Israel-Palestine: How French media censored my views

French journalist Alain Gresh (AFP)

Alain Gresh

Middle East Eye  /  August 18, 2022

After I criticized Israel over its latest assault on Gaza, French digital channel BFM TV took my clip offline and cancelled a follow-up interview.

What is interesting about the way censorship works in France, and more widely in Europe, is that it rarely speaks its name. The censorship I recently experienced is both interesting and a rather rare case.

On 6 August, amid the latest Israeli attack on Gaza, I was asked by the 24-hour news channel BFM TV to speak the next day. I accepted and we set a time for the interview, which ultimately lasted about five minutes and went very well.

I developed two (arguably subjective) ideas in the interview: firstly, the fact that it was Israel that launched the attack before any rocket was fired by Islamic Jihad; and secondly, that the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem could only lead to violence, for which Israel, by refusing to apply UN resolutions, bore sole responsibility. 

I was then called by the channel to do a second interview on 8 August. But by the end of the afternoon on 7 August, I realized that my prior interview, after having been broadcast, was no longer available on the BFM website. I was then notified by BFM that my second interview had been cancelled.

In the meantime, the ceasefire in Gaza had been announced. I asked the BFM editor why my first interview had disappeared and why the second one had been cancelled, but I received only vague answers.

Media storm

Within a few hours, my story was all over social media. Several newspapers questioned me about what had happened. The French daily Liberation published an article headlined: “Why did BFM TV suppress an interview in which Alain Gresh blamed Israel?” They questioned BFM management, who explained that if the clip was removed, it was “to avoid any manipulation” because it “was truncated, not complete”.

The channel, which regularly publishes interview clips on its website, was unable to cite other cases of deletion aimed at avoiding manipulation, according to Liberation – nor did it explain what type of manipulation was ostensibly involved.

Amid the media storm caused by this censorship, BFM interviewed me again on 9 August about the Gaza ceasefire. BFM is owned by the French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi. 

I would like to stress that this form of censorship is exceptional. On the question of Palestine, it is rarely presented in such an obvious manner. It is exercised by carefully selecting guests: there is a choice between various Israeli spokespersons. During the latest attacks on Gaza, for example, a former spokesperson for the Israeli army was presented by BFM TV as a “resident of Tel Aviv” and relayed the Israeli government’s official views dozens of times. 

There are also the voices of those who “regret the violence”, but claim Israel has “the right to defend itself”, along with those who continue to believe in the Oslo Accords, the two-state solution and the need to “fight extremists on both sides”. But given my recent experiences, it seems there is no room for those who radically criticize Israel’s occupation and apartheid.

Shifting landscape

Since the 2000s, there has been a shift in France’s media and among its politicians. While the media landscape had evolved in the 1970s and ’80s, with many supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination and the need to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (which Israel and the US denounced as a terrorist group), the consensus position has since shifted dramatically.

Some now see Palestine through the lens of the “war on terror” and the “Islamist menace”. Any condemnation of Zionism is presented as a form of antisemitism. This reflects the position of European governments, especially France, which have aligned themselves with Israel and adopted – what many consider to be – Islamophobic positions in recent years.

To come back to my own case, it had been years since I had been invited to speak on BFM TV or any mainstream news channel. I have worked on the Palestinian question for decades, published hundreds of articles and written half a dozen books on the subject, so I have every right to speak about Palestine.

It is not a question of giving just one point of view, but of accepting that there are analysts and journalists who believe the root of the Middle East wars goes back to the occupation of Palestine, the expulsion of its population and the colonial nature of the Zionist movement. These voices and opinions deserve to be heard.

At the same time, the mobilization around the censorship of my interview has shown that it is possible to counter such censorship, and to defend a pluralist conception of the news. The experience of my website, Orient XXI, confirms this. And I can thank BFM TV because, during this episode, I gained 2,300 followers on Twitter.

Alain Gresh is a journalist; he has written many books on Palestine, Islam and the Middle East; he was editor in chief of Le Monde diplomatique and is now editor of OrientXXI.info