Among the channels offered to UK viewers on BBC iPlayer is one called S4C.
While S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru – Channel Four Wales) is not a BBC channel, it does get some of its programming from the BBC under what the director of BBC Wales has called “a partnership”. S4C receives most of its funding from the obligatory licence fee paid by UK households and currently also gets funding from the UK government. Its content, as seen above, is available on BBC iPlayer which is subject to OFCOM regulation.
Among the Welsh-language programmes produced by that media organisation which are currently available to users of BBC iPlayer are three episodes of a series called ‘Y Wal’ (‘The Wall’). One of those episodes is described as follows in Welsh:
“Ffion Dafis visits one of the world’s most controversial boundaries – the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”
And in English:
“Presenter Ffion Dafis visits the wall that separates Israel and Palestine.”
Those unable to view BBC iPlayer can see that programme here. English language subtitles can be activated by clicking the subtitles icon in the lower right corner and choosing ‘Saesneg’.
According to the credits at the end of the programme – which is one of the least impartial pieces of content that we have seen aired on any British channel for a long time – it was made with the cooperation of the Welsh government. The person presenting this programme – Ffion Dafis – is apparently an actress (rather than a journalist) on her first visit to the region and she makes no effort whatsoever to present audiences with an accurate and impartial account of its subject matter.
As readers are no doubt aware, the anti-terrorist fence constructed after hundreds of Israelis were murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers is mostly – over 90% – a metal fence. Viewers of this programme, however, do not see even one camera shot of those parts of the fence: throughout the entire 48 minute programme they are exclusively shown dozens of images of the minority part of the structure that, due to danger from snipers, is made out of concrete. Throughout the whole programme viewers also hear the entire structure called a ‘wall’ even though that description is inaccurate.
Another feature of this programme is its exclusive use of the politically partisan term ‘Palestine’. As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s style guide instructs journalists that “There is no independent state of Palestine today, although the stated goal of the peace process is to establish a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel” and hence “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.
The programme begins with an airbrushed account of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada.
Dafis: “The year 2000 – and once again there was increasing tension between Palestine and Israel. A wave of terror attacks swept through Israel. Israel responded with the full force of its military might. In 2002, Israel decided to build a wall. A wall to stop the killings and restore peace. But the wall has bred hatred on both sides. I’m going to visit one of the world’s most controversial walls. I want to understand why it was built and see the effect it has had on life in Palestine. As we meet brave individuals who dare to challenge the system, what are the chances of us seeing this wall coming down?”
After the Welsh actress on her first visit to the region has told viewers that Jerusalem “is a familiar sight to me even though I’m looking at it for the first time” because she “went to Sunday School as a child and I suppose it’s part of my history”, she goes on:
Dafis: “But people have fought over this holy land for generations. While some have tried to build bridges, others have fuelled the conflict.”
Viewers then [02:05] see an image of the US flag and hear a recording of the US president saying “it is time to officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.” So much for media impartiality.
Additional commentary that does not meet any definition of journalistic ‘due impartiality’ (and concurrently promotes inaccuracies) is seen throughout the entire film.
[04:30] Dafis: “What goes through my mind as I stand here is the audacity of the wall. Just the way it ploughs through villages, through streets, through rivers and orchards. The devastation it leaves in its wake is plain for all to see. But according to the Israelis, it is here for a purpose [shrugs].”
[15:23] Dafis: “This wall has been built on foundations of fear and a need to protect. But the major question I have is where is the respect? This isn’t a cute white picket fence in a garden but a huge monstrosity knocked into the front room of a neighbour. Maybe one side feels safe but the other side definitely feels like it’s being suffocated.”
[19: 04] Dafis: “It’s clear that I’m standing in one of Palestine’s most fertile valleys. That much is evident. What’s also clear is that there’s a monstrosity being built on both sides of this valley. But the truth is that until you sit with an 84 year-old [Palestinian] woman who could be my grandmother, until you look into those eyes and realise the pain and the injustice then I don’t think people will ever understand one another. Maybe that is fundamentally the problem. I don’t know.”
[25:36] Dafis: “I think it’s extremely important for them [children in Aida refugee camp] to realise that growing up like this, without rights and surrounded by a high wall, is not right. It’s not normal for any child.”
[30:03] Dafis: “Imprisonment is the only word to describe what Palestinians go through here. Going through the checkpoints is like being in a big livestock mart. The wall is ludicrous. There is no other word.”
[46:58] Dafis: “The horrors taking place here can no longer be denied. Names like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Judea, Jericho are part of a great silent war. These are not peaceful places at all. I’ve touched and met people in these places and if something like this doesn’t alter me then I don’t think my heart is actually beating.”
One possible clue as to why this film is so one-sided comes at 31:37 when Dafis tells the camera that “our sound man, our driver and our fixer are Palestinian” while claiming that “they could end up being detained overnight”.
Referring to a non-incident in which she and her crew could not proceed along a particular road due to maintenance work being carried out, Dafis told viewers: “That experience with the Israeli army really shook me” and viewers then saw the unidentified fixer launch into a long monologue which provides some context to the backdrop to this film.
Fixer: “What’s the worst thing that can happen? To die? Many people have died before us for Palestine. We are not more precious than they are or than their life. You just say ‘OK, whatever, let it happen how it is or let it come’. Many people start to think OK only God protects me and others say what if I die now? Nothing will happen. So that’s why we lose the sense of life. No-one cares and then we face fear, we face…we see our rights being smashed on the floor and that we are treated as if we weren’t even human beings with soul and feelings and emotions. It’s like creatures or insects anyone can step on then and just walk. So when you feel that you stop caring.”
Part of a fixer’s job is to set up interviews and in this film viewers see twice as many Palestinian participants as Israelis. In addition to three farmers with unsubstantiated stories, a resident of al Walajah and Ahmad Sukar, head of the Wadi Fukin village council, viewers hear from representatives of assorted NGOs without any explanation being given of the political agenda of organisations including the Society of St Yves, al Rowwad, Combatants for Peace or Parents Circle Families Forum.
Among the four Israeli interviewees one is a staff member at a Yeshiva in Gush Etzion and two are members of an NGO which self-describes as “a joint Palestinian-Israeli grassroots peacemaking initiative”. The only Israeli interviewee to have lost a family member in a Palestinian terror attack is also co-director of the Parents Circle, Rami Elhanan. Despite Palestinian terror being the reason for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence which is supposedly this programme’s subject matter, that information is only revealed to viewers three-quarters of the way into the programme, just after Elhanan has told viewers:
[34:02] Elhanan: “The Palestinians live in their cages unable to go out in any way. The Israelis are sitting in their coffee houses, drinking coffee. They don’t want to know what is going on down [under] their noses, 200 meters behind their backs. They prefer not to know. The Israeli media is cooperating with this and the whole situation is like a false paradise. A bubble if you like.”
As the above examples show, this S4C programme does not even pretend to present its subject matter in an impartial fashion. In part two of this post we will review the programme’s accuracy.