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Now They're Trying to De-Politicize British Youth!

The BBC’s New Censors

by AFSHIN RATTANSI

Now, the BBC is even trying to stop the politicisation of British youth!

The BBC has released a statement proclaiming that late night music shows were not the place for political controversy ? young people might be listening. It came after the deliberate censorship of a rapper "Mic Righteous" who had dared to utter the words "Free Palestine" in his set. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign called the edit an "extraordinary act of censorship", asking why the BBC did not ban the song "Free Nelson Mandela", back in 1984. On the artist’s Facebook page, there is talk of how just the phrase "Gaza Strip" was censored by the BBC.

As the bodies were buried after more U.S. and British-backed Israeli fire on Palestinians commemorating the stealing of their land, one didn’t expect much from the British broadcaster that banned charity appeals to help the casualties of Gaza. The BBC explicitly objected to alms begged for by the likes of ActionAid, the British Red Cross, CAFOD, Care International UK, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children.

BBC News presenters are usually slavish in their support for U.S. policy, explicitly or in the way they frame questions. Just the posture of the BBC’s Andrew Marr betrayed how unprofessional was his exchange with President Obama when gifted an exclusive interview. Mar asked "In your speech on the Middle East you took the, to many people, surprising step of talking about the 1967 borders. Is that where America now stands?" Obama replied on the lines that Palestinians needed a place to stay and later continued to pour scorn on Fatah’s alliance with Hamas.

It ended with Marr saying "Well talking has been very enjoyable, Mr President. Thank you so much." It was no wonder that this speaking truth to power session ended with President Obama replying "Thank you so much. I enjoyed it."

How lame Evan Davis, a BBC Today program presenter, was when he quizzed U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder. He asked just one question about Londoner, Shaker Aamer, who is being held hostage in Guantanamo. Holder replied that it was being looked into and Davis didn’t have time for a follow up on the kidnapped UK Muslim who has spent many of his more than nine years in solitary.

The Muslim community in the UK have long given up on the Corporation for fair news. As for those conscious of the "ethnic cleansing" and continued violence against Palestinians, the BBC is an enemy organization.

It wasn’t always so. When I worked for Today, the BBC’s estimable Middle East Correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, hadn’t been mauled and censured by his bosses for daring to say that Zionism had an "innate instinct to push out the frontier" or that Israel was "in defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own." At Today, back in 2003, there was urgency about revealing the lies that got Britain into the Iraq War. Vindication has come thanks to the UK’s Major General Michael Laurie who has finally written to the British Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq to explain that Tony Blair’s Press Secretary, Alastair Campbell has been lying to the Inquiry.

Campbell ? now a frequent guest on BBC shows – denied to the Inquiry that the genesis of the UK’s WMD 2002 dossier was about persuading Britons to war. But now we know from the horses’ mouth that the UK intelligence services were corralled into providing a case for war: ‘I and those involved in its production saw it as exactly that, and that was the direction we were given,’ Laurie writes. How a Chilcot Inquiry filled with establishment figures will eventually adjudicate is anyone’s guess. Campbell has already tried to rebut things by writing to Sir John Chilcot, saying "I do not know and have never met Major General Laurie, and was not aware of any involvement he might have had in the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD."

What is interesting now are the actions of the very same BBC personnel who were so keen to rubbish Andrew Gilligan and his source, David Kelly, the late government scientist. They are clamouring for credit. Gilligan was fired from the BBC for his story. Rod Liddle, the editor who recruited Gilligan (and myself) had been fired for an article he wrote that expressed doubts about a right-wing march in London. There followed a great interim period with veteran BBC journalist, now retired, Bill Rogers. Then Kevin Marsh was hired. He didn’t last long and was moved sideways to become ‘professor of journalism’ and was subsequently found to be editing Gilligan’s Wikipedia entry to try and damage his reputation and also the reputation of former editor, Rod Liddle. These shenanigans are illustrative of the how some managers at the BBC are more interested in seeking plaudits than stories ? and this on a programme that is one of the main forums for British cabinet ministers (and U.S. Attorney Generals) to be held to account to millions of people. I was on the desk on Marsh’s first shift and while I expressed disbelief about the latest arrests of law-abiding Muslims, his first reaction was to believe guardians of the war on terror. It was the London "Ricin Plot" – something that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell would cite at the UN to build the case for war on Iraq. No ricin was, in fact, ever found.

