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Friday 17 April 2009
Letters: Reporting in the Middle East
Difficulties of impartial reporting in the Middle East
In comments on the Jeremy Bowen affair there seems a constant confusion between two different meanings of "impartial". The first it that if two parties disagree a report should give equal weight to the arguments of each and imply they have equal strength. The second is that if an impartial look leads to the conclusion that one side has the better of the argument then there is no harm in letting that become apparent.
I am also struck by how small both supposed errors are in the context of Bowen's work as a whole. I am astonished the BBC report did not take the opportunity to place these two points in a wider context, and to defend its Middle East reporting as a whole – particularly when any reporting not favourable to Israel is routinely subject to organised attack.
No doubt some of these attacks are consciously biased. But in my own wide Jewish acquaintance I am more struck by a degree of self-deception, of a sort for which it is hard not to have some sympathy. Such people are not simply in the usual political position of making the strongest possible claims for their own side. They rather remind me of fond parents who cannot bear to face the fact that their only child, reared after such tribulations, over such a period of time and with such care, is in danger of turning out to be a monster.
Robert Fisk writes: "Anyone who has read the history of Zionism will be aware that its aim was to dispossess the Arabs and take over Palestine." ("How can you trust the cowardly BBC?", 16 April).
It appears that Fisk is not very familiar with the history of Zionism. In November of 1947, the Zionist leadership accepted the UN partition plan, while the Arabs vehemently rejected it. They refused to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Palestine, regardless of its size. They started a war to prevent by force the implementation of the UN plan. Had they accepted the UN plan, their state would have been 61 years old today and thousands of lives would have been spared on both sides.
To speak of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank, without acknowledging that it was constructed in response to a flood of suicide bombings, that killed hundreds of innocent civilians, is obscene.
Dr Jacob Amir
Time to test law on crowd control
In rejecting the case of Lois Austin, who sued the police for false imprisonment after being held for several hours by a police cordon during the Oxford Circus demonstrations in 2001, the House of Lords stated that "crowd control measures would fall outside the application of article 5 (protection of Individual Human Rights) if they were resorted to in good faith, were proportionate and were enforced for no longer than was reasonably necessary". This included situations in which violence had occurred or was likely to occur, and where there was no way of singling out the troublemakers from the peaceful demonstrators.
This decision appears to have given a green light to the police to use this method of imprisoning entire groups of people as a convenient method of crowd control. Who decides whether this action is "proportionate", "in good faith" etc? Is it the police authority, or does the law now mean that people who suffer in this way will have to sue police officers individually? Perhaps this is the time for some of those who were trapped in this way during the G20 protests to bring a class action against the police and to test the law.
This attempt to erode the right to demonstrate has certainly been effective. I, for one, have decided not to go on any future demonstrations when I run the risk of being trapped for hours in a peaceful protest without water or toilet facilities, simply because a senior police officer has decided that there is a potential for violence or because it makes the job of policing easier.
In the 1960s we witnessed violence from both police and demonstrators but we were never banned from demonstrating, as is now effectively the case. Then, that kind of denial of free speech only happened under totalitarian regimes.
That a police officer shown assaulting a protester in the most recently published footage had, in clear breach of regulations, obscured his identification number is more disturbing than the assault itself.
This incident, taken together with the semi-obscured faces of the police shown accompanying Mr Tomlinson's assailant, makes it clear that superintending officers tolerate or condone breaches of police regulations by their subordinates.
Conspiracy to cause a breach of the peace is a criminal offence. The clear and unequivocal statements by senior police officers prior to the G20 demonstrations, taken together with the recorded criminal acts of their subordinates, provides a prima facie case of such a conspiracy, and must be investigated immediately. If this does not happen, policing "by consent" is over.
G20 footage shows police attacked with scaffolding poles, smoke bombs and fists, and countless protesters intent on mass harm.
Armchair strategists say that as most protesters were peaceful, zero tolerance for the group was not fair; but the reality of crowd control is that disorder spreads in seconds when attention is focused on individuals and not the group dynamic. This was a very dangerous situation, where zero tolerance was warranted, and aside from a few incidents the worst most protesters experienced was the inconvenience of kettling, shoves and ruffled feathers. A small price to pay for the protection of the city, and I am grateful to the Metropolitan Police.
The twentieth anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster seems an appropriate time to consider the progress made since then. In those days, the police thought nothing of herding people into confined spaces like cattle and attacking them arbitrarily and with impunity, whereas now, well, Nottingham Forest no longer get anywhere near the Cup Final.
Humans trapped in a computer
Mary Dejevsky's article about the triumph of computer systems over intuition (16 April) chimed with my experience of trying to renew my annual travel insurance. Because I had ticked the box saying that my medication for hypertension had changed during the past six months, there was an immediate and automatic increase of my premium by £180.
