Thursday, August 26, 2010

EMAIL : Response from Panorama #flotilla

Dear .....
Thank you for your email. May I start by saying  that I'm obviously sorry you weren't happy with the programme. We stand by the film and defend its fairness, balance and methodology. Jane Corbin has been reporting from the region, including Gaza, for 25 years - most of that time for Panorama. One of her most recent films was a report on Israel's building programme in East Jerusalem - " A Walk in the Park", which is still on our website.  Without her reputation for balance on the controversial areas she's covered, it's not likely she'd have been given access to the range of people she was: - from Israeli commandos involved in the raid; to the head of the IHH - Bulent Yildirim; to the Free Gaza Coordinator on board the Mavi Marmara - Lubna Masarwa; to three Turkish activists and others, including Ken O'Keefe, all who were on board the Mavi Marmara on the night in question. As you saw, she also spoke to Hamas official Dr Ahmed Yousef in Gaza. 
I hope I can try and answer some of your questions.
I thought it might be useful to send you the response that I have written to a series of questions from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. These questions appear to broadly cover your email however do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss any of this further.
1. Why was Israel’s ‘right’ to board the ship in international waters presumed throughout the programme? 

I don't believe the programme made any such assumption. The programme set out to try and explain what happened on the MM, not to pass judgement on the morality of the actions of either the IDF or the IHH activists. We made it clear that the MM was in international waters and that Turkey and others have accused Israel of committing an act of piracy. Indeed Jeremy Vine stated clearly in his introduction "Israel has been accused of breaking international law". There are two inquiries under way which are looking specifically at the contested legality of the IDF's actions.
2. Why did the programme completely fail to mention that Israel’s siege of Gaza has been declared illegal by the UN? 
The assumption was made that Israel has the right to blockade Gaza, while the motives of those attempting to break an illegal blockade were questioned.
The programme's objective was to set out what happened on the MM. We made it clear both in commentary and interview that the flotilla's aim was to break the Gaza blockade. We visited Gaza, explained (albeit briefly) the situation there and heard from people like Ken O'Keefe and others about their motivation to break the blockade. Panorama has made a number of highly praised and hard-hitting award winning films about the situation in Gaza and will continue to make films about the Middle east. 

3. Why was Israeli evidence of how and when they killed the activists remained unquestioned. Activists who were on the top deck of the ship say the first person was killed – shot from a helicopter – before any Israeli had even landed on the deck. However, none of these activists who made these reports were interviewed.
In the course of our research we spoke to many people who were on the boat. In particular we worked closely with the IHH in Turkey who helped find us 3 activists who were involved in the night, all of whom spoke at length about the events on the boat. We also spoke at great length to the head of the IHH who had been on the top deck and was aware of all the allegations. In total we spoke to 6 people who had been travelling with the MM. 

4. Activists shot footage of the Israeli attack, but their cameras, laptops and other recording equipment were taken by the Israelis and not returned. Why was this point not raised during the programme, or put to the Israeli spokespeople?
We clearly stated that we were using pictures "seized by the Israelis" In addition the head of the IHH, Bulent Yildirim stated that the "Israelis had stole these pictures". All featured footage was meticulously double and cross checked to verify its accuracy, any footage of uncertain events during the raid were clearly labelled as such. 

5.Why were the way in which the 9 died not discussed in more details? 

We made it absolutely clear that nine people had been shot dead by the Israelis and many injured. We saw and heard from a Turkish activist shot by the Israelis who described the scene. We showed footage of the Israeli assault, including pictures of soldiers firing their pistols on the protestors and Bulent Yildirim's contemporaneous commentary that they were being fired upon. We also spoke to one of those shot who could describe in detail the scene. The issue of who shot those onboard and how they died was not in doubt. Jane Corbin: But people were being killed and the dead and wounded were carried down below. Amongst the casualties was Fatih – hit in the chest by paintball pellets, in the arm by a live round.
Fathi Kovakdan: "After I was shot my friends took me inside to the first floor. Everyone was panicking and shouting for the doctor because 50 people were badly wounded …. .// I saw friends covered in blood…. "
In addition Jane Corbin put it to Giora Eiland that  "They have a point don’t they – many people see it as once more Israel using excessive and disproportionate force."

6. Why was there no footage of the Israeli assaults on the activist – which led to nine deaths? 

We used footage from many different sources, including Israeli footage. For example we showed video of the Israelis on the ship and firing their pistols. We showed video of the wounded and dead from the ship.
7. Jane Corbin never questions the use of the word "terrorist" to describe the activists. Why does she then fail to examine why there were no fatalities or serious injuries among the Israeli commandoes, when these so-called ‘terrorists’ were so willing to attack?
At no point did Jane Corbin use the word "terrorist" to describe the activists. She said:
"The IHH isn’t just known for their humanitarian work. Western authorities have accused them of having links to terrorist organizations. They strongly deny this". This is a relevant statement of fact . We noted that Israel has been accused of an act of piracy. 

8. Why were there no interviews with any of the British activists on board the ship, or with any of the journalists who were on board? 

In the course of our research we spoke to many people involved. We decided to interview 6 people who were on board the MM, all of whom could reveal crucial details about the incident, from the head of the IHH Bulent Yildirim, to the FGM media co-ordinator Lubna Marsawa, these were journalistic decisions, not based on nationality. We also spoke to Ken O'Keefe, who’s based in London. Each of the 6 people we interviewed were well positioned on the MM to be able to explain what happened.

9.The IDF has already admitted doctoring the audio footage used in the programme, that the BBC claims was broadcast from the captain’s deck?

This accusation is incorrect. You refer to the use of the audio tapes in which someone is recorded saying "Go back to Auschwitz". The IDF has not "admitted doctoring" this tape. In fact the IDF has said that it is unsure which of the flotilla's ships sent this message and that the first version of the tape released on to Youtube had had the silences taken out. The IDF later released the full unedited version of the tape. Nonetheless, we accept that there is controversy surrounding these tapes and therefore we clearly pointed this out:
"The recording’s authenticity has provoked controversy. The flotilla’s organisers insist they did not hear these comments being made".
Further we did not say that the audio came from the captain’s deck, in fact we said: The Israelis released what they said was the radio response from the flotilla. Part of it was defiant and abusive.
I do hope that I have gone some way to answering your questions.