Last Saturday, around half a million protesters took to the streets of London calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The protest came as Israel, in retaliation for the Hamas attacks on 7th October, had turned Gaza to rubble. The Hamas attacks, whilst horrendous in their own right, were hardly the start of an ongoing occupation which began in 2006.
The BBC, as the main broadcaster in the UK, has a responsibility under its charter “to provide impartial news and information to help people to understand and engage with the world around them.” People on all sides of the political spectrum question its ability to do so. The article on the BBC News website appeared under the headline ‘Pro-Palestinian protest in London sees thousands call for bombing to stop’. How the BBC frames the narrative, whilst maintaining the illusion of impartiality, is an interesting example of the way in which journalism, far from being objective, is used to support a pre-determined narrative.
The story starts by stating the ‘facts’: “Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters have gathered in London and across the UK for rallies urging an end to Israel’s attacks in Gaza.”
Although, on the face of it, this seems even-handed, it is not difficult to see an inherent pro-establishment viewpoint. Images from the march, taken both by attendees at the event and news outlets, show clearly the size of the crowd. It was far closer to the half-million estimated than to the news room claim. It is not unusual, of course, for the BBC to underestimate the number of protesters and, in fairness, it is almost impossible to count people on a march. Though, in March 2019, a group opposed to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party held a march in London which was reported thus: “Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in central London calling for another EU referendum, as MPs search for a way out of the Brexit impasse. Organisers of the “Put It To The People” campaign say more than a million people joined the march before rallying in front of Parliament.” The Palestine Solidarity Campaign put the number of marchers last Saturday at 500,000 — but their figure was ignored.
The story goes on: “More than 1,000 Metropolitan Police Officers have been deployed across London as thousands demanded an end to the bombing in Gaza.”
It is really hard to see why this is placed second. It is a separate story. And there were actually very few arrests on the day. This is how propaganda is done — by maintaining ‘balance’. Paragraph one reports the march, though underestimating the numbers. Paragraph two reminds us that these people are dangerous, requiring 1,000 police officers to keep them inline.
The second paragraph surely should have been this: “Similar demonstrations took place in many UK cities including Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast.” Though it should also be noted that the mass demonstrations which took place in countries around the world, including the USA, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Australia, and India received no coverage at all from the BBC.
In the opening paragraph, we are told that the protesters were demanding an end to the bombing of Gaza. But why is Israel bombing Gaza? This section explains:
“It follows the recent upsurge in conflict between Hamas and Israel.
The protests come as Israel expands its strikes, three weeks after Hamas launched a cross-border attack which killed 1,400 people and saw 229 people kidnapped as hostages.
Since then, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 7,500 Palestinians have been killed as Israel carried out retaliatory strikes.”
This takes a bit of unpicking. Things to note are that, according to this report, there has been a recent upsurge in conflict between Hamas and Israel. This clearly ignores, as the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres pointed out only last week, “56 years of oppression”. Although the piece says Israel has expanded its strikes, these, according to this news story, were in response to Hamas killing 1,400 people in what they term a cross-border attack. In other words, Israel is the victim here and Hamas the aggressor. It completely ignores, in line with BBC editorial policy, the fact that Israel has illegally occupied the West Bank, that the state of Israel has laws which have led human rights groups to label it as ‘apartheid’, or the steady drip of Palestinians killed — amounting to 227 this year alone (prior to October 7th), the majority of them children. BBC editors will be aware both of their duty, as a publicly funded broadcaster, to be impartial, but also that, as editors, how they frame the news has a major effect on the way readers and viewers receive the news.
Whilst the 1,400 dead Israelis is simply given as fact (have these numbers been independently verified? Were they all killed by Hamas? There has been evidence that some were caught in Israeli crossfire, how many nobody seems to know). On the other hand, the figures for Palestinian deaths are attributed to “the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza”. Hamas, we should not forget, is framed in this and other stories as the instigator of the violence. At a time when Israel’s last remaining friends on the international stage — USA and UK — are questioning the number of Palestinian deaths, the BBC simply leaves “Hamas-run” to plant the seeds of doubt in the readers’ minds.
At this point in the story, it is hard to remember that it is about a demonstration at all. The author reminds us:
“In the last three weekends huge protests have taken place in major UK cities.” And in many cities across the globe. They continue:
“On Saturday afternoon, crowds started to gather near the Golden Jubilee Bridge holding signs saying “Gaza, stop the massacre” and “Free Palestine, end Israeli occupation”.
