Can you imagine the BBC publishing or broadcasting a facile report which tries too hard to be funny by tapping into jaded Benny Hill-style stereotypes about certain national characteristics such as Frenchmen who smell of garlic, women-chasing Italians or lazy, siesta-loving Spaniards?
No? Well then prepare to be surprised…or perhaps not.
On January 24th 2013 the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (also broadcast on the BBC World Service) featured an item by Paul Moss. The podcast can be downloaded here (listen from 22:34) or heard here. A very similar written version of the same report was featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th.
Moss’ piece is entitled “The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet” and supposedly tells of his recent flight from Luton to Tel Aviv. But Moss decided to turn an account that flight into a contrived analogy for the Middle East conflict as a whole – or at least what he perceives as the Israeli contribution to it.
And so, despite admitting that he speaks neither Hebrew nor Russian, Paul Moss portrays Israeli passengers on the flight as argumentative and aggressive.
“The Israelis were arguing with the non-Israelis, and indeed with each other – over who was entitled to what territory.
Some were polite, but others more hostile. It was an ugly scene. At one point, I thought people might well come to blows.
And still they could not sort it out. Who was supposed to be in what seat? The plane had not even taken off yet, but already Flight 2085, from Luton to Tel Aviv, had become a microcosm of the Middle East.
Some argued from a point of legal entitlement. They held up their boarding passes, the seat number clearly visible.
“I have a right to be here,” they protested. But others simply pointed out that they had got there first. I felt I had heard this before somewhere.”
Predictably, Moss’ Israeli co-passengers are also pushy, rude and potentially dangerous into the bargain.
“Meanwhile, bolder passengers were simply shoving their luggage – and themselves – into the places they wanted. You might call it “establishing facts on the ground”.”
“Tensions rose and so did voices in English, in Hebrew and in Russian. I only speak one of those languages but I am quite sure I was being treated to a crash course in their finest insults and for the first time I found myself awfully glad that metal implements are no longer permitted in carry-on luggage.”
The laboured analogy and stereotypes continue, with Moss ditching all efforts to display any of that much-touted appreciation of diversity in which his countrymen take so much pride and exhibiting particular disdain for the religious passengers on the flight.
There is, of course, absolutely no point to this article whatsoever. It does not inform the reader about any particular news event and it certainly does nothing to increase audiences’ understanding of the world. All Moss achieves in his shallow, superficial piece is the promotion of stereotypes in order to advance a very clear political agenda.
However, simplistic agenda-driven reporting on Israel seems to be something of a pattern as far as Moss is concerned. In January 2009, at the time of Operation Cast Lead, he was also in Israel. In one article from the time he reported on Israeli Arabs in Haifa opposed to the operation, implying that they were representative of the whole Arab Israeli population and quoting Leah Tsemel and Ameer Makhoul without disclosing to his readers who they are or what they represent.
In another article (which does much to explain his attitudes towards Israelis) Moss showcased the opinions of the founder of ‘Zochrot‘, which he described as an “educational charity” and in a third piece Moss uses a visit to Masada to suggest that Israelis are unnecessarily militaristic.
If readers are wondering what happened once Moss’ flight landed in Tel Aviv, the answer to that is to be found in another radio broadcast from January 25th. The BBC Radio 4 programme “The World Tonight” featured Paul Moss (from 35:43 or as a podcast here from around 29:31) on the subject of “Israel’s view of its international image” in which he argued that Israelis – in contrast to citizens of other countries – should care more about how they are perceived abroad.
“MPs in most countries will insist it’s their people that [sic] should determine who forms their government and what is in their country’s interests. But Israel, of course, is not like most countries. For a start it gets huge amounts of financial aid from the United States.”
Of course Israel has not received economic aid from the US since 2008 and the vast majority of the military aid it does receive (around 1% of the Israeli economy) is spent in the United States, thus sustaining American jobs. As the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department put it in 2011: “We don’t just support Israel because of a long-standing bond, we support Israel because it is in our national interests to do so”.
But does the fact that Israel receives US aid at all make it – as Moss claims – “not like most countries”? Hardly: not only is Israel not the biggest recipient of military aid from the US, but if we look at the subject of financial aid in general, we see that in fact, Israel is exactly like most countries.
But Paul Moss is obviously not one to allow mere facts to get in the way of the agenda he is trying to promote.
Moss is, of course, entitled to his own political opinions and prejudices. What he is not entitled to do as a BBC presenter is to allow those prejudices to spill over into his reports, thus compromising the BBC’s reputation for impartiality – even under the pretext of supposedly trying to be funny.