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BBC - an Accomplice to Terrorism?

5 August 2005 update    

By Andre Mozes*


Most of us used to be strongly conditioned to the once legendary reliability of the BBC and can hardly believe it might have changed. We still love the talks, theatre and history on the BBC; the problem seems to lie with the BBC News and the political commentaries, being too politicized for the largest and supposedly most impartial news organisation on earth.

The mounting criticism of the BBC News and political commentary in recent years have culminated in the harsh findings of the Hutton report, which  lead to the immediate resignation of the BBC's Chairman and Director-General in 2004. The continuing criticism reaches now a new peak, asking a question about a once unthinkable serious suspicion: could the BBC's liberalism towards terrorism, its pro-terror biased language and other reporting malpractices have actually encouraged (no matter how unwittingly) terrorism?  Is it possible that the BBC has in certain cases actually contributed to losses of innocent human lives? Could it in cases have acted as accomplice to terrorism? We present here the procedure of a semi-legal inquiry into this suspicion of complicity and its first results.

We can tell in advance that this article could not satisfy the burden of proof required in criminal proceedings to show causality between BBC malpractices and the commission of more terrorist acts. However, one who follows its logics and tries to sincerely answer the questions arisen here may find this suspicion real and not so far-fetched any more. This and the moral case which does stand against the BBC's stance on terror, justify this publication and our demand of an investigation.

  After five civilians were killed and 48 wounded at the entrance of a Tel-Aviv disco on Friday night, 25 February 2005, the BBC's major report "A Family in Mourning" paid condolences to the family of - not any of the Israeli victims but the Palestinian killer, whom the BBC never even referred to as a murderer or a 'terrorist'. Many similar examples illustrate that for the BBC such adverse sympathy is common practice.  The question arises: is this merely tactlessness, or can it be a degree of covert support to the purpose of terrorism, which is: to achieve political goals by terrorizing a certain population while gaining publicity and support of others? And, if so, is not this complicity?


To leave nothing to speculation we carefully examined five fundamental questions:

a) Is it really 'terror' of which we speak?
b)  Is the BBC reporting really biased in favour of terror organisations?
c)  What, if any, is the effect of biased reporting on terror and on the global fight against terror?
d) What is an 'accomplice'? Can covert media support for terrorism amount to it? 
e) Has it actually happened in the BBC's reporting?


To our first question: a recent definition of 'terrorism' as declared by the High Level Panel appointed for this purpose by UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, is: "Terrorism is an action that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act" - and it goes on to say: "there is nothing in the fact of occupation that justifies the targeting and killing of civilians" [1].  This definition removes any doubt that organized Palestinian attacks targeting primarily the lives of Israeli civilians - are acts of terror.

To the second question regarding partisan BBC reporting, there was at least one widely respected investigation and document; the Hutton report, which found the BBC to be biased and politicized, in its reporting on the Iraq war and on terrorism there. Beyond making one huge blunder, the BBC consistently favoured - not their own country and of course not the US, but - both the fallen Saddam regime and the local and the infiltrating global terrorism. That is why the BBC Chairman and Director-General had to resign.

Similarly, the BBC has been found biased and politicized in its reporting on the recent Palestinian-Israeli conflict too, by several well researched and documented reports and websites. Such are the reports of the prestigious BBCWatch founded by Trevor Asserson, a London attorney (http://www.bbcwatch.com/); the http://www.biased-bbc.blogspot/; http://www.camera.org/; http://www.discoverthenetwork.org/groupProfile.asp?grpid=6960, the Daily Telegraph's 'Beebwatch' and more.  A concise article on the subject, "Living in a Bubble" by freelance journalist Tom Gross (18 Jun 2004) presents a whole series of the BBC News' pro-terror, anti-US and anti-Israel biases cases as part of  "the BBC's very own Mideast foreign policy".  Such bias is in stark opposition to the BBC's own charter, its Producer's Guide and its once well deserved credibility. By the way, some of this credibility still exists partly due to the mistaken impression of the public that the BBC is closely supervised by an independent British authority.

While bias can sometimes be argued about, there are BBC cases which are not questions of opinion but deliberate choices to represent the interests of one side only - and it is terror's side. We can remind here only a few.

