BBC turns political activists into “aid workers”

A report entitled “Libyans held for ‘sex attack’ on Britons in Benghazi“, dated March 29th 2013, appears on the Africa and Middle East pages of the BBC News website. In that report the women attacked are repeatedly described by the BBC as “aid workers”. 

“Two Libyans have been arrested over claims they sexually assaulted three British aid workers earlier this week.

The workers were apparently abducted at a checkpoint near the city of Benghazi and held for hours before being freed on Wednesday.” […]

“The group of aid workers were taken to the Turkish consulate in Benghazi after their release. British officials said they had now returned to the UK.”

Benghazi attack

The Aid Worker Security Database defines aid workers as follows: [emphasis added]

” “Aid workers” are defined as the employees and associated personnel of not for profit aid agencies (both national and international staff) that provide material and technical assistance in humanitarian relief contexts. These include various locally contracted staff (e.g., transportation, security, etc.). This includes both relief and multi-mandated (relief and development) organizations: NGOs, the International Movement of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, donor agencies and the UN agencies belonging to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and WHO) plus IOM and UNRWA. The aid worker definition does not include UN peacekeeping personnel, human rights workers, election monitors or purely political, religious, or advocacy organizations.”

The ill-fated eleven vehicle convoy – named “Mavi Marmara” – in which the women concerned were taking part departed from London on February 25th this year, driving through France and Spain to reach Morocco and then continuing through North Africa with the aim of reaching the Gaza Strip. 

Some of the convoy’s organisers and participants have previously taken part in similar ventures and one of them – Sakir Yildirim (also spelt Yildirm) from Bristol – was aboard the IHH ship the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 when it tried to breach the maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip and some of its Turkish passengers attacked Israeli soldiers boarding the ship. According to a BBC report from the time, Yildirim is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. 

Sakir and Cliff in Turkey

Sakir Yildirim(L) & Cliff Hanley of Bristol PSC in Turkey, before boarding the Mavi Marmara in 2010

As can be clearly discerned from pictures published by the convoy’s supporters before and after its departure from the UK, the inefficient – and apparently badly organized – overland transport of “children’s educational equipment and toys, IT equipment, and medical equipment” (according to the organisers) is obviously secondary to the convoy’s political aims. 

Apparently the BBC is unable – or unwilling – to differentiate between genuine aid workers and political activists supporting a campaign to promote those involved in terrorist activity against Israeli civilians as ‘political prisoners’. 

The misappropriation of terms such as “humanitarian organization”, “human rights” or “aid worker” is an unfortunately common practice in the circles of anti-Israel campaigners seeking to co-opt the publicly acceptable image afforded by such terms to their political campaigns. It is regrettable that the BBC compromises its own reputation and breaches editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality by engaging in the same practice.

The assault of female members of the convoy in Libya is horrific enough as it is: there is no need for the BBC to embellish the story by erroneously depicting the women and the group with which they were travelling as “aid workers”. 

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