I explained, first to an unqualified telephone agent and then on my insistence to a qualified doctor, that the change in medication had not been caused by any change in my condition or problem with the previous medication, but was because I had voluntarily taken part in a nine-month hospital-based drugs trial, and there was a recommendation that I stick with the drug I was taking at the end of the trial. The doctor said that he understood my problem, but that when I ticked the box the "system" kicked in and the added premium was not variable. He had no authority to make his own professional judgement based on medical evidence.
He didn't answer when I asked how he could bear to take a job that debarred him from making such a judgement.
The burdens on Blair's conscience
John Rentoul ("Those now attacking Blair over religion are missing the point", 16 April) says: "Never mind allegations that Blair or his people lied about the case for military action, which they did not." Yet he apparently listened to Mr Blair in an interview with Joan Bakewell on the recent BBC Radio 3 programme, Belief.
From what Blair said there, and he says it twice, you could reasonably conclude that the UK went to war in order to remove Saddam Hussein from power and not in connection with the weapons of mass destruction Iraq was alleged to have; indeed WMD were not mentioned in the interview.
Had the objective of the war truly been "regime change" it would have been unequivocally illegal under international law. As I understand the situation the government case for the legality of the war rested on the alleged failure of Iraq to comply with UN resolution 1441, which forbad Iraq from developing WMD.
Mr Blair must be a man with much on his conscience, but retreating into the cosiness of the Catholic Church and rewriting history in his favour ought to cut no ice with a mature modern electorate. Indeed, the culture of lying and dissembling that has thrived since 1997 and reached some kind of an apogee in the Gilligan affair, is to a large degree responsible for the lack of public trust in politics today, and that also ought to lie heavily on Blair's conscience.
Youngsters on strike in France
Maybe a clue as to why the French unions are so successfully militant is that they start young.
After the national day of strikes throughout France a few weeks ago, my French daughter-in-law emailed me her photos of the strike in Marseille, where she and my grandchildren live. To my surprise one of the photos was of my eight-year-old granddaughter Maia at the very head of the marchers, carrying a banner and blowing a small horn.
When I asked her if she knew why she was marching she replied (in English): "Of course. Our President Sarkozy [this said with such contempt that it sounded like a cough-and-a-spit] will not give the teachers or schools any more money, and there are more and more children in the classes, so the poor teachers cannot teach so many children, and that is why we are striking." I'm willing to bet the money is forthcoming.
Fans of Lisbon?
Am I right to assume that Matthew Elliott ("Where exactly does the EU's development money go?", 13 April) and his Taxpayers' Alliance support the Treaty of Lisbon, which will at last give the European Parliament full budgetary powers? The treaty will also allow the European Development Fund to be properly integrated into the EU budget, instead of being treated as a special preserve of jealous national governments, answerable only to un-coordinated national parliaments.
Andrew Duff MEP
Leader, UK Liberal Democrat European Parliamentary Party, Brussels
Ireland's finance minister, Brian Lenihan, announced to the Dail further cuts in Irish MPs' pay and pensions. He said: "Before we ask anyone else to give, we in this House and in this government must examine our own costs. Those of us in politics have been entrusted with a great privilege by the people. We must lead by example." Not much chance of our grasping MPs doing this. When they won in 1997 we had a little afternoon party to celebrate. Now we'll have one to celebrate the end of this awful government.
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Help for alcoholics
Government plans to cut benefits to alcoholics who refuse treatment (report, 15 April) again demonstrate this government's detachment from reality. As a family doctor, I have frequently experienced the frustration of being unable to get the help my motivated alcoholics need to combat this life-threatening affliction, due to under-resourcing of the Cinderella speciality of substance abuse. In-patient detoxification is frequently unobtainable. To add a torrent of patients who are not motivated to overcome their addiction but simply to go through the motions to retain their benefits does a disservice to all.
Dr Peter Glover
If Harriet Harman is honest she will admit that the only reason Labour is, as she puts it, teaming up with anti-fascist groups to counter the BNP (interview, 10 April) is because her activist base has vanished. Ex-members like myself, who believed in old Labour values, volunteered to deliver party literature to the doorsteps come rain or shine. Labour foot soldiers no longer have the drive to tramp the streets promoting its failed policies, so she resorts to using others to get her message through.
Euro in your pocket
A BBC investigation finds that 5 per cent of £1 coins are fake. A John Peters of Winchester survey finds the figure to be 20 per cent (letter, 11 April). Following my own extensive pocket-based survey I can announce that counterfeit coins do not actually exist (0 per cent), but fully one in four appears to be a Spanish euro. Either I've badly misjudged what makes a valid statistical sample, or the Government is trying to foist the single currency on us by stealth. I know which one my (so-called) money is on.
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