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Protest demands BBC lift reporting blackout on Palestinian hunger strikers

3 March 2013

Monday 18th February 2013 was a day to demonstrate against the BBC's blackout of news coverage of the plight of Palestinian hunger strikers. We held two protests outside the BBC in London and our friends in Bristol protested outside the BBC in Bristol. This report covers the London protest.

Both Ayman Sharawna and Samer Issawi are dying after have been on hunger stike over 6 months and yet when you search the BBC's 21 million english articles there is not a single mentions of these hunger strikers, this contrasts sharply to the blanket coverage the BBC gave the Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit when is was imprisoned. Tate coverage continued even one year after his release with a special feature on the anniversary of his release, focusing on the difficulty he had had coping with his new found fame! Contast this to Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi, a skeleton on a wheelchair, brutally beaten in the courtroom in front of cameras and an Israeli judge - his ribs being broken in the attack, is not considered news worthy by the BBC.

Video - protest speeches outside BBC HQ

A mothers letter from Palestine to the BBC arrives at the gates of the BBC.. but will they read it..


Previously, 5 weeks ago, on 11th January we protested outside BBC Broadcasting House at the BBC's refusal to cover the plight of Palestinian hunger strikers. We delivered a letter to the BBC asking for an explanation and a change in policy, the letter (reproduced below) also included a passionate message from Um Ra'fat, the mother of Palestinian hunger striker Samer Al-Issawi.

Tim Davie
Director General BBC

Dear Mr Tim Davie

Today is Palestinian political prisoner Samer Al-Issawi's 169th day on hunger strike, and fellow prisoner Ayman Sharawna having been on hunger strike nearly 6 months before suspending his strike for a week is once again fasting for his freedom. Both prisoners are being held by Israel without charge or trial. According to the internationally brokered deal to release captured Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit both Sharawna and Issawi should be free men today but Israel reneged on its agreement and rearrested both men after Shalit had been released.

The BBC describes its mission as one to "inform" and "educate" and the news in particular is described as "providing trusted World and UK news.." so why have you not covered their story and those of fellow Palestinian hunger strikers?

The search engine Google has indexed over 21 million articles from the BBC website yet it returns no results from the BBC for Samer Issawi or Ayman Sharawna. Neither prisoner has ever been mentioned by the BBC - those 21 million articles.. empty of any reference to Palestinian hunger strikers Issawi and Sharawna, both nearing death after nearly six months without food.

If we do a quick search on Google for "Gilad Shalit" it brings back around 1,120 articles from the BBC which includes around 50 articles from 2012! Shalit was released over a year ago in October 2011 and yet he is still news worthy for the BBC. The last article on him by the BBC is from October 18th 2012 - a special on the anniversary of his release!

The Shalit release anniversary article reports of his "ordeal", the "psychological effects", "trying to come to terms with his fame" the ordeal of the media following "his first bicycle ride after he returned home.. [his] trip to Paris to visit President Nicholas Sarkozy and a meeting with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.. at a concert of the popular singer, Shlomo Artzi, who dedicated a song to him; at various sports events and on the set of the US television drama series, Homeland.." Contrast this 'ordeal', which is newsworthy for the BBC to report, to the ordeal Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are going through TODAY.

Just two weeks ago Samer Al-Issawi, a wheelchair bound skeleton of a man barely breathing after 140 days without food, was brutally attacked by Israeli guards in the courthouse in front of an Israeli judge, who didn't intervene, as guards punched the dying man in the head and chest resulting in broken ribs. They then attack his mother and sister, all this in front of the cameras - captured on video ready for any news channel to broadcast.. but not the BBC - your mission to 'inform' and 'educate' apparently doesn't extend to Palestinians? An emaciated dog that has lost half its weight due to being abandoned is afforded an article by the BBC which includes a large colour photo, but not Samer Al-Issawi who after 169 days without food has lost more than half his body weight, not even one mention of his name. Why?

The BBC is principally funded by television licence fees - 82% in 2011 ( £3.6 billion). Such blatant bias by omission in its reporting is unacceptable and we as TV licence holders demand the BBC follow its remit to inform and educate by covering the issue of Palestinian hunger strikers.

We have received a message from Palestine, from the mother of Samer Al-Issawi to the BBC which we have included below.

A Mothers Message To The BBC

My son Samer Al-Issawi, 33, a Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail and been on a hunger strike for 169 days. His only demand is freedom after the Israeli occupation broke the deal that liberated him, and re-arrested him for no reason, without any charge.

Samer Issawi's is in a very critical condition and has sustained fractures in his rib cage as a result of an assault against him a few days ago in the courtroom by Israeli soldiers only because he wanted to touch his mothers hand.

The reason for writing this letter is that we know that the role of the media especially the BBC & CNN is very important to highlight the plight of our son Samer.

Um Ra'fat, Mother of Palestinian Hunger Striker Samer Al-Issawi

We would like a reply, thank you.
Yours sincerely

After nearly 5 weeks we still did not received any reply from the BBC. Not only did they not replied, they did not even have the courtesy to sent us an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter. At the time the BBC had erected a barricade and checkpoint some 100 metres from its entrance especially to block us approaching the building and prevented us from entering the building to personally hand the letter to the Director General Tim Davie it had to be given to the Duty Facilities Manager of BBC Workplace who later confirmed to us via email that she had handed it to the Director Generals Office. A quick search on google also revealed the reporting blackout was still very much in place. So on 18th February we once again protested outside the BBC.

The action was part of the Palestinian Prisoners Campaign launched by Innovative Minds (inminds.com) and the Islamic Human Rights Commission (ihrc.org) which aims to raise awareness for the plight of Palestinian prisoners and build solidarity for their struggle and work towards their freedom.

