the specific ship in the flotilla responding to the Israeli Navy could not be identified.  At no stage do the Israelis admit to “doctoring” the audio, as you claim.  They have admitted to editing out irrelevant material and have also posted the full version online to support that claim.”

This point does not address why that misleading audio piece was used at all if there was no way of knowing the source particularly as it was used in a way to cast the peace activists on board the Mavi Mamara as anti-Semitic and therefore with questionable motives for their mission.

There are a number of other surrounding issues to do with the peace activists’ mission and the legitimacy of Israel’s boarding of the ship in international waters which are also not dealt with appropriately in the interests of balance and accuracy in the documentary.

I draw your attention to a 15 minute video produced by Antony Lawson which analyses and dissects the documentary in detail:

I reiterate that claiming the documentary has a range of viewpoints does not in itself guarantee balance when they are framed or used in such a way to give the pretence of balance while allowing a distortion of the truth and leading viewers who lack detailed knowledge to give greater credence to  a particular conclusion. This is not balance but a particularly sophisticated form of propaganda parading as balanced reporting that is highly manipulative of its audience.

I respectfully disagree that this documentary was scrupulously balanced and seriously question the means by which the ABC arrives at this conclusion.

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