Why my film is under fire
The pro-Israel lobby intimidates journalists to ensure that most coverage
remains biased in its favour
By John Pilger
[The Guardian, Monday September 23, 2002]
An unforeseen threat to freedom of speech in British broadcasting emerged
last week. It was triggered by the showing of my documentary, Palestine is
Still the Issue, on ITV. The film told a basic truth that is routinely
relegated, even suppressed - that a historic injustice has been done to the
Palestinian people, and until Israel's illegal and brutal occupation ends,
there will be no peace for anyone, Israelis included.
Most of the film allowed people to tell their eyewitness stories, both
Palestinians and Israelis. What was unusual was that it disclosed in detail
the daily humiliation and cultural denigration of the Palestinians,
including a sequence showing excrement smeared by Israeli soldiers in a room
of children's paintings. The film was accurate, restrained and fair; the
longest interview was with an Israeli government spokesman. Every word and
frame was subjected to a legal examination for accuracy and to ensure it
complied with the fairness regulations in the Broadcasting Act.
Our historical adviser, Professor Ilan Pappé, the distinguished Israeli
historian. He wrote to Carlton Television that "the film is faultless in its
historical description and poignant in its message". None of this deterred
the chairman of Carlton, Michael Green, a supporter of Israel's policies,
from abusing the programme makers in the Jewish Chronicle, calling the film
"inaccurate", "historically incorrect" and "a tragedy for Israel".
Not one of his accusations was, or can be, substantiated. Professor Pappé
called the attack "an attempt to delegitimise any criticism of Israel". This
was followed by an unprecedented rebuke of its chairman by Carlton's Factual
Department, which stood by the film's accuracy.
What is disquieting is that Green had actually seen the film before it went
to air, and had not alerted the programme makers to his concerns, waiting
until the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Conservative Friends of Israel and
the Israeli embassy expressed their "outrage" at a film transmitted after
most people were in bed.
A "pro-Israel" film is now being demanded by them and Green. What does this
mean? My film was pro-Palestinian in as much as it was pro-justice. Most of
those interviewed were patriotic Israelis, including the war veteran father
of a teenage girl killed in a suicide bombing. He and others put the lie to
the standard Zionist cry that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic, a
claim that insults all those Jewish people who reject the likes of Ariel
Sharon acting in their name.
So what does "balance" mean? A film approved by the Israel lobby? This lobby
is currently orchestrating an email campaign against my film; curiously,
many of the emails are coming from America, where it has not been shown.
At the heart of this is a failure to acknowledge the overwhelming imbalance
in the British media in favour of the Israeli point of view. ITV deserves
great credit for funding and broadcasting my film, which sought to redress a
little of this. The BBC would have never dared to incur the wrath of one of
the most influential lobbies in this country, as Tim Llewellyn, the BBC's
Middle East correspondent for many years, says in a letter in today's
Guardian. He accuses the BBC of "continuing to duck" its public service duty
to explain "the true nature of the disaster [of the occupation] and Israel's
overwhelming responsibility for it".
This general bias is verified by a remarkable study of the television
coverage of the Middle East, conducted last May by the Glasgow University
Media Group. The conclusions ought to shame broadcasters. The research shows
that the public's lack of understanding of the conflicts and its origins is
actually compounded by the "coverage". Viewers are rarely told that the
Palestinians are victims of an illegal military occupation. The term
"occupied territories" is rarely explained. Only 9% of young people
interviewed know that the Israelis are both the occupiers and the illegal
The selective use of language is striking, says the study. Words such as
"murder", "atrocity" and "terrorism" are used almost exclusively in relation
to Israeli deaths. The extent to which broadcasters assume the Israeli
perspective, says Professor Greg Philo, "can be seen if the statements are
reversed ... We did not find any [news] reports stating that 'The
Palestinian attacks were in retaliation for the murder of those resisting
the illegal Israeli occupation.'"
