Under Attack: HR Accused by UK TV Documentary

November 17, 2009 22:00 by

On November 16, the UK Channel 4′s flagship documentary program, Dispatches, broadcast an investigation of “one of the most powerful and influential political lobbies in Britain, which is working in support of the interests of the State of Israel”, directly attacking and smearing HonestReporting in the process.

“Despite wielding great influence among the highest realms of British politics and media, little is known about the individuals and groups which collectively are known as the pro-Israel lobby,” the program noted.

Aside from inventing a non-existent “lobby” that conjures up images of some of the worst forms of anti-Jewish prejudice, the documentary attempts to discredit and delegitimize HonestReporting and the thousands of its subscribers who care about accurate reporting of Israel in the media.

The documentary is available to view in full on YouTube or by clicking on the video below to see the specific segment concerning HonestReporting.)

While the program had been in the making for several months, it was only in the few weeks prior to the transmission when those UK Jewish communal and pro-Israel organizations targeted by C4 were contacted by Hardcash Productions and political commentator Peter Oborne.

We at HonestReporting found the premise of the entire program to be highly offensive and prejudiced. For, as commentator Tom Gross notes:

Whereas there is a pro-Israel lobby with some influence in the U.S. (though not the kind of influence ascribed to it by anti-Semites), contrary to what Channel 4 and others think, there is no effective pro-Israel lobby in Britain.

The complete lack of any effective pro-Israel lobby in Britain (as opposed to well organized anti-Israel groups) goes a long way to explaining why some of the coverage of Israel in the British media is among the worst in the world, and sometimes rivals the Iranian and Egyptian media for its sheer nastiness.

Others, including individuals and organisations targeted by C4 have already commented on the nature of the program, which we do not intend to dissect in its whole.

We do, however, wish to respond to the content aimed directly at HonestReporting that appears in the program from 35-42 mins.

CHANNEL 4 CONTACTS HONESTREPORTING

As the Jerusalem Post reported, the show producers sent an e-mail to HR Managing Editor Simon Plosker, asking him to justify his work.

“We would like to ask you in an interview about your role as managing editor of Honest Reporting and its part in ‘the battle for public opinion.’ We would like to ask you about its targeting of the British media, in particular e-mail campaigns against the Guardian and BBC. We would also like to ask you about your previous roles at BICOM, NGO Monitor and your work for the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit,” the letter read.

“We will be in Jerusalem on Monday and hope you will welcome the opportunity to explain your role as managing editor of Honest Reporting,” it concluded.

The e-mail was sent over Shabbat. The following Monday, the producers stormed into HonestReporting’s Jerusalem offices with cameras rolling, demanding to know where Plosker was.

“It was as if in an attempt to catch some sort of criminal activity. They demanded to know where I was, claimed that I was a ‘major player in the UK’ and asked whether I had something to hide,” Plosker told the JPost.

OBORNE’S SHODDY JOURNALISM

  • 37 mins in, the program refers to harsh criticism of a March 2003 BBC documentary “Israel’s Secret Weapon” that set out to examine Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons capability. Oborne attributes more criticism of the BBC documentary to HonestReporting UK, despite the fact that HR UK was not actually established until 2006.

HonestReporting does not pass off the work of others as its own and neither should Oborne, who quotes from HonestReporting’s website:

The inference behind the film is that Israel would have been a more appropriate target than Iraq for coalition forces to attack.

In fact, HonestReporting never critiqued “Israel’s Secret Weapon.” The page Oborne read from was written in July 2004, more than a year afterwards. That communique, Documenting BBC Documentaries, was based on an exhaustive report by Trevor Asserson of BBC Watch: The BBC and the Middle East: The Documentary Campaign 2000-2004 and was but one paragraph of examples of Asserson’s work (which was fully attributed to Asserson by HR).

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  • Perhaps Oborne could have found an example of where HR got it wrong over the BBC’s coverage, in an attempt to embarrass us. Instead it should be Oborne who is embarrassed. Oborne takes HR UK to task, using our criticism of Orla Guerin’s coverage of the Lebanon war (BBC’s Orla Exposed) as an illustrative example. Our critique was based on bloggers and media watchdogs comparing Guerin’s August 14, 2006 report with — of all news services — Channel 4.

Guerin and C4′s Alex Thomson were both in Bint Jbeil on the same day, yet had diametrically opposed descriptions of the scope of the town’s damage. In this case, it was Channel 4′s own coverage that revealed Guerin’s shocking reporting.

Instead, Oborne simply dismisses the critiques and responses of organizations such as HR to the BBC’s reporting. Hasn’t he, in fact, produced the evidence that our work is necessary, valuable and legitimate?

MISREPRESENTING HONESTREPORTING’S ETHOS

Oborne refers to a number of formal complaints and legal actions against the BBC during his segment on HonestReporting. In fact, while we support the efforts of others in the battle to hold the BBC accountable for its Mideast coverage, HR has never initiated any independent formal or legal actions against the BBC or any other media outlet.

The entire ethos of HR is to provide our subscribers with the information to use as they see fit. In this sense we are a purely grassroots organization rather than one that directly lobbies the media.

The many complaints to the BBC and other media outlets may be inspired by our work but they are written by individuals who have the right to be heard and to hold the media to account. If the BBC, by Oborne’s admission is forced to justify its output, then we have nothing to be ashamed of and our own subscribers can be proud that their efforts are having an effect.

UNWARRANTED INSINUATIONS

Oborne states:

It was time to find out who HonestReporting UK is, who funds it and who it represents.

Rather than insinuating that we have something to hide or operate in the shadows, Oborne, whose producer was in e-mail contact with HR’s Simon Plosker, could simply have asked. Had he done so, we would happily have explained that HR is a USA non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization as recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as well as being a registered charity in Israel.

We would also have told Oborne that, aside from advertising, it is the donations of our thousands of supporters who help to keep our work going.

Turning to Plosker, Oborne said that he

admits he worked for BICOM in London and also for the Israeli Army Press Office.

Plosker doesn’t need to “admit” to anything as if it is a badge of shame. Our Managing Editor’s background is fully disclosed on our own website, where, presumably, Oborne found it.

HR regularly takes the media to task for its use of language. Oborne has deliberately changed the name of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit to that of the “Israeli Army Press Office”. Why does this small change matter? Oborne now implies that Plosker deals directly with the foreign media in his role with the IDF. This, despite the fact that Plosker, in an e-mail to the program’s producer, stated specifically that he had never ever dealt with any media for the IDF and was, in fact, part of a separate branch of the unit.

We know that this e-mail was received and acted upon because the program quotes directly from it regarding HR’s responses to The Guardian and BBC.

Oborne is guilty of, at best, more shoddy journalism or, at worst, a deliberate distortion of the truth.

INVADING HR’S OFFICE

Bursting into HR’s Jerusalem offices with the cameras rolling displayed a particularly aggressive attitude on the part of Oborne and his producer. Following a discussion with a staff member of MediaCentral, a project of HonestReporting, Oborne insinuated a shadowy lack of physical presence from HR. This despite the fact that the MediaCentral staff member stated at the time that one member of HR’s staff is permanently working from that location.

(MediaCentral is a Jerusalem-based HonestReporting initiative, providing support services for foreign journalists. The association with HonestReporting is openly stated on MediaCentral’s web site.)

Indeed, HonestReporting could be termed a “virtual organization” simply due to the reality that in today’s world, one can set up an office from anywhere on the globe that has internet access. Is this really controversial or shadowy?

A CAMPAIGN, NOT AN INVESTIGATION

While Oborne may have been inventing a well-oiled pro-Israel lobbying machine, who was really doing the campaigning?

In a well-coordinated and specifically timed manner, an article and comment piece (by Oborne himself) appeared in The Guardian along with a full study pamphlet (again penned by Oborne) issued by the OpenDemocracy organization. The speed in which the documentary appeared on YouTube, posted by Channel 4 the day after the actual transmission, also raises eyebrows as to the impact that Oborne and C4 were hoping to produce.

ABUSING THE ANTI-SEMITISM CHARGE

Oborne’s documentary implies that many pro-Israel advocates automatically respond to anti-Israel coverage by hurling accusations of anti-Semitism against individuals or media outlets. Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic (although some of it is certainly motivated by such intent and it would be wrong to ignore its existence).

HonestReporting recognizes that accusing anyone, let alone a journalist or media outlet, of anti-Semitism is a serious charge and is not one that we take lightly. An examination of hundreds of our communiques over the years will show that this accusation is very rarely used and only in cases where we believe that anti-Semitism is most definitely evident.

However, we also recognize that even if the intent may not be anti-Semitic, the consequences may be. Channel 4 itself has been responsible, through this documentary, for producing anti-Semitism, a prime example being Dispatches own website where the comments section on this program demonstrates some disgusting views that would not be out of place on neo-Nazi websites.

In addition, the increase in hate mail received by HonestReporting as a result of this documentary would suggest that it has had some impact on those who resort to vicious or anti-Semitic sentiments.

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As previously stated, others have responded to Channel 4′s documentary in its entirety, particularly as it has raised many concerns within the UK’s Jewish community. Here are some extra sources some notable commentators and organizations:

While we have concentrated on the segment that deals directly with HonestReporting, we believe that Peter Oborne’s documentary is not only journalistically flawed but also amounts to an insidious hatchet job aimed at the UK’s supporters of Israel.

The production of this documentary only reinforces the necessity of the work of HonestReporting, HR UK and all of those dedicated individuals and groups who are prepared to hold the media to account and to stand up for Israel.

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