Dr Vacy Vlazna (NSW) responds to the ABC’s Kieran Doyle re pro-Israeli bias in BBC documentary “Death in the Med” 26Oct10 November 8, 2010

Kieran Doyle
ABC Audience and Consumer  Affairs

Dear Mr Doyle
It is impossible to thank you for your ¬†dismal reply to my questions and concerns regarding the ABC Foreign ¬†Correspondent‚Äôs screening of Corbin‚Äôs ¬†pro-Israeli ¬†biased ¬†documentary Gaza ‚Äď Collision Course on 7 September.
You say that  while it was a BBC production it met the ABC’s  editorial standards. In  that case, the ABC  editorial standards  require lifting to greater  levels  of  journalistic integrity.
How  can the ABC  conclude that the report was’ scrupulously balanced’  when Corbin  blatantly  manipulates the information in Israel’s favour?.  She   doggedly sustains the  argument  of the questionable motives  of the flotilla activists  while presenting the line that the Israeli  commandoes were defending themselves from premeditated attacks  by  terrorists.

¬∑ But did Israel fall into a trap and what was the ¬†real agenda of some of those people who called themselves ‚Äúpeace activists‚ÄĚ ¬†onboard the Free Gaza flotilla.‚ÄĚ
¬∑ ‚ÄúThese people came as peace activists and now we‚Äôre ¬†facing them as terrorists.‚ÄĚ
¬∑ ‚ÄúThe IHH isn‚Äôt just known for their humanitarian ¬†work. Western authorities have accused them of having links to terrorist ¬†organisations. They strongly deny this.‚ÄĚ
¬∑ ‚ÄúThey were not. There may be civilian Turkish ¬†people but they were terrorists plain and simple. They trying to attack us, ¬†they trying to kill each and every single one of us and we were just defending ¬†our lives.‚ÄĚ
· They tried to counter criticism of their military  operation by displaying the weapons they found on the ship, proof they said  that this had been a premeditated attack by the  IHH.
Another underhand ¬†manipulation is Corvin‚Äôs ¬†¬†inclusion of the ‚ÄėAuschwitz ¬†slur‚Äô . ¬†She presents this as a ¬†¬†factual event..
· CORBIN: At nine o’clock the Israeli Navy gave the  first of five warnings to the flotilla to turn back. They offered to take the  aid to an Israeli port and deliver it to Gaza.

ISRAELI NAVY: If you  ignore this order and attempt to enter the blockaded area, the Israeli Navy  will be forced to take all the necessary measures in order to enforce this  blockade.

CORBIN: The Israelis released what they said was the radio  response from the flotilla. Part of it was defiant and abusive.

FLOTILLA RESPONSE: Shut up. Go back to Auschwitz. We’re helping Arabs  going against the US. Don’t forget 9/11 guys.

CORBIN: The recording’s  authenticity has provoked controversy. The flotilla’s organisers insist they  did not hear these comments being made. For the Israelis it was a warning  sign things wouldn’t go that smoothly.(my emphasis)
The Auschwitz  slur was quickly shown to be   faked by the Israeli government  and yet the ABC didn’t edit this  misinformation which questions  the ABC’s editorial standards.
Corbin  gives a lot of  space to the wounding of  Captain R but  a  cursory comment on the wilful killing of 9 innocent men and  purposely  incorporates the  Israeli  lies that the activists had firearms and   shot at the commandoes.
· CORBIN: The Israelis say it’s not possible to fire  while abseiling from a helicopter. They insist their audio shows the commandos  didn’t use live rounds until they were shot at.

ISRAELI MILITARY  AUDIO: Do they have real weapons?

ISRAELI COMMANDO: Yes, real weapons.  They are firing at us. There is live fire here.

CORBIN: They were  civilians.

SERGEANT Y: They were not. There may be civilian Turkish  people but they were terrorists plain and simple. They trying to attack us,  they trying to kill each and every single one of us and we were just defending  our lives.

