The BBC’s Head of Newsgathering Fran Unsworth has issued a report on censorship and reporting restrictions imposed by the warring parties in the conflict in Lebanon and has come out of it reasonably happy and contented with its reportage over the past month. After discussing Israeli censorship rules, she quotes correspondent Jim Muir on whether any restrictions were imposed by Hizbullah :
"There have basically been no restrictions on reporting as such - there's been no pressure in any direction with regard to anything we actually say, indeed very little interaction of any sort. There was however an issue at the beginning of the conflict over the live broadcast of pictures of rockets going out from locations visible from our live camera position. We were visited by Hezbollah representatives and told that by showing the exact location of firing we were endangering civilian lives, and that our equipment would be confiscated."
Well, er ... basically no restrictions? That's not what many other news agencies had to say:
CNN's Anderson Cooper and Nic Robertson and CBS's Elizabeth Palmer are among the many who confirm that Hizbullah allowed reporters to see what they wanted them to see. Says Cooper on Hizbullah, "... they clearly want the story of civilian casualties out. That is their — what they're heavily pushing, to the point where on this tour I was on, they were just making stuff up."
Now why would they want to make "stuff up" about those civilian casualties?
Let's go back to Muir's statement as reported by Unsworth because it's worth repeating in bold:
"We were visited by Hezbollah representatives and told that by showing the exact location of firing we were endangering civilian lives."
This can only mean what most of us knew all of the time – that Hizbullah bases itself in populated civilain areas in order to protect itself from the IDF and further that it uses this cover to enable later accusations against the Israelis for firing on civilians (human shields) when they do attack the sources of Hizbullah’s deadly rocket fire.
The advice Hizbullah gave to Muir is of itself proof that Hizbullah was committing war crimes.
This should have been one of the stories of the war.
The Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu teaches that the essence of war is controlling people's perceptions. In dutifully following Hizbullah’s demands and failing to report on them at the time, the BBC not only acted dishonourably in shaping the perceptions of its viewers on this war, it also played a part in covering up Hizbullah's war crime.
Unsworth's report is a searing indictment on the BBC’s standards.
[For the record, the Geneva Conventions say:
"Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977Art 51. - Protection of the civilian population
7. The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations."]