For years, journalists have complained about Zionist hate mail and the
pressure of the "regular call from the Israeli embassy" to current affairs
editors. This can take a subtle form: pressure is applied to correspondents
in Jerusalem, who then shape their reports accordingly in the interests of
what they tell themselves is "balance", but is, in effect, censorship by
omission. The system gets the Israelis off their backs and "makes life
If Michael Green and his vociferous friends succeed in intimidating ITV and
the Independent Television Commission, the freedom of broadcasters to be
more than mere channellers of "official truth" and to offer viewers
suppressed facts and a true diversity of perspective, will be destroyed. No
matter how big and powerful the corporate media, journalists and
broadcasters have a duty to resist on behalf of the public we are meant to
by Richard Ferrer - Sept 19
A controversial television documentary that accused Israel of targeting
Palestinian civilians and excused suicide attacks as "an expression of
despair" is to be investigated by the Independent Television Commission
Palestine Is Still The Issue, aired on ITV on Monday night only hours after
Yom Kippur, charged Israel with "systematic vandalism" in targeting schools,
offices and hospitals in the West Bank.
Presenter John Pilger accused IDF soldiers of defecating in Palestinian
buildings and suggested the country's conduct towards the Palestinians is
akin to Hitler's treatment of the Jews.
Equating Israeli policy with apartheid, Pilger concluded: "Surely history
will call the intifada a war of national liberation."
The ITC, which regulates commercial television in the UK, received 49
complaints in two days relating to bias in the programme and a further 12
regarding its scheduling. It will now consider whether the current affairs
programme broke its stringent code.
A spokesperson said: "We have received a number of complaints about the
programme. The key issue is whether codes of accuracy and impartiality have
been breached and we will of course be looking into that."
While interviewing Dore Gold, Israel's former ambassador to the UN, Pilger
claimed an Israeli sniper targeted "an old Palestinian woman with a cane,
trying to get to hospital for chemotherapy treatment".
However, Gold told TJ: "If a journalist is going to accuse Israel of these
crimes, he'd better come armed with proof.
"I did not detect that Pilger had any solid evidence for the charges he was
making. I made it clear to him that Israel risked the lives of its soldiers
by sending ground troops into Jenin in door-to-door combat to avoid
Palestinian civilian casualties."
Pilger backed out of an interview with LJN this week after Carlton
Television received a barrage of viewer complaints.
However, a spokesperson said: "John Pilger and the production team stand by
the programme and want it to speak for itself."
Jewish community leaders have been quick to slam the show, with the Israeli
embassy in London demanding ITV schedules a follow-up programme offering a
more "objective and honest version".
A spokesperson said: "The myopic and prejudiced views expressed serve
neither the interests of the Palestinian people, nor of peace.
"John Pilger's dehumanising portrayal of the Jewish people, exemplified by
regular insinuation and comparison to the Holocaust, was wholly offensive.
"Furthermore, his refusal to acknowledge alternative historical narratives
to his own was shocking and dishonest."
The Board Of Deputies labelled the programme an "outrageous piece of
journalism, littered with lies and libels".
A spokesman said: "We believe it to be tantamount to propaganda. Israel and
Israelis are dehumanised, delegitamised and debased from the beginning of
"We also cannot verify whether some of the footage used in the film is
"Furthermore, ITV has shown great insensitivity to the British Jewish
community by scheduling this programme a couple of hours after the end of
In his controversial report Pilger dismisses the 1993 Olso agreement as a
"classic colonial fix" which offered the Arabs the "autonomy of a prisoner
of war camp".
He said: "For Palestinians the overriding, routine terror, day after day,
has been the ruthless control of almost every aspect of their lives, as if
they live in an open prison.
"This occupation is condemned by the United Nations and almost every country
in the world, including Britain. But Israel is backed by a very powerful
friend, the United States. In 25 years, if we're to speak of the great
injustice here, nothing has changed."
This is not the first time Pilger has courted criticism from the Jewish
community. In January he wrote an article in New Statesman magazine
headlined A Kosher Conspiracy?, accusing Tony Blair of "cronyism" in his
"shameless" appointment of Lord Levy as his special envoy to the middle