Why is the BBC’s Haiti coverage so appalling? By William Bowles

25 January, 2010

It’s perverse I know, but whilst the corporate/state media exhort us to donate for Haiti Relief, it is strangely silent on the issue of the US military occupation of this unfortunate island or why the earthquake caused such total devastation. An occupation that has undoubtedly led directly to the deaths of many Haitians. And this is not simply my opinion, it is borne out by the facts on the ground, or rather in the air, where many of the aid flights ended up, flying round and round or flying to some other place because the US military had occupied the airport, more concerned with ‘security’ than helping the victims.

As the US has effectively owned the island and its economy for over one hundred years, it is directly responsible for creating the living conditions that resulted in such enormous numbers of people killed and injured. But clearly it is more concerned with stopping desperate Haitians from trying to get to the US and securing US assets on the island than it is with the health of the Haitian people.

I’ve been scanning through the BBC News website almost every day to see what our ‘impartial’ and ‘objective’ state-controlled news organization has to say on the subject. So first I searched through my BBC RSS feed from the 15 January to today, 25 January, using Haiti as the keyword. Only one out of twenty-six stories on Haiti refers to the issue of the US role. However, the article has precious little say about it. Here are the references starting with an Italian government criticism:

“He also criticised US forces in Haiti, saying troops had no training in running a civilian relief operation.”

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“We’re missing a leader, a co-ordination capacity that goes beyond military discipline,” he [Mr Bertolaso, a government minister] said.

“It’s a truly powerful show of force, but it’s completely out of touch with reality.

“They don’t have close rapport with the territory, they certainly don’t have a rapport with the international organisations and aid groups.”

Then the BBC steps in with:

“The US effort in Haiti has also drawn criticism from some Latin American leaders.”

“Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticised the US for sending too many soldiers but not enough medical supplies.”

But why not mention what the other, unnamed, Latin American leaders had to say and why only mention Chavez’ criticism about medical supplies when he and other Latin American leaders referred to the “military occupation” by the US of Haiti? Instead, the BBC responds using US propaganda to let us know where it stands on the subject:

“John Caulfield, a US diplomat in Caracas, Venezuela, dismissed the allegations, saying Washington wanted to provide aid to the Haitian people “and not be distracted by those political criticisms”. — ‘Haiti quake op ‘lacks leadership’’, BBC News, January 25, 2010

End of story. This is the sum total of the attention the BBC has paid to the subject at least on its Website newsfeeds so next I looked through the BBC site and came across this that has, well, a vague link at best. It’s a long piece for the BBC, over 1800 words and its titled, ‘What is delaying Haiti’s aid?’ (21, January, 2010) but unfortunately, aside from a single reference to the US takeover of the airport, it contains nothing at all about the role the US occupation of the island has played in exacerbating the catastrophe. In fact it says nothing at all about the US occupation nor the ‘cordon sanitaire’ the US has thrown around the island, aside from:

“The US Army has been deployed in vast numbers in Haiti, both to help with the aid effort and to help maintain law and order.”

Nor does the article have anything to say about why the country was so ill-equipped to deal with the catastrophe in the first place. Instead we get presented a series of ‘technical’ explanations from the major players, the UN, large charities and of course it contains the predictable section on ‘Safety’. Quoting some character from an Irish ‘charity’ called Goal:

“John O’Shea of Irish charity Goal told the Guardian newspaper he could not allow aid workers to move into Haiti from the Dominican Republican because he had “no guarantee that the people driving them are not going to be macheted to death on the way down”.”

And although it opens the section on ‘Safety’ with this quote, reading further it’s clear that ‘violence’ is not an issue, if anything the opposite is true, with people organizing themselves without the need of a ‘charity’ to do it for them. After all, Haitians have been left to their own devices for decades, making do with what little they have in spite of the ten thousand ‘ngos’ that also occupy the island.

The UN too, is given space to tell us why criticism of its relationship to the US is unwarranted:

“The UN has dismissed such criticism, saying it “underestimated the logistical difficulties” and that the US was the only country in the region capable of providing logistical support on the scale needed.””

The UN claims that:

“the scale of the disaster is “historic”, with its staff confronting devastation and logistical problems on a scale never seen before.”

Now I might be a bit slow but the 2004 Tsunami killed 250,000 people and left 2.5 million people homeless, even greater numbers than the Haitian quake but actually spread over thousands of miles and several countries, not a couple of hundred miles from the richest country on the planet. Is the UN trying to to tell us that a disaster, concentrated almost entirely on one major city and several smaller towns presented even “greater difficulties” than the 2004 Tsunami?

By contrast with the BBC’s coverage, one piece by Seamus Milne in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section presents a very clear and concise analysis of why the West’s response to the catastrophe has been so hesitant if not downright negligent, which in turn explains why the BBC won’t deal with the subject.

“There’s no doubt that more Haitians have died as a result of these shockingly perverse priorities. As Patrick Elie, former defence minister in the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide – twice overthrown with US support – put it: ‘We don’t need soldiers, there’s no war here.’ It’s hardly surprising if Haitians such as Elie, or French and Venezuelan leaders, have talked about the threat of a new US occupation, given the scale of the takeover.

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“Their criticisms have been dismissed as kneejerk anti-Americanism at a time when the US military is regarded as the only force that can provide the logistical backup for the relief effort. In the context of Haiti’s gruesome history of invasion and exploitation by the US and European colonial powers, though, that is a truly asinine response. For while last week’s earthquake was a natural disaster, the scale of the human catastrophe it has unleashed is man-made.

“It is uncontested that poverty is the main cause of the horrific death toll: the product of teeming shacks and the absence of health and public infrastructure. But Haiti’s poverty is treated as some baffling quirk of history or culture, when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of a uniquely brutal relationship with the outside world — notably the US, France and Britain — stretching back centuries.” — ‘Haiti’s suffering is a result of calculated impoverishment’ By Seumas Milne, 20 January, 2010

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