Friday 28 September 2007

The BBC's Bin Laden for Beginners

The way America has got involved in conflicts in regions like the Middle East has made some people very angry, including a group called al-Qaeda – who are widely thought to have been behind the attacks.

In the past, al-Qaeda leaders have declared a holy war – called a jihad – against the US. As part of this jihad, al-Qaeda members believe attacking US targets is something they should do.

When the attacks happened in 2001, there were a number of US troops in a country called Saudi Arabia, and the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, said he wanted them to leave.

What's this? Could it be an extract from a Saudi school textbook - 'Bin Laden for Beginners' perhaps? Or part of a talk at a 'Stop the War' summer camp? Unfortunately not. It's a page from the website of the BBC's Newsround - a current affairs programme for children. It's from their coverage of the anniversary of 9/11 and it's headed 'Why did they do it?'

It gets worse:

A lot of countries don't like the way America gets involved with arguments in the Middle East.

They think that the US unfairly helps Israel in its conflict with Palestine. Israel and Palestine have been arguing for many years over who owns what land.

America is seen to be sympathetic towards Jewish Israelis, so some Arabs and Muslims think America does not like or understand them.

Now, some might argue that there's nothing amiss here: surely Newsround is simply reporting what the terrorists have said about the reasons for their actions. But that's the point: in claiming to explain 'why they did it', the website acts as a straightforward mouthpiece for the perpetrators. With no scare quotes, no 'according to their supporters...' or 'the terrorists claimed that...' to frame these statements, the impression is given that these are the 'real' root causes of the attacks, rather than excuses or pretexts put about by mass murderers. There's no balancing information here about the politics of al Qaeda, its aim of a worldwide caliphate, or its hostility not only to the US but to all 'infidels', whether they're to be found in Bali, Mombassa or Tel Aviv.

As I've said before, I'm normally reluctant to join in with the chorus of 'BBC bias' - it's often code for right-wing liberal-bashing - and having grown up with John Craven's original Newsround, and watched my children learn about the world via the current version, it pains me to criticise it.

But this example of one-sided root-cause rhetoric appearing on a BBC site is inexcusable.

Needless to say, the content has now been changed to something less 'offensive', as a result of all the fuss. But the damage to the BBC's reputation for fair and balanced coverage has already been done.

(via Roy Greenslade)

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