Sunday, 22 February 2009

Suppressing the news at BBC Scotland

More news reaches us of BBC efforts to prevent 'awkward' news reaching us.

Today's Sunday Herald carries a report on how BBC Scotland bosses sought to stifle reporting of the recent occupation at their Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow. The action came in response to the BBC's decision not to air the DEC Appeal, and followed previous demonstrations outside the BBC over its biased coverage of Israel's attacks on Gaza.
"Peter Murray, deputy leader of the National Union of Journalists' BBC Scotland branch, said the union had received complaints about the incident which it had passed to management.

He said management claimed the decision not to film was made in an attempt to stop others from copying the protesters and to prevent other groups from trying to occupy the BBC Scotland building in the future.

Murray said: "We can't just stop reporting on social unrest because the reports might encourage people to get involved. If you work in journalism it's your job to report these things. We can't go checking with the authorities before you go out on a story." "

Murray's point raises further questions not only about the BBC's role in the DEC affair and pro-Israel bias, but also over its presumed role as 'civil monitor'. Does the BBC have the right or remit to deter public dissent? Should it be making editorial decisions which serve to dissuade people from engaging in political protest, even where that involves civil disobedience? Should it be avoiding such coverage in order to safeguard its own buildings from further protest?

The BBC would, no doubt, reject any suggestion that it acts in this way. That wouldn't be "impartial". Yet, here's a valuable insight into that very partial and calculating domain.

As one of the participants in this action, we considered it vital that the BBC come and 'report itself'. We now get some insight on just how reluctant they were to do that. During our negotiations with Head of Public and Corporate Affairs, Ian Small, we asked, as part of the conditions for leaving the building, that a BBC reporter/film crew come and cover the protest. Only after being repeatedly pressed did he give an undertaking to contact the newsdesk and pass on our request.

This latest disclosure also highlights the kind of editorial pressures on journalists to 'be BBC safe'. It's another disturbing illustration of the fearful Orwellian atmosphere inside the organisation.


Saturday, 21 February 2009

BBC: in Lyons we disTrust

And so, all too predictably, the BBC Trust has backed Director General Mark Thompson's decision not to air the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal for Gaza.

Over 40,000 complaints, 200 appeals and a wave of public disgust over Thompson's ruling seems of little importance to Trust Chairman Sir Michael Lyons. His letter to BBC staff informing them of the decision was also one of patronising indifference to the widespread concerns expressed inside the organisation.

In response, a petition with nearly 400 BBC staff signatures was handed in to the Director General - with a copy to the Trust's office - condemning Thompson's decision.

Of course, Lyons could always be relied upon to deliver the verdict of support for Thompson. A former aide and ally of Gordon Brown, Lyons's appointment was widely denounced at the time as blatant cronyism.

It takes little imagination to see the shared understanding on such matters between Brown, Thompson and Lyons. Labour Friends of Israel, BBC friends of Brown, BBC friends of Israel. It's all safely contained and managed within the elite loop. Always mediated by the same unspoken rule: never do or say anything which undermines Israel.

There's an Orwellian compliance among the BBC's managerial class. Lyons sounds like an echo of Thompson. News Director Helen Boaden's words are, likewise, amplified by Complaints Coordinators like Stewart McCullough. And the aptly-titled Head of Editorial Compliance, Stephanie Harris, seems to be checking that everyone is, well, just complying with the template language. The "BBC must maintain its impartiality" line now sounds like some kind of automated message. Even Jeremy Bowen was heard spouting it following numerous complaints about the BBC's Gaza coverage.

There's no qualitative argument from the BBC hierarchy in their responses, and certainly, BBC forbid, no suggestion of a personalised thought on the DEC Appeal or the possibility of imbalanced reporting.

It doesn't augur well for the (Stage 3) letter of complaint I've just lodged with the BBC Trust over the editorial leanings of the BBC's Jerusalem bureau.

Maybe, this time, Sir Michael, or one of his Trust colleagues, will have a moral seizure and say something less compliant. Don't bet your licence fee on it, though.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Israeli election results: racism plus

Israel has spoken its mind. And from an election contest focused on finding the most proven 'kill more Palestinians' candidate there will now emerge the most racist government on the planet.