One famous and still painful case is Jenin. In March 2002 a dozen terror bombings killed 126 Israeli civilians within one single month. In April the Israeli Defence Forces entered to the city of Jenin to capture those who had proudly taken responsibility for the killings. From that day on the BBC radio and TV news and special reports "informed" the world in sensational hourly reports on the "Israeli massacre" of the Palestinian civilian population, citing unchallenged the Palestinian Authority spokesman, Saeb Erekat's "data" of 500 and 520 civilian casualties. The BBC broadcasted very intensively for months the big story of the Israeli massacre of 500 civilians. It downplayed and ridiculed the dry official Israeli statements on 52 Palestinians dead, almost all wanted terrorists. A year later a UN Committee found the Israeli figures right; found that 53 Palestinians were killed: 4 women, one child and 48 young adult males. The Palestinians admitted that most of their dead had been fighters. The 'Israeli massacre' story turned out to be a straightforward lie. Israel paid the life of its 24 soldiers for doing a surgical land operation saving civilians, instead of bombing the terrorists together with the civilians the Palestinians used as human shield.

If there was a massacre in Jenin it was the massacre of truth by the BBC. The BBC has, until this day, never seriously apologized and made honest attempts to clean the blood libel it had so effectively spread in hundreds of broadcasts to hundreds of million people. We believe that the BBC's false and libelous coverage on Jenin has contributed to a climate of opinion in the UK and elsewhere today, that tolerates the deliberate killing of children, women and men - provided that they are Israeli Jews.

Another extreme story of deliberately pro-terror partisan BBC practice is about their longstanding senior correspondent in Gaza, Mr Fayyad Abu Shamala. He made headlines in 2001 when, speaking at a Hamas gathering, he said that 'journalists and media organizations in Gaza', including the BBC "are waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people" (Douglas Davis in the Jerusalem Post, 24May2001). Recently, the same BBC journalist was found beyond doubt to be part of the Hamas terrorist organisation! The man responsible for Hamas' communications system in Gaza, Fathi Hamad was recorded in an internal discussion saying: "Hamas man Faiz Abu Smala (Fayyad Abu Shamala) works for the BBC, and there he writes the story in favour of Muslims" [2].   The BBC responded that: "(Shamala's) standard of balance is up to the BBC's own high standard of balance" - and they simply continued to employ the 'Hamas man'. Let's bear in mind that Hamas has been listed as a terrorist organisation, by the UK, the US, the EU and more.  If we believe to the BBC that Shamala's standard is up to that of the BBC, it means also that the BBC's 'standard of balance' is down to the level of objectivity of a Hamas man.

To our third question: what, if any, is the effect of biased reporting on terror and on the global fight against terror?  - we do not have a proven answer.  We break this crucial question to components, so that it may be easier to attempt an answer:

- Do we believe, (bearing in mind the high PR-awareness of terrorists) that the long series of deliberate killings of Israeli civilians by terror organisations would have continued the same way and with the same deadly efficiency in the theoretical case, had the BBC condemned the 'terrorists' and their senders in the strongest possible terms?
- Would terror have continued the same way, had the BBC, with all its trend-setting influence, clearly stated on each occasion that deliberate killing of civilians was inhuman and criminal, could not be justified by any explanation and wouldn't be tolerated ever by the civilized world?
- Could it have weakened terror's trigger-happiness?
- Could it have saved human lives? Surely not? Maybe yes? One or hundreds?
- Could the BBC have saved human lives?  Has it done its best to do so?

Our fourth and fifth questions are on the focus of the present article; complicity and not bias. And even the BBC's bias given, 'complicity' is a much graver charge, necessitating thorough scrutiny before getting publicity.  For this scrutiny we took the legal definition of 'Accomplice' in British Law (abridged from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1993):

"An Accomplice is a person who becomes guilty in the crime of another person by knowingly and voluntarily aiding the other to commit an offence. The Accomplice is either an accessory or an abettor. The accessory aids a criminal prior to his crime, whereas the abettor aids him during the act itself."

"The abettor aids the commission of the crime, incites, encourages or assists the offender constructively." Also, "one may assist the offender by failing to try to prevent the offence, when a duty to act is imposed by the law."

"The accessory is not present during the commission of the offence but who assists, procures, encourages, or counsels the offender. In most jurisdictions there must be evidence that the accessory intended to facilitate the crime."

"The statutes continue to recognize a separate offence - that of being an "accessory after the fact". Such an offender is one who "harbours, protects, or assists a person who has already committed an offence or is charged with committing an offence."

Using this definition of 'accomplice' we tried to examine a number of the BBC's many documented cases of pro-terror biased reporting and practice, including the cases of Jenin and the "Hamas man".  These cases were not found firmly proven of guilt, partly because causality was very difficult to prove. However, alarmingly, the cases could not be relieved of the serious suspicion of complicity either.

