Editorial | The BBC: who cares if attacking Iran is illegal, look at these shiny F16s!
Editor's Desk - Posted on Monday, February 27, 2012 17:29 - 4 Comments
By Hicham Yezza
Illegal shmilegal! Just look at this beauty!
Does Jonathan Marcus really exist? I ask because his name appears on a BBC article, published today, headed “How Israel might strike at Iran” that cannot possibly have been written by an actual journalist. It’s not that the piece is practically foaming at the mouth at the prospect of death being visited upon Iranians on a massive scale, or the rather fetishistic intensity of its descriptions of various killing machines (Did you know, for instance, that “The GBU-28″ is “the largest penetrating weapon available for a tactical aircraft”?).
It’s not even that, for Mr Marcus, “the great unknown question” happens to be not a variant of “Is this not insane?” but in fact “how capable these weapons would be against buried Iranian enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo”. No, Mr Marcus must be a fictional invention simply because no serious journalist would write such a long, detailed piece about a looming act of war without once using the words “death”, “civilian” or “casualties”.
I think I know what happened. The BBC clearly needed something quick on the topic and opted to take a short cut, in this case by copy-pasting from an internal policy document from the Israeli ministry of “Information” and inventing a byline to go with it. And yes, I appreciate the Beeb is under a lot of financial strain, that budgetary screws are forever tightening, but still, who would have guessed the straits were this dire?
There is, of course, the possibility that Jonathan Marcus does exist (as a “BBC Diplomatic Correspondent” no less) and is simply struggling with knotty concepts like “truth”, “balance” and “is”. In which case, and in a spirit of public service, I’d like to respectfully offer him some suggestions, free of charge, on how to write his next piece on the topic.
So. Let’s start at the beginning: you’re a journalist working for arguably the most reputable news organisation in the world. Your assignment is to write about an impending aggression by one Middle Eastern country against its neighbour. It’s a tough one: how do you report the possibility of a devastating attack that could lead to the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilians, not to mention a likely conflagration that would reverberate across the region and beyond for years, possibly decades?
First, it could be a good a idea to tell your readers that such an attack is and would be illegal under international law. This means the country committing it would be guilty of breaking said international law, and that its leaders, and anyone else who supports them, would be liable to be arrested, charged and convicted for war crimes. This includes not only Netenyahu and Barak, but David Cameron and William Hague. You may choose to mention that war crimes are a very bad thing, though you will often find your readers are quite aware of this.
Second, it would be useful to explain to your readers that the country you think is allegedly “under threat”, Israel, has hundreds of nuclear weapons, is by far the dominant military power in the region, and has been, for a few years now, vocally and regularly issuing announcements of its intention to attack Iran. You may even mention that Iran is directly surrounded by more than forty US military bases hosting hundreds of thousands of US army personnel. Indeed, some readers might even suspect “under threat” is a far more appropriate description of Iran than of the countries openly threatening to attack it.
Thirdly, some of your readers might think it relevant to know that no evidence has been presented so far, from anyone, that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme or is seeking to develop one. Yes, there has been a lot of noise, many ifs and buts, mainly from people who support an attack (and, ahem, ever-loyal media lackeys always comfortable at the war drum), but conclusive evidence? Nada. Indeed, you can tell your readers about the recent IAEA report, which found no conclusive evidence of a weapons programme. Or you can quote Leon Panetta, the US Secretary of Defence, who recently said of Iranian leaders, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No”.
Fourthly, yes, you like F16s and other death machines, we understand that, but you might find that not all readers are interested in drooling accounts of whatever shiny hardware Israel might be unleashing on its neighbour. In fact – and you will find this quaint – some readers are quite interested in the human toll of whatever actions you will be predicting, especially if these actions happen to be urged in their name. This is a good moment to share with them the “deaths of thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilians, not to mention a likely conflagration that would reverberate across the region and beyond for years, possibly decades” bit.
However, were you to adopt these suggestions, you must be warned about the consequences. Your articles will become informative, making your readers a lot more aware of the context and realities of the situation. This would almost certainly mean a surge in popular opposition to this planned illegal act of aggression. It might even make it very awkward for those who seek or support an attack on Iran (including your own government) to continue going about their task in peace. Indeed, if enough journalists were to join you in adopting these suggestions, politicians might even start seeing war as a horrible thing.
To recap, your articles will help inform millions, save thousands of lives, prevent an act of wanton aggression, and protect international law. On the other hand, you might find yourself out of a job.
Like I said, it’s a tough one.