The BBC journalists from the National Union of Journalists were on strike on 18th February over compulsory redundancies at the BBC, this gave us a great opportunity to talk to them on the picket line outside the BBC. It was decided that whilst the main protest as advertised was at 2pm in the afternoon, a few of us with our friends from "Haringey Justice For Palestinians" would visit the picket line early in the morning at 7am to talk directly with the picketers.

7am - Vigil outside BBC

As we arrived at BBC Broadcasting House in the early hours of the morning we were warmly greeted by about half a dozen picketers who were very sympathetic. We explained that we fully supported their strike and opposed the cuts but were disappointed with the bias in the BBC. We asked if they minded us standing with them with our banners, they told us that we belong there and they stood with us under our banner and we held their placards in solidarity.

When the two NUJ union officials, a man and a woman, arrived we approached them to give them a leaflet and explain why we were there. Unlike the picketers they were surprisingly cold to our approach. Initially they refused to even take our leaflet saying they weren't allowed to. It took nearly 5 minutes of convincing before they finally took the leaflet.. only to fold it and put away without reading it! When asked about the reporting blackout the woman sidestepped the question saying she did not work in the news section so couldn't comment, whilst the man refused to utter even one word during our whole encounter.

Having caught the BBC security off guard they tried but couldn't prevent us from approaching the main entrance for some great photos next to the iconic BBC building logo and leafleting of BBC staff entering the building. The security told us that they were expecting us at 2pm, that we were "not meant to be here at this time". It was also very interesting that the BBC security tried to separate us from the picketers demanding we stand away from them. We were not sure who directed them to go beyond their remit in this manner. We told them that if the picketers asked us to move we would respect their wishes but as it was we were all standing together, united against the cuts and the bias in the BBC. The security were not happy with this but were powerless to do anything.

Later we managed to speak to a couple of journalists from the BBC Arabic service. They told us, off record, that the BBC's Arabic service, which is tasked with cultivating a following amongst the regions Arab population whilst having no impact on public opinion or politicians in the West and totally toothless to pressure Israel in any way what so ever, was [therefore] allowed to report on the subject of the Palestinian hunger strikers.

BBC security trying to intimidate activists

Activists hold their ground against BBC security

BBC security not happy with solidarity between BBC staff picketers and Palestine activists - they try to separate us!

Haringey Justice for Palestine

2pm Protest outside BBC

As we arrived for the 2pm protest the BBC security were waiting with a pen ready for us some 100 metres away from the entrance of broadcasting House on the other side of the street. Unlike last time when they had erected a security barrier with a checkpoint and only giving access to people with BBC IDs, this time there was no barrier because of the strike picket which needed free movement to the buildings entrance. We took advantage of this and ignored the pen, setting up near the picketers at the entrance of the building. The BBC security took exception to this, ordering us to move to the pens. We refused pointing out that the area has a public right of way, and their threats to call the police never materialised.

We had a fantastic turnout considering it was a working day. More impressive than the numbers was the diversity, so many different groups, a true cross section of the solidarity movement were represented. All united in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners. Apart from Innovative Minds and the Islamic Human Rights Commission, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Victory to the Intifada, Jews For Justice For Palestinians, Red Card Israeli Apartheid Campaign among other groups were represented.

A portable PA system was set up for short speeches. Speaker after speaker condemned BBC policy of not reporting the plight of Palestinian hunger strikers.

IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh told the BBC it mustn't yield to zionist bullying, that it is paid for by our taxes and has a duty to report the news.

Malcolm from Victory to the Intifada group pointed to a history of bias at the BBC - in 2009 the BBC refused to broadcast a Gaza charity plea for aid made jointly by 13 British charities to help the stricken people of Gaza rebuild their homes after Israel's vicious attack on Gaza.. and now they are refusing to report on the hunger strikers.

John, a Camden UNISON member, made the comparison with Ireland, its hunger strikers - 10 of whom gave their lives to the cause, and the BBC's refusal at the time to broadcast the voices of Irish patriots.

Glyn from Jews for Justice for Palestinians pointed to an even bleaker future at the BBC with its recent appointment of James Purnell, former chair of Zionist lobby Labour Friends of Israel, to the BBC's top strategy job. In his new post at the BBC, he will be in charge of the corporation’s policy, strategy, digital services, public affairs, communications, marketing and audience research – in other words, pretty much everything that matters in the BBC!

Michael from the Jewish Anti-Zionist Network asked the National Union of Journalists , who were out on strike that day, to pass a motion to boycott Israel.

The BBC were invited to come and address the protesters to explain their policy, an offer they ignored. The NUJ members on the picket line were also invited to address the protest to talk both about their strike and also the BBC's refusal to report on Palestinian hunger strikers. Lucy Bailey, a producer at BBC Word Service, who was on the picket line did agree to take the mic. Lucy Bailey has previously made a documentary on human rights for white farmers in Zimbabwe and a series on pursuing justice under pressure and the role of judges in which she interviewed Judge Richard Goldstone so we were expecting passionate words about the human rights of Palestinian prisoners and the failure of the BBC to cover their plight. We were to be disappointed. In fairness she did speak out against the cuts at the BBC, she had our full support on that. But that was it - nothing on the Palestinian hunger strikers!

In between the speeches, pro-Palestinian music was played, helping create a great atmosphere to engage the public. "Hungry" by Doc Jazz written specially for the Palestinian hunger strikers was a particular hit with the crowd:

"I'm not asking u to break me out, cuz I'm alright.
Can spend a hundred more years putting up this fight.
All I want you to do, is speak out for the truth.."

Source: www.inminds.com

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