Whatever the ensuing political coalition, this country has given its endorsement to a trio of war criminals and fascists. Livni, Netanyahu and Lieberman: take your pick, hard as it is to distinguish their dark mindsets. Add in the mechanically murderous Barak, not forgetting an assembly of fringe Zionist fanatics, and we have a unanimity of leaders and parties dedicated to the systematic murder, repression and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

This election was never about the issue of peace and how to realise it. Nor was it about that media-filtered fiction, "security". It was, in base terms, an exercise in right-wing consolidation. And we can't escape the depressing truth that the bulk of the Israeli electorate have clearly mandated that racist alignment.

Here's Mustafa Barghouti on the full extent of the shift:

This is a very serious shift, but not only to the right; this is a shift to racism. In my opinion, in these elections, Israel has completed the transformation into an apartheid state with an apartheid racist political system.

And this is the outcome of two processes. One is the implantation of fear and hatred in the Israeli society by the Israeli establishment. The army is a big part of that establishment, and the military-industrial complex is a second big part. And the second factor has been the complicity of the international community. The United States administration, previous administration, the European governments, the whole official international community has been complicit with Israeli crimes, war crimes in Gaza and in other places, and silent about forty-one years of occupation. So, basically, people in Israel think they can do what they want. If they violate human rights in such a terrible manner and nobody is objecting, I think they think they can move forward towards racism and an apartheid system, and that is unfortunately the case today.

In addition to what was said about practically the Likud racist approach dominating the whole scene, with Livni and Netanyahu—and here I would agree that there aren’t much differences between the two. Maybe you can say that both of them are racist. Only, Netanyahu is a blunt racist, and Livni is a racist with some makeup. But they both represent the same.

Barak, on the other hand, who was supposed to represent what you call left-centrist party, shocked everybody, in my opinion, by being even more extreme and more racist. When he described Lieberman, who’s clearly a neo-fascist and a very dangerous element, he said—he accused him not of being a fascist, not of being an extreme, but he criticized him for not being tough enough. He said, “This is a lamb in hawk’s clothing. And when did he ever shoot anybody by himself?” So Barak was competing with Lieberman by saying, “I am the man who shot Palestinians. I am the man who executed Palestinians with my own hands.”

And that gives you a very, very simple picture of how tragic the situation is in Israel today. And it puts us all, as Palestinians, in front of a very clear task: we have to struggle against this apartheid system, we have to break this apartheid system. But the challenge now is on the side of the whole international community, which has been either silent or complicit or trying to avoid the issue, when it is very clear.
Electronic Intifada editor Ali Abunimah is also under no illusions about the lurch into fascism:
The clearest message from Israel's election is that no Zionist party can solve Israel's basic conundrum and no negotiations will lead to a two-state solution. Israel could only be created as a "Jewish state" by the forced removal of the non-Jewish majority Palestinian population. As Palestinians once again become the majority in a country that has defied all attempts at partition, the only way to maintain Jewish control is through ever more brazen violence and repression of resistance (see Gaza). Whatever government emerges is certain to preside over more settlement-building, racial discrimination and escalating violence.

There are alternatives that have helped end what once seemed like equally intractable and bloody conflicts: a South African-style one-person one-vote democracy, or Northern Ireland-style power-sharing. Only under a democratic system according rights to all the people of the country will elections have the power to transform people's futures.

But Israel today is lurching into open fascism. It is utterly disingenuous to continue to pretend - as so many do - that its failed and criminal leaders hold the key to getting out of the morass. Instead of waiting for them to form a coalition, we must escalate the international civil society campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israelis to choose a saner path.
We can, nonetheless, take some optimistic encouragement from this ugly development. The extended lurch to the right may appear to take us even further from a just solution for Palestine. But it also indicates Israeli society's fear of international criticism and humanitarian pressure. This rearguard electoral response suggests a growing retreat into isolationist hatred and belligerence. Such was the downward spiral of apartheid South Africa, a regime which could not ultimately resist that kind of accumulated opposition and international reaction.

There are no no serious doves or peacemakers among Israel's criminal elite. Their collective efforts in the murder of Gaza should have confirmed that sober truth for all sane observers. Israel's Western friends will, of course, continue to take refuge in their own complicit hypocrisy.
Yet, fascist, anti-democratic regimes are always most vulnerable to failing and falling when they're at their most repressive. Such raw extremism can also become an inconvenience even for their Western protectors. Perhaps it's better having the world see Israel right now in its most naked state.


Glasgow Uni occupation wins many demands

After a lengthy set of negotiations between the group, the Principal and senior University management, the occupation ended at around 9 o'clock last night with the students having won major demands on the DEC issue, academic assistance to Gaza, scholarship pledges, a comprehensive investigation/review of the university's investment/research links with arms companies and a serious pledge to negotiate further on the Eden Springs water contract on campus.