MAJ GEN (ret.) GIORA EILAND: We have very clear evidence  that at least in four cases the other side did use live fire. In some of them  they did use Israeli weapons that were stolen from our soldiers, but at least  in one case they did use their weapon because we found bullets and shells of  weapons that is not in use in the Israeli  forces.
Is it  scrupulously balanced when Corbin unashamedly  uses the strategy of  omission of  vital information thereby promoting the image of a humane  Israeli military?
· CORBIN: The Israelis evacuated the badly wounded to  hospital.
No  inclusion here  of the  witness accounts of the  Israelis  kicking the wounded and denying them immediate medical attention.
Corbin  employs standard Israeli hasbara strategies ( in line with ABC editorial  standards?) to promote the Israeli myths of the flotilla  attack
1. Hidden Occupation ‚Äďthe reason for the flotilla‚Äôs intent to break the ¬†siege on Gaza i.e. the illegal Israeli occupation and apartheid policies are ¬†kept hidden. Israel merely responds, ¬†to seemingly unprovoked ¬†attacks.
2. Violence in a Vacuum ‚Äď Activist ¬†violence determined as hatred a and ¬†Islamic ¬†terrorism not a struggle about the illegal siege on Gaza and its ¬†¬†toll of human suffering. Activists ¬†linked to terrorism . Activists ¬†¬†attack/Israelis defend.
3. Defining who is  Newsworthy РIsraeli victims are fully  humanised   (Captain R) while activist victims are abstractions (the  dead).
4. The ¬†Right to Exist- Inevitably ¬†Corbin throws in the line ¬†‚ÄúHamas, which rules here, refuses to recognise Israel‚Äôs right to exist.‚ÄĚ Israel nonsensically ¬†demands <http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0202/p09s02-coop.html> that ¬†the Palestinians (of a non-state) recognise its right to exist, but the refusal of the right for the state of Palestine to ¬†exist is a Zionist tenet.
The ¬†ABC deliberately decided to collude in Corbin‚Äôs flotilla fantasy ‚Äď it would ¬†have been aware that ‚ÄúFollowing Israel’s raid on the Gaza ¬†Freedom Flotilla on 31 May, the UN Human Rights Council elected to establish ¬†an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of ¬†international law, including humanitarian and human rights law. On 23 July the ¬†three-person Mission was appointed. It consisted of Chairman Karl ¬†Hudson-Phillips, retired Judge of the International Criminal Court and f ormer ¬†Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago; Sir Desmond de Silva, former Chief ¬†Prosecutor of the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone; and Ms Mary ¬†Shanthi Dairiam, a specialist on international women‚Äôs rights. They were ¬†assisted by a large team including external specialists in forensic pathology, ¬†military issues, firearms, the law of the sea and international humanitarian ¬†law.‚ÄĚ Yet ¬†still chose to screen Corbin‚Äôs doc ¬†without waiting for ¬†the findngs which ¬†were clearly, on mounting evidence reported in ¬†¬†the media, going to debunk the Israeli fabrications.
U.N. ¬†Human Rights Council’s report on Israel’s raid on Gaza aid flotilla (Full ¬†Text) <http://www.blogfrommiddleeast.com/?xstart=b&new=70048> ¬†¬†(UN Human Rights Council panel) – 24-sep-2010
Furthermore the ¬†ABC had the option to check the disputed ¬†information of Corbin‚Äôs ¬†¬†pro-Israeli propaganda with Paul McGeough who ¬†was a member of the ¬†flotilla….
‚ÄúIsraeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak defended the ¬†conduct of his commandos, claiming that in the Middle East you cannot afford ¬†to show weakness. It needs to be stated here that precisely what happened on ¬†the Mavi Marmara is highly contested. There is footage of metal bars being cut ¬†and seemingly wielded as weapons, of chairs and other objects being hurled ¬†over the sides at Israeli Zodiacs and of fire-hoses being used as crude ¬†water-cannons. But there is no visual evidence to support Israeli claims that ¬†the activists on the Mavi Marmara had their own guns; or that they captured ¬†Israeli weapons and used them against the boarding parties. All such Israeli ¬†charges are flatly denied by flotilla organizers and by activists who were ¬†close to the action. In the same vein, there is footage of what appears to be ¬†Israeli commandos shooting an activist at near point-blank range and sickening ¬†autopsy accounts of head and other high-on-the-body wounding ‚Äď the result of a ¬†resort to live ammunition which Israel justifies after-the-fact, claiming ¬†there was a genuine threat to the lives of its commandos.

But … what is conceded by a senior Israeli figure ¬†is that there was no evaluation of the wisdom of attempting to board the ship ¬†after the first show of activist resistance ‚Äď a pause that might have saved ¬†Israel from the criticism still being heaped upon it. Acknowledging that ¬†Israeli commanders should have rethought tactics, the retired military man who ¬†first investigated the Israeli forces’ handling of the flotilla ‚Äď Major ¬†General Giora Eiland ‚Äď told the BBC’s Panorama program: “Certain mistakes were ¬†made by the Israeli armed forces ‚Äď both by the intelligence and by the ¬†commanders of the navy. There was an underestimation of the potential ¬†resistance on the ship.”

