Beyond the BBC: Social Media Sharing News Stories on Palestine
News items shared by those we follow on social media sites will perhaps be our first point of contact with breaking news items. Many of us no longer sit down to watch the news at nine on the BBC, as we are able to access news items at the touch of our fingertips online, and we can learn what is going on in the world indirectly via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter by clicking on our news feeds or seeing what is trending, and read articles that have been shared by our friends and those we follow. Dissatisfaction with the biased nature of some traditional mainstream channels, in particular the BBC, has deterred people from gaining their news solely through this usual method. In the past, the BBC have been frequently criticised about their lack of balance and impartiality, but they have taken this too far this time as observed by their current coverage of Israel’s attack on Gaza. Thus, the #BoycottBBC campaign began and many protested outside the BBC offices against the biased coverage of the BBC. Owen Jones severely condemned the BBC’s propaganda-like headline of Israel under renewed Hamas attack: “It is as perverse as Mike Tyson punching a toddler, followed by a headline claiming that the child spat at him. As Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Tel Aviv-based Israeli human rights activist, tweeted: “We are targeted by mostly shitty rockets. Gazans are being shelled with heavy bombs. We have shelters, sirens, Iron Dome. They have 0.”
The BBC would have me believe that Israel is the helpless victim, and the Palestinians are heavily armed aggressors with their rockets and rocks. The news coverage is shockingly biased against the Palestinians who, from the reports and pictures on social media, are unarguably the ones who are suffering the most. The rise in criticism against the BBC’s news coverage of Gaza is supplemented by an increase of reliable alternative ways to gain knowledge about current affairs. The many alternative online news magazines and newspapers are telling us what the BBC is refusing to acknowledge. Many of the shares of news stories on social media sites are stories that the BBC would never dare to cover in fear of recriminations from the pro-Israel lobby.
Contrast the BBC with Channel 4. Channel 4 News has been praised on social media sites for their efforts to present the situation in Gaza. The Channel 4 News team have reported live from on the ground in Gaza. Jon Snow has been tweeting, blogging and video logging regularly about his experiences in Gaza, and providing us with a reality about Gaza that the BBC has thus far not acknowledged.
Channel 4 News seems to have recognised the gravity of social media reportage. Their journalist Paul Mason has highlighted why Israel is losing the social media war over Gaza: “there is a massive change in the balance of power between social media and the old, hierarchical media channels we used to rely on to understand wars”. He elaborates on the power of social media in showing a version of reality that is independent of what the BBC, for example, show their viewers. Further, journalists like himself, Jon Snow and others are able to bypass traditional editorial processes and report what they think matters. And I believe that nowhere is this more evident than in Twitter, where in 140 characters or less Israel’s actions are being revealed to the world by these journalists who normally were subject to stringent controls by editors. Twitter is giving these journalists the chance to say what they most want to say, and even when they have been made to delete a tweet by censorious employers, those views do not disappear from cyberspace due to retweets and screenshots by many who have recognised the validity of these reports.
Paul Mason reminds us that American mainstream media is overwhelmingly pro-Israeli, but now for the first time something monumental is occurring for the Americans are receiving their news from sources other than pro-Israeli news channels, and seeing pictures of dead Palestinian children which contrast starkly with what the mainstream news channels are reporting about Israel being under attack. CNN News claims that the majority of Americans support Israel, but then of course they would if they watch mainstream American news channels. Further, those speaking for Israel are spinning their tales using strategies in “fighting the media war for Israel”. The US is the only country in the world who voted against the United Nations investigating human rights violations by Israel on the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, in America, another news source, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show has been criticised by the pro-Israeli lobby, but others are thankful to him for making it okay to care about Palestinian suffering.
Paul Mason states that social media has put the power in the hands of the people and taken it away from the governments. And taken away the power from the previously dominant news channels too, I would add. The numbers of people who are getting their news from social media sites is on the increase: a report by Pew Research Centre found that a third of Americans get their news via Facebook. The rise of obtaining news via Twitter results in us receiving reports not as censored and ideologised as those that go through editorial processes. Some of the British newspapers are also allowing their contributors, even those going through their editors, to manifest the raw reality. Richard Seymour, writing in The Guardian, reveals how indiscriminately the Israeli military are bombarding hospitals, beaches, residential neighbourhoods, cafes, schools and medical facilities. The BBC is unlikely to report increasing accusations that Israel are attacking Gaza to gain access to the gas reserves, but The Guardian allowed this to be raised.
Twitter is being personified as a powerful political entity that challenges those who do not seem to have a handle on the reality of the situation in Gaza, as seen in this reference to those responding to Piers Morgan tweeting about Palestine: “Unfortunately, Twitter did not want to discuss the matter with the chat show host and instead just chose to mercilessly maul him”. Perhaps this reaction to Piers Morgan by the personified Twitter is because Twitter has been sufficiently traumatised by the tweets from journalists that tell us Palestinian parents are having to put the remains of their children in shopping bags, children and women are dying, and those who go to hospital for help are killed. Many news reporters, celebrities and politicians are tweeting about Palestine/Israel, and thereby firmly presenting their views to their thousands of followers. Many prominent people (including film directors, musicians and writers) have signed an open letter to David Cameron demanding a halt to arms trade between the UK and Israel. After all, the BBC may not highlight this, but Press TV have rightly pointed out Britain’s relations with Israel when it comes to weapons. The BBC News are unlikely to investigate why the British government hides the extent to which it is arming Israel. Footballer Joey Barton has tweeted about the attacks on Gaza, and re-tweeted about apartheid in Israel. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz removed an article that showed the world more about Israel’s apartheid state where Africans are told to go home, because Israel is a Jewish state. The mainstream media’s reluctance to cover such stories that portray the reality of what goes on is Israel is concerning: “When Israeli government ministers incite angry mobs, calling Africans “cancer,” they are simply expressing another face of the racism that Palestinians have always experienced…Yet rarely does this knowledge make it into mainstream media.”
The young people of Gaza are too letting the world know what is on their mind in moving and powerful tweets:
Twitter is also being used to call out the media establishment for its biased and unbalanced coverage:
The Huffington Post has also given voice to those generally unheard otherwise, as well as allowing more well-known figures to comment. Even Jon Snow of Channel 4 News submitted his experiences of Gaza to The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post also provided important pictures showing the masses coming out to demonstrate against Israel, images that need to be seen on mainstream channels like the BBC for those who do not use social media are being barred from access to newsworthy events because of the bias of BBC, Fox News and others. Al Jazeera has also given a voice to academics to provide the world with information about western governments who do nothing to prevent Europeans and Americans join the Israeli military.
The impact of small-scale journalism is also such that we gain much needed perspectives that the BBC is not presenting. The Middle East Monitor is reporting and publishing what the BBC is not likely to show: America’s Israeli jihadists, Israeli weapons add to brutality of Gaza attack, how Israel are pursuing the natural resources in Gaza, and a Norwegian doctor’s letter about the carnage in Gaza. Denmark, Norway and Finland are supporting the Palestinian people with medical aid, but the BBC is not interested in focusing on this significant point. Hot Press is reporting that singer Sinead O’Connor has cancelled her gig in Israel. Democracy Now presents a debate on Gaza between those at the helm of smaller-scale news mediums. A group of journalists, bloggers and photographers who are the voices of the online magazine +972 have been providing us with up to date news too, for example of the largest West Bank protest in decades. The Electronic Intifada is reporting on the many academics joining the boycott of Israel, as well as giving us news about the writers in Palestine who despite the attacks, are attempting to keep on with their writing. It is the Electronic Intifada showing us that British people are challenging the BBC’s pro-Israeli bias., and publishing information on who has actually violated the ceasefire agreements. Mondoweiss has also pointed towards the growing space to voice criticism and show dissent in America against the Israeli support we have come to expect in the media: “from John Kerry’s hot-mic moment expressing anger at the Israeli brutality– a moment Kerry has survived– to The New Yorker accusing Israel of a “war crime,” to TV reporters Richard Engel and Karl Penhaul describing the inhumane conditions in Gaza, to Anne Barnard of the New York Times explaining to Americans that Gaza is an open-air prison, to Lawrence Weschler’s outburst, that Israel has “rabies” and Gaza is “a concentration camp.”” We can thank social media and small-scale online journalism for bringing to us injustices committed by the controlling powers of mainstream media, for instance news that An MSNBS contributor had her future bookings cancelled for speaking up on-air about the biased pro-Israel news coverage.
Within Israel itself, censorship is at work to prevent the Israeli people knowing how many children have been killed. Yet small-scale journalism is presenting the evidence we need to know more about Israeli propaganda, for example Digital Resistance showed a video of a former Israeli soldier who described his experiences of the Israeli army. Israel’s promotion of the the rape of Palestinian women is observed through the sharing of tweets, images and speeches that have been originating from Israel. Last year, we heard about Israel’s propaganda machine as they recruited and paid students to spread pro-Israeli information on social media. This year, we are hearing about Israeli universities encouraging and supporting those who are attacking Gaza. The mainstream newspapers are also giving us much needed perspectives, for instance a voice to the Israeli reservists who are refusing to serve in the Israeli army for varying reasons. Or the Independent newspaper which has been featuring impactful article titles by Mira Bar Hillel, an Israeli-born London writer: Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport, and Israel has discovered that it’s no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media. The Telegraph published the names of the Palestinian children who have been killed by Israel. Our politicians are being called out for their cowardly relationships with Israel.
A few years ago, at a workshop at Cardiff University, a teacher (studying for her doctorate) mentioned to me that she did not understand the need for Al Jazeera English, as the English news channels were sufficient for her to receive her news about the world! When I attempted to explain to her that plurality of voices in news broadcasting was crucial to learning about world events, she could not fathom this. It seems that for some people the need to gain a non-Eurocentric perspective and balanced news coverage is unimportant. For others though, clearly it is an issue of significance. As I write this blog piece, notifications on my Twitter and Facebook alert me to more updates, news and pictures on Gaza. In the last couple of days alone, more and more urgent important information has been coming out on social media that I have not seen reported on the BBC News. Firstly, there are massive demonstrations taking place with huge turnouts in major cities throughout the world in support of Palestine. Some in Israel are also demonstrating, but of course this we will only know through images shared on social media.
Secondly, we learned that “It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap and Kill the 3 Israeli Teens After All”.
Thirdly pictures from reporters are being collated to show the destruction of the homes in Shaja’ia:
What is the BBC not telling you? Where are you getting your news from?