Among the media coverage and pledges of support was a pleasing message from Noam Chomsky:
"I am very pleased to learn about the courageous and honorable actions of the Glasgow University students. These are particularly significant because of the crucial British contribution to the savage onslaught on Gaza, and on the occupied territories generally, second only to the decisive role of the United States -- a disgrace for all of us. I hope you have the greatest success in arousing public opinion and bringing these crimes to an end."
All details from the occupation here.

A most stimulating exercise and lesson in the values of direct action.


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Glasgow University occupied

Glasgow University students and activists have followed over 20 other UK universities in moving to occupation in support of the people of Gaza. A number of key demands have been issued by the group (your present blogger among them) from their 'liberated space' on the top floor of the Computing Science Department. On the critical target list is the University's links with BAE Systems and other major arms manufacturers.

You can follow all the issues, demands, pictures and developments here.

The occupation has been conducted in an excellent spirit of solidarity with suffering Palestinians. Besides applying pressure on the university authorities to support the humanitarian DEC Appeal and cancel the deal with Eden Springs water, we are seeking to highlight and terminate, in particular, the university's military-based contracts and research links, all of which are helping to perpetuate the terror on Gaza.

Please show your support for the action.


Sunday, 8 February 2009


This for no other reason than, in the midst of all our conflicts, it's pleasing just to share in MJB's sensuous, soulful appeal for a little love, a little coming together, a little peace in our lives.


Friday, 6 February 2009

Occupation is sublime, students ACT for Palestine

Isn't is inspiring to see the continued wave of occupations and actions around UK campuses in support of Palestine? Bravo! And to have realised so many demands in the process.

Yesterday afternoon, occupying students at Strathclyde University left the McCance building with their heads held high, having secured a series of concessions:

After a 24 hour occupation of Registry; three negotiation sessions with the university authorities and a students' association that opposed the actions, we managed to win a series of promises from the University administration:

- The Eden Springs contract has been CANCELLED
- Scholarships will be provided for 1-3 (and potentially more) Palestinian students
- The DEC appeal will be publicised on campus and on the University homepage
- The University will re-establish its link with the University of Gaza
- The University denies that it has any links with BAE systems beyond the company funding one student to the sum of £5000 in the engineering department. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, and we shall investigate this further.

Thank you to everyone for your support in the campaign and the solidarity you expressed. End the occupation - free Palestine!

From King's College to Sussex, from Nottingham to Manchester, from the LSE to Dundee, students have been prepared to risk the censure of university authorities in pursuing their principled demands on behalf of the Palestinian people. It's so very heartening to see young people act in such an organised, energised and compassionate way.

The actual realisation of student demands - such as cancellation of Eden Springs water - gives tremendous encouragement to other student activists and the wider movement. It takes matters beyond conventional protest by yielding immediate, practical results. And while major work remains in pushing universities to relinquish their tie-ins with arms companies and the industry of death, those departments now know that they have been named, shamed and identified as ongoing targets.

The occupations are also helping to rejuvenate the call for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academia. In support of this, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) will:

- Continue to put pressure on the EU and the UK government for the exclusion of Israel from the European Research Area.

- Develop a policy which encourages individual academics to break their professional links with Israel by such actions as:

1 - Refusing research collaborations with Israeli institutions or to referee papers or grant applications issuing from such institutions

2 - Refusing to attend academic conferences in Israel

3 - Supporting Israeli academic colleagues working with Palestinian colleagues in their demand for self-determination and academic freedom

- Work within our trades unions and professional organisations in support of such actions

- Explore forms of support to Palestinian academic colleagues

BRICUP are also organising a major protest against the forthcoming "Israel Day of Science" at the Science Museum in London. The event, run by the Zionist Federation, will supposedly showcase the achievements of seven Israeli universities, all deeply involved in the military policies and procurements used to such devastating effect against the people of Gaza. Please read the BRICUP letter to Lord Waldegrave on the matter and register your opposition.

Alongside the multiple global protests and critical reaction over the BBC's DEC Appeal decision, the campus occupations and academic boycott campaign have helped up the ante in forcing universities, media and other powerful institutions to recognise their complicit part in Palestinian suffering. One really senses now the kind of organic campaigning that worked so imaginatively across the world to bring down South African apartheid.