And that’s the thing ‚Äď had the Israeli’s pulled off ¬†a clean capture of the Mavi Marmara, the world would be thinking ‘Entebbe.’ ¬†Instead there are nine new graves in Turkish cemeteries and John J. ¬†Mearsheimer is writing of the IDF in The American Conservative as ‘the gang ¬†that cannot shoot straight.’‚ÄĚ http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/controlling-the-narrative-in-israel-and-palestine-20101005-1655t.html

Mr Doyle, your letter only confirms  the shameful pro-Israeli bias of the ABC used to manipulate the Australian  public.

In disgust,

From: ABC  Corporate_Affairs5 <mailto:Corporate_Affairs5.ABC@abc.net.au>
Sent: Monday, October 25, 2010 4:33 PM
To: ‘vacy@aapt.net.au
Subject: Pro  Israeli BIAS in Gaza- Collision Course

Dear Dr Vlazna

I ¬†refer to your complaint regarding the BBC report Gaza ‚Äď 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 ABC did not produce this program  and therefore is not able to answer all of your questions regarding the BBC’s  editorial decisions on what was, or was not, included in the report.   However, I am advised by ABC News management that Foreign  Correspondent did assess the broadcast to ensure that it was in keeping  with the Corporation’s editorial standards, prior to broadcast.

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.  Its clear focus was the Israeli seizure of the Mavi Marmara,  and not the deep and continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.   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 cannot agree that that there ¬†was any presumption in the broadcast that Israel had the ‚Äėright‚Äô to board the ¬†Mavi Marmara. ¬†The introduction of the report stated that Turkey accuses ¬†Israel of an act of piracy and it was made clear that the flotilla was in ¬†international waters when seized, some 90 miles from Gaza;

CORBIN: In the early hours of May the 31st, the Israeli  Navy started closing in. The flotilla was still in international waters, 90  miles from Gaza.

BULENT YILDIRIM: If we organised another  boat and Israel attempted to illegally invade it, we’d use our right to  passive resistance.

We cannot agree that reference to the events of ¬†Operation Cast Lead should have been included in the report. ¬†The ¬†report‚Äôs clear focus was the Israeli seizure of the Mavi Marmara, ¬†and it ¬†is not possible to include every aspect of the long and complex dispute ¬†between the Israelis and Palestinians within the one report. ¬†The ¬†reference to rockets fired from Gaza was stated within the context of the ¬†reasons why Israel persists with its embargo. ¬†That section of the report ¬†also noted that ‚Äúthere‚Äôs no easy access in and out, no economic life ¬†because of the Israeli embargo.‚ÄĚ

The ABC notes your concern  regarding the BBC’s decision not to include reference to interviews with  activists who witnessed the commandos firing weapons, the failure of the  Israelis to return seized equipment, the autopsy reports of the deceased or  footage of Israeli assaults on activists.  There was footage of the chaos  on board shown through the Israeli military footage and the smuggled footage  from Cultures of Resistance.  ABC News management understands that the  BBC worked with whatever footage it had.

As noted above, the ABC  did not produce this report and cannot explain the decisions on what was, or  was not included in the report.  However, 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.

Given the contentious nature of all ¬†of the claims and counter claims over the incident, those interviewed for the ¬†report were afforded the opportunity to describe their version of the events ¬†on board the ship. ¬†The Israelis are perfectly entitled to express their ¬†genuinely held views, just as all other contributors were permitted to do. ¬†¬†The report set out why the Israeli‚Äôs referred to some of those on the ¬†ship as ‚Äúterrorists‚ÄĚ, including the reference to the cache of weapons seized ¬†on the ship, as well as the fact that commandos were stabbed with knives and ¬†beaten with metal poles.

The ABC does not know why British  activists were not interviewed by the BBC.  There were a range of views  broadcast from both sides of the issue and balance was achieved in keeping  with the ABC’s editorial standards.

We are not aware of any  admissions from the IDF regarding the doctoring of audio used in the report.   At no time in the report does the BBC even come close to stating that  the audio was broadcast from the Captain’s deck, as you claim.  The  program stated the following;

CORBIN: The Israelis released  what they said was the radio response from the flotilla. Part of it was  defiant and abusive.

FLOTILLA RESPONSE: Shut up. Go back to  Auschwitz. We’re helping Arabs going against the US. Don’t forget 9/11  guys.

CORBIN: The recording’s authenticity has provoked  controversy. The flotilla’s organisers insist they did not hear these comments  being made.

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 ‚Äúdoctoring‚ÄĚ 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.

We cannot agree that the reporter at any  stage questions the activists right to defend themselves.   She  noted, accurately, that the flotilla carried some who were well and truly  ready to confront the Israelis, should they attempt to seize the  ship;

BULENT YILDIRIM: We’re going to defeat the Israeli  commandos. We’re declaring it now. If you bring your soldiers here we will  throw you off the ship and you’ll be humiliated in front of the whole  world.

The reporter put the statement to the head of the IHH and  allowed him the opportunity to respond;

CORBIN:  You said  that if they, the Israelis board the ship, we will throw them into the sea.  Isn’t that a provocation to be saying that to your followers on the  ship?

BULENT YILDIRIM: I spoke correctly there. I spoke  beautifully. I watched it again afterwards. Israel stole these images from us,  but we’re not denying it. If we organised another boat and Israel attempted to  illegally invade it, we’d use our right to passive resistance. We’d throw them  into the sea.

The reasons why Israel enforces an embargo on  Gaza were made clear in the report as were its aggressive actions in closing  in on the flotilla and seizing the Mavi Marmara.

The introduction  of the report stated that Turkey accuses Israel of an act of piracy and it was  made clear that the flotilla was in international waters when seized, some 90  miles from Gaza;

CORBIN: In the early hours of May the  31st, the Israeli Navy started closing in. The flotilla was still in  international waters, 90 miles from Gaza.

We cannot agree that in  order to meet the editorial standard for impartiality, the program was  required to include an examination of maritime law.  This report focused  strictly on the events on board the Mavi Maramara and it is not possible, with  the obvious time constraints of a 20 minute report, to include or examine  every conceivable aspect of the issue.

We cannot find any  reference whatsoever in the report that supports your claim that there is an  assumption that Israel has the right to blockade Gaza.  In fact, the  report included a number of statements that contest any such  assumption;

CORBIN: Here in Gaza the problem‚Äôs not so much a ¬†lack of food or medicine ‚Äď there‚Äôs no easy access in and out, no economic life ¬†because of the Israeli embargo…People are forced to recycle rubble to ¬†rebuild houses.

FATIH KAVAKDAN: Anyone with a conscience,  not just Muslims, needed to take some aid to Gaza.

KEN O’KEEFE:  Yeah and I believed that if, the real problem here is the occupation, the  blockade. That is the problem. It must end. Now if it requires confrontation  in which we use non lethal force to defend ourselves and our mission, then so  be it.

BULENT YILDIRIM: If the embargo isn’t lifted then of  course there will be more flotillas. We’ll go back with more boats. We lost  nine people. This isn’t something that can just be left like  that.

The fact that Israel used helicopters and highly  trained commandos against activists with makeshift weaponry was made patently  and repeatedly clear in the report.  The reporter could not have stated  more clearly that the commandos also carried pistols;

CORBIN:  The first helicopter hovered over the top deck of the ship. The commandos  inside were armed with non lethal weapons, paintball and stun guns but each  man also had a pistol. They couldn’t abseil down. The people below had  tied the rope to the ship’s antenna.

In answer to your question ‚Äď ¬†‚ÄúIn BBC language, is a pistol really a non-lethal’ weapon?‚ÄĚ ‚Äď ¬†¬†the ABC is satisfied that the BBC used the English language in a clear ¬†and precise manner and that the overwhelming majority of our audience ¬†understood the reporter when she stated ‚Äúbut each man also had a ¬†pistol‚ÄĚ.

The ¬†Israeli commandos featured in the report were referring to their stab wounds, ¬†inflicted with knives not ‚Äúchairs and junk‚ÄĚ when stating that those attacking ¬†them were trying to ‚Äúfinish us off‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúkill us all‚ÄĚ. ¬†The report ¬†included footage of a range of weapons seized on the ship, which included ¬†knives. ¬†Nowhere in this section of the report was it ‚Äúassumed‚ÄĚ that the ¬†activists were the aggressors. ¬†Both sides gave their version of events ¬†regarding the violence and no one sides version was favoured over ¬†another;

CORBIN: But people were being killed. The dead and  wounded were carried down below. Amongst the casualties was Fatih, hit in the  chest by paintball pellets and in the arm by a live round.

FATIH  KAVAKDAN: After I was shot my friends took me inside to the first floor.  Everyone was panicking and shouting for the doctor because 50 people were  badly wounded. I saw friends covered in blood.

You say that Jane ¬†Corbin ‚Äútalks about IHH recruiting ¬†fellow Islamists’ to join them on ¬†board‚ÄĚ. Jane Corbin says nothing of the sort, anywhere in the ¬†broadcast. ¬†We would be most interested in you substantiating this claim ¬†with specific reference to were you allege it occurred. ¬†We will be happy ¬†to investigate the matter further if you are able to back it ¬†up.

In regard to the inclusion of autopsy reports or detailed  accounts of how passengers died,  the decision on what to include in the  report was taken by the BBC.  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.

Audience and Consumer Affairs believe the  report is in keeping with sections 3.2, 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.

Yours  sincerely

Kieran Doyle
Audience and Consumer  Affairs

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