There