There are many around the world that still have a soft spot for the BBC and the idea that journalism in Britain has been protected from the worst excesses of U.S.-style ‘big money’ hackery. What was surprising about coverage from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, though, was that U.S. reporters were the ones to gauge the mood of young revolutionaries far better than their BBC counterparts. It seemed that those from cable operations like Fox and CNN were far more in tune with assessing who was right and who was wrong, even though the revolutionaries were against U.S.-puppet regimes. American networks are more even-handed in covering the on-going uprisings albeit that they never cover the brutality of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Many BBC correspondents look either lazy or neo-colonial. In contrast, American colleagues abroad report with a refreshing insouciance.

When peace protestors who sought to break the siege of Gaza were killed by Israel’s forces, the BBC was quick to support Zionism with the use of embedded reporters on their ‘Panorama’ programme. Regulatory authority over the BBC is different to all other broadcasters in the UK. The BBC Trust launched its own inquiry into Panorama and found, overall, the programme was both accurate and impartial. It did find that there should have been more detail on what the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called summary executions.

Journalists in the UK, these days, are much more likely to be tuning in to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky news operation than the BBC, making the Corporation seem more and more of an expensive irrelevance when it comes to news. They are also tuning in, like U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to the new satellite channels like Al Jazeera English, Russia Today and, who knows, Press TV. There was a small gathering of such journalists at the London Frontline members’ club, the other day, for an annual members’ party. This year, it was under the shadow of those who had flown in for a memorial to two photojournalists killed in Libya. The club is perhaps most famous around the world for hosting press conferences by Julian Assange, still subject to curfew because of publishing the work of whistle-blowers on his Wikileaks site. Upstairs, the BBC was conducting a seminar for independent producers about the kind of programming it wanted for its news operation. A BBC Worldwide press release, this month, reveals their latest commission – a partnership with the chemicals giant, DuPont:

"DuPont announced its sponsorship of a new BBC series..The television program will examine the future of business by looking at companies around the world that are making the greatest progress in their sectors and influencing the way people will live in the future."

"We turned the cameras on everyday heroes," said DuPont Chair and CEO Ellen Kullman.

"The first story..highlights the collaboration between local Tennessee farmers, Genera Energy and DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE) to produce cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass, corn cobs, stalks and other forms of sustainable biomass. Farmer Brad Black, whose farm has been in his family since 1820, said, "This land is as important to me as one of my kids."

The BBC, a multinational infamous for the dioxins of Delaware not to mention the napalm of Vietnam and the commissioning of a new generation of journalists, all in holistic embrace.

But criticism of the BBC in the newspapers here is usually in the free market context of questioning the morality of a tax on TV sets ? not conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, the British Sunday Times splashes a story about one of the channels for which I make programmes. In the article, Iranian-funded Press TV is called "The Enemy Within" and the channel – broadcast in the UK via the Sky platform – is under attack for casting doubt that everyone in Britain was so enamoured of the Royal Wedding. The channel has been under attack from the broadcast regulator, OFCOM, for calling the massacre aboard the Mavi Marmara ‘a massacre’. OFCOM said that the content of a show "could be interpreted as being highly critical of the actions of the Israeli government and its military forces." Well, golly gee.

In fairness, OFCOM did reject complaints against Peter Kosminsky’s drama about Palestine, "The Promise." Much to the chagrin of British Zionists, OFCOM concluded its report with the startling observation that "just because some individual Jewish and Israeli characters were portrayed in a negative light does not mean the programme was, or was intended to be, antisemitic."

It will be up to the BBC Trust’s new chairman, Lord Patten to make an urgent review of the Corporation’s policies on ethics in the light of the vindication about Iraq and continuing conflicts of interest amongst its staff that look set to endanger the lives of the BBC’s correspondents, around the world.

Afshin Rattansi, author of "The Dream of the Decade", is an independent TV producer and commentator and can be reached on afshinrattansi@hotmail.com.