In our limited space here we wish to look not into details of further single cases of partisan BBC practice but into the signs of a pro-terror biased editorial policy regarding Israel, as expressed by the director of BBC News then, Mr Sambrook. The BBCWatch asked him, after thoroughly documenting its research, why did the BBC discriminate against Israel by never calling the bombers of civilians there "terrorists", while in the cases of IRA, Bali, the BBC Tower, Saudi Arabia or Morocco bombings it used this term, sometimes without even waiting for the conclusions of any investigation.  Sambrook's own letter provides this astonishing answer:   "We prefer to use neutral language where the political legitimacy of particular actions is hotly contested."
The implication of this statement seems to be far beyond the problem of discriminative language. It is not a slip of tongue, but Sambrook's written explanation of the BBC policy. As the BBCWatch report says: ''What Sambrook appears to suggest here is that the blowing up of teenagers in a disco, of old age pensioners at a religious service, of children on a school bus, and kids at a pizza bar - these are actions which could have 'political legitimacy' '' -  in case they occur in Israel. Mr Sambrook wrote to me recently that "this certainly does not represent my (his) views" and threatened me with legal actions. I would like to believe Sambrook's statement and it will be easy to support it by his future consistent strong condemnations of terror against Israel, including terror in the past.

The fact is that the BBC News, headed by him, had a years-long consistent practice of humanizing and rationalizing 'suicide bombings' in Israel. They started it with naming vaguely 'suicide bombings' what actually were terror; deliberate mass murders of children, women and other civilians. They continued with rationalizing the acts, consistently using the clichés of 'occupation, hopelessness, poverty'. They completed it with humanizing and glorifying the Palestinian killers by icon-like photos and by sympathetic reports with their families. Not a critical word on those who brain-washed Arab minors - and sent them to kill Israeli minors. There appears to be much less sympathy for the Israeli victims who are not humanized by their names, their faces and their life stories by the BBC.

Now, deliberate attacks on civilians are war crimes.  Accordingly suicide bombings against civilians are condemned as brutal acts of terrorism by the civilized world, except a few terror-supporting Arab and Islamic governments - and the BBC, when reporting from Israel.  We are talking about more than 700 pre-meditated killings of Israeli civilians in the last five years and on several thousands maimed; on deliberate killings and not lateral damage of military operations, in above one hundred "successful" terror attacks out of several thousand mostly thwarted attempts.  The BBC's pointed lack of condemnation of these suicide bombings in Israel and their rationalization instead can only be described as outrageous.

The legal aspect regarding complicity is, however, how did the BBC's humanization and rationalization of the suicide bombings influence these events? Could their verbal support qualify as complicity? Part of the legal definition - "the accessory is not present during the commission of the offence but... encourages... the offender" - seems to fit: both to the category of "accessory after the fact" and to "encouragement of the next offences".

But we do not jump to early conclusions. The definition also says "by knowingly and voluntarily aiding" the offender. Voluntarily? The BBC surely was not coerced to declare what it did. About 'knowingly': of course the BBC did not intend to cause those crimes. I never assumed that the BBC or Mr Sambrook personally really wanted to reach these grave results. However, a calculated act is not a pre-condition of being an accomplice. If someone ought to have known that his act may help the commission of an offence, it may constitute complicity. Now, could the BBC News have had any doubt whom did they support and whose efforts did they weaken with their policy and its years-long application in the BBC reporting? Did they, at the end, in effect support the anti-terror warfare or terrorism?

For the BBC's bias and manipulations on the Iraq war its two most senior managers had to go. Mr Sambrook, the third most senior manager involved, remained. And the BBC's much worse manipulative negative reporting on Israel's life, war and fears - continues.  The BBC practice of humanization and rationalization of terrorists seem suspicious of "encouragement of the offender" and "of the next offences". It may mean complicity and being an accessory after the fact. This suspicion must be thoroughly investigated.


 Among our conclusions:

  • Bearing in mind the high PR-consciousness of terrorists it seems evident that the BBC could, by clear, accurate and substantiated information on, and consistent strong condemnations of terrorism, have weakened it to some extent. In fact, by consistent concealment of terror's true nature it weakened the fight against terror instead. Had the BBC disclose terror's identity and true nature honestly, it could probably have saved innocent lives and it is, therefore, suspected of complicity in having failed to do so.

  • The BBC News' years-long practice of humanization and rationalization of terror in Israel seems suspicious of "encouragement of the offender" and "of the next offences" - which may constitute complicity. This report could not satisfy the burden of proof required in criminal law to show causality between the BBC malpractices and terrorist acts. But the moral case against the BBC does certainly stand. And there seems to be enough evidence to justify a thorough investigation into whether the BBC did or did not act in certain cases as an accomplice, particularly as an 'accessory after the fact', to terrorism.

  • Such an investigation should be immediately started by the BBC's renewed management, and if necessary by the British government.

  • Until such an investigation is completed and its conclusions are properly implemented, the public and the media should keep asking this, loudly.

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