Malice Aforethought
When Panorama Accused Sharon

On July 10, 2001 The Jerusalem Post generously gave Fergal and Keane space to defend themselves and BBC against what they described as unwarranted attacks on their search for truth in their Panorama documentary. I will quote several items from their article:

“Our film is not an attack on the prime minister of Israel or the State of Israel. It is an investigation into a massacre and war crimes.”

However, the making of this accusatory film was far from an unbiased search for the truth. On the contrary it was a search for evidence to support their preconceived conclusion.

The facts of the tragedy are not in doubt. Phalangists (Christian Arabs) had suffered innumerable killings, maiming, torture and deprivation at the hands of the Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon. Now they grabbed a window of opportunity to exact their revenge. They did so in the barbaric fashion to which both sides had become accustomed.

However, that was not the story the film-makers wanted to tell. Their biased objective was to lay total responsibility for a war crime on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as “the man who ultimately ordered the Phalange into the camps.”

To suggest that Sharon gave this order is absolutely unsustainable. On the contrary Israel’s Kahan Commission of Inquiry, established to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the massacre, did not find Sharon had ordered the Phalange into Sabra and Shatilla. The BBC only had fragmented and mostly Arab information – the commission had an abundance of evidence.

It held “Israel was indirectly responsible because it had not anticipated the possibility or extent of Phalangist violence”. Nevertheless Sharon was subsequently barred from serving as Defense Minister again. Not because he ordered a massacre – but because the commission held he should have known it could happen.

“BBC Panorama has a tradition of investigative journalism which holds that no political leader is above scrutiny, however powerful.”

Nonsense, guys. You made the film then awaited the right opportunity to show it. Your patience, if not your foresight, was rewarded when Sharon became a political leader. Now you had him and set about his crucifixion based on Panorama’s exalted mission:

“For nearly 50 years BBC Panorama has been investigating the use and abuse of power around the world. It is a mission which upholds the best traditions of public service broadcasting. Our film The Accused was a proud example of what Panorama does best.”

Wait a moment guys, where was that fine 50 year tradition of investigative journalism when Syria’s President, Haffaz Assad almost destroyed Hama? Allow me to quote:

“For 27 days starting from February 2nd 1982, the Syrian forces put Hama under a siege, shelled the town with all kinds of artillery, then Hama was ravaged by military and special forces, and its civilians severely punished. The estimated victims range between 30000 and 40000 civilians including ladies, children and elderlies.

“15000 civilians were considered lost since then and had never traced back. Thousands of civilians were obliged to desert the town, as one third of Hama had been completely destroyed. Many mosques, churches and historical buildings were left in rubble as a consequence to the government’s artillery bombardment.” (Footnote link below.)

Where was Panorama’s fine tradition of investigative journalism in May 1985, when Muslim militiamen attacked the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon killing 635 and wounding 2,500? (UN estimates). Shouldn’t this have made as great a documentary for Panorama’s great tradition? How come BBC Panorama did not investigate this abuse of power?

And in October 1990 when Syrian forces overran Christian-controlled areas of Lebanon. In that eight-hour clash, 700 Christians were killed in the worst single battle of Lebanon’s Civil War. Where was Panorama’s best tradition of public service broadcasting then?

Surely Haffaz Assad, the late Syrian President, was the political leader directly responsible for all that carnage? What a fine killing documentary his story would have made for Panorama.

Holding you to the sanctity of your historic mission how could you have overlooked these mass murderers? Were their massacres above your fearsome scrutiny?

Saddam Hussein, Eichman, Khomeni, Bin Laden, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, Pol Pot, Petain, Kenyatta, Suharto, Pinochet, Barbie, etc, etc.

Did you investigate the 30,000 “disappearos” who vanished under direct orders of Argentine’s military? Have you made accusatory documentaries about those responsible?

If the BBC were to rank massacres over the last 60 years, highest to lowest, the Phalange massacre (about 800) would be close to the bottom of the list. By elevating Sharon to the top the BBC has clearly demonstrated its bias, giving him disproportionate priority on its investigative agenda.

“The Accused is not a film just about Sharon. Notably, the notorious Phalange leader Elie Hobeika was confronted by the program.”

Guys, this is far from the truth. The entire film is about Sharon. He is The Accused, not Hobeika – who organized and carried out the massacre. Hobeika himself was apportioned a mere cameo appearance in your film.

“There is no anti-Israel bias in the BBC.”

This is unsustainable. The majority of BBC documentaries covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are pro-Palestinian. I can only recall one documentary where BBC gave Israel good marks – for archeology.

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http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:jy3chMPWDcs:www.shrc.org/english/99reports/
18021999.htm+Syria+Hama+Massacre&hl=en

One Response to “Malice Aforethought
When Panorama Accused Sharon”

  1. Bertie and Elsa Humphries Says:

    Well said as usual, Jock, but even the Devil deserves his due………

    On this occasion, the BBC, and particularly BBC24, were reasonably objective, identifying the targets, namely Hezbollah as “terrorists”. It was noticable that commentators operating within the Lebanon were more careful to use language deemed to be politically correct than their colleagues in Israel and elsewhere. It could be said that Israeli PR left a lot to be desired, with the notable exception of one young man who got everything right during a lengthy BBC interview yesterday afternoon.

    Here in Northern Ireland, the pro-Palestinian lobby picketed the BBC yesterday with accusations of pro-Israel bias! It is a peculiar situation – by and large, the Palestinian cause is championed by the extreme republican elements, whilst Israel is supported by the right-wing “loyalists”. And with them on our side, who needs an enemy?

    We don’t get CNN, so I cannot comment, but the most biassed reporting came from ITN Channel 4 where one might have thought that the station was on the Hezbollah payroll. Al Jazeera was more objective! If the WW2 offence of “giving comfort to the enemy” had still been in force, Joh Snow and one of his sidekicks could well have been open to prosecution, so vitriolic were their attacks upon the Governments of Israel, Britain and America. They have now moderated their language quite a lot, but I still feel like putting a brick through the TV screen at times.

    Anyhow, keep your head down – our thought are with you.

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