Editorial | The BBC: who cares if attacking Iran is illegal, look at these shiny F16s!

Are you a journalist struggling to write about the seemingly impending attack on Iran? Hicham Yezza offers a few tips.

Editor's Desk - Posted on Monday, February 27, 2012 17:29 - 5 Comments

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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.

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Hicham Yezza

Hicham Yezza is editor-in-chief of Ceasefire. He can be contacted at: editor[at]ceasefiremagazine[dot]co[dot]uk

5 Comments

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Matt Carr
Feb 27, 2012 18:31

Absolutely right Hich. I read this article earlier today myself, and found it quite chilling. It’s really high-tech weapons fetishism at its worst. I looked in vain for any reference to the fact that these weapons would actually kill a lot of people, without finding any.

But then for a journalist whose concerns appear to be limited to how Israel deals with its ‘myriad challenges’, Iranians probably aren’t people at all, so perhaps that explains why he neglected to mention them.

Malte Ringer
Feb 27, 2012 19:51

Nice work, Hich. Righteous indignation – in sarcastic form or otherwise – is the only right response when dealing with a media that pretends no case for an Israeli attack even needs to be made: Israel is simply entitled to visit death and destruction on its neighbours whenever it chooses.

fugstar
Feb 28, 2012 20:30

nice one.

who is Jonathan Marcus?

Kenneth Williams
Nov 19, 2012 15:56

Hicham- I read with interest your article. I have to agree with most of the points you made, contrary to two who also left comments. And, I will direct these two to the sovereignty of Israel. I live in the United States (which, is kind of dis0united at this point in time), where we have much war-mongering going on. Most of it is being carried out by the State Department. All you have to do is follow the money. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Africa, Tunisia (where the ‘drab’ Arab uprising originated). The countries I listed all have had many problems in the last decade, but only in the last half decade have these become ideologically/religiously apparent. It is becoming easier to see, actually who is who. This war-monger- ing is of serious concern to many of us in the United States who share a commonality with Israel. As to why I did not name Israel as a recipient of funds from the U.S.? Because it is the only Nation on the list that has a true peace within it. The U.S. government is not a true reflection at this time of the U.S. people. Many people do not think that the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob is alive, but Israel (and, thank God, by extension, us!!) is proof of Him. Despite internal efforts by the State Department to escalate the wars in all these countries, (making some people very rich), many in the U.S. are opposed to the involvement of yet another war, created by another conflict of yet another people who are not happy with their lot. To those unhappy people I say, ” Do not let yourself be fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Change has to start from within; projection of violence and atrocities to the rest of the world will do nothing to advance an already lost cause. But America’s people will always stand for Israel; just as Israel will continue to come to the aid of those Syrian refugees, we will aid also all of the casualties of any conflict. As you also pointed out, ask what more could be done if these conflicts did not waste the blessings people have financially? How much society around the world would benefit if world domination by conquest were not an agenda? But as you also remarked, ‘is’ does not get asked; the reaction comes from ‘if…’ and that just is not right…..

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