A sound system led people to chant “Stop arming Israel. Stop bombing Gaza”, “We are all Palestinian.”
Simply reportage perhaps; but BBC journalists must remember balance, and in the next paragraph they remind us that these protesters are not the innocents you might think.
“Some in the crowd are chanting “from the river to the sea”, referring to the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean — a chant Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, had previously urged police chiefs to consider interpreting as an “expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world”. Israel and most Jewish groups agree.”
Suella Braverman may be the most politically dangerous individual to have occupied the office of Home Secretary and she has called on the Metropolitan Police to arrest people for using this phrase. She also wants people arrested for waving Palestinian flags. The Met has pointed out that these things are not actually against the law — though no doubt they soon will be. The balanced BBC journalist reminds us that most Jewish groups agree, though fails to list a single one or distinguish, as the BBC never does, between Zionist groups and Jewish groups. The BBC, for all it’s supposed impartiality, never reports the many Jewish people who are attending marches to defend Palestinians — after reminding us, once again, that Jews do not like people chanting about Palestinian people getting back the land Israel stole from the Palestinians, aided by the British state.
The report goes on: “The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and other activists contest this, saying the slogan refers to ‘the right of all Palestinians to freedom, equality and justice’.”
This is not a question of whether you agree with the PSC or not, but rather how this is being reported. The Israeli view is given first with Braverman’s authoritarian view that the police should monitor our thoughts thrown in, as if it is the most sensible idea to come out of government recently. On that, given the knots they are tying themselves in to support Israel, perhaps they are not wrong. The PSC is then in the position of having to “contest” this. The subliminal messaging is clear — reasonable people support the Israelis who have been the victims of an outrageous act of terrorism, and if they are made to feel uncomfortable because of a chant, then those doing the chanting must be deliberately targeting Jewish people. The logic conflates Israel, Jewishness and Zionism but, given the BBC sees no particular reason to explain these terms anyway, that does not seem to matter.
After all this, we are then returned to the march in London, the reporter seemingly realising that most of the report has failed to do any actual reporting.
“During the march in London, an emotional Chrif El Amraoui told the BBC: “Just now marching, I’m crying because children are killed daily. Why? Why do they want more to be killed?”
Abdul Mahfuudi attended the protest with his children and said: “The most important thing for us is for them to stop killing kids. They need to stop.””
This is an important point. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the arguments, even the BBC should realise that children are innocents, and yet around 4,000 children have been killed. The BBC seems to regard impartiality as supporting whatever the government’s line is. The British government is refusing to support a ceasefire, therefore the BBC, whilst mentioning calls for a ceasefire, does all it can to justify avoiding one.
The report concludes with a number of disconnected paragraphs, of note only that there is a report that a police officer had been taken to hospital and one person had been arrested.
“Large crowds are expected to gather around the Embankment, Whitehall, Strand, Westminster, and Waterloo Bridge”, the Metropolitan Police said.
Just after 15:00 BST, the Met Police said on social media that one person had been arrested in Whitehall for assaulting an officer.
“The officer has been taken to hospital and his condition is not yet known”, the Met added.
Elsewhere in the UK, thousands attended a pro-Palestinian rally outside Manchester’s Central Library at St. Peter’s Square.
On Friday, the region’s mayor, Andy Burnham, joined international calls for “a ceasefire by all sides and for the hostages to be released unharmed.”
About 3,000 protesters gathered in Belfast City Centre for a rally which walked along Royal Avenue to City Hall.
It is important for us to realise that the way in which the BBC reports the news has an important impact on the majority of British citizens who do not hold particularly strong political views. Mostly, they will read the first couple of paragraphs and very little else. Whilst the BBC did report the march, this report goes out of its way to undermine the intentions of the vast majority of those there, focussing on the way in which chants were offensive to Jewish people and to Suella Braverman. Whilst on the one hand references to the chants are repeated, not one of the speakers at the rally is quoted. On the other hand, whenever the story is in danger of creating sympathy for those having their houses turned to rubble and their children murdered in Gaza, the report reminds us that this is all Hamas’s doing. The suggestion being that, had Hamas not attacked Israel on 7th October, the people of Gaza would be free to live their lives; the fact that they were under illegal occupation with a steady drip of deaths was totally ignored.
This is how balance is done. This is what impartiality looks like. Our advice is to use the BBC as a news source, but to view and read very carefully what they are saying and showing, and always remember that there is another side to every story, and that an impartial account might make more effort to show it.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.