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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, January 26, 2009

Should the BBC Help Gaza?

Another flap in the UK over whether the BBC should allow broadcast appeals for aid for Gaza.

The BBC says it won't because to do so would place it squarely in the middle of a political argument and debate. In fact, the BBC is prohibited from appearing to take sides in matters of public controversy.

But advocates for the Palestinians say that it is anything but political. The people of Gaza need aid and the BBC is hiding behind a thin veneer of neutrality to avoid being tagged as anti-Israel.

Peter Preston in The Guardian writes about the need for the BBC to step up and do the right thing.

Others such as Andrew Roberts writing in The Times of London claim that the charities who want to run ads on the BBC have a clear record of being anti-Israel.

What we have here is a replication of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued in other places.

While I empathize with the BBC's desire to avoid unnecessary accusations of bias, there is another issue here: how can the media in general and public broadcasting in particular use its influence to benefit societies in conflict?

My instincts as an Ombudsman naturally went to support the BBC's position.

But surely there must be a better way for the media to play a constructive role.

My modest proposal is for the BBC to allow the public service announcement for Gazan relief from Oxfam and other like-minded organizations, alongside a plea from the Board of Deputies of British Jews to solicit funds for the victims of Hamas rocket attacks in southern Israel. Seems simple, no?

In the Middle East, too often western interests and biases - both pro-Arab and pro- Israel have claimed the moral high ground. By not carrying the appeals for Gazan relief, the BBC appears defensive and trying to avoiding the usual accusations of pro-Arab bias.

Perhaps the BBC needs to stop being an enabler for one side or the other and look beyond to the deeper traumatic wounds that both Arabs and Israelis carry.

The late psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut talked about how victims of trauma continue to revisit their wounds - not to eradicate them - but to relive them. Supporters of both Palestinians and Israelis continue to deepen the trauma by reliving it. Kohut, who treated Holocaust victims believed that the experience of trauma leads to what he called "shame/rage" - shame for enduring the trauma in the first place and rage as a reaction to the violence the victims endured.

The BBC is right not to be an enabler of this recurrent cycle of "shame/rage." But it is hard for those who have invested so much in the trauma to give it up.

As Freud wisely observed - people have difficulty giving up things that give them pleasure, even when those things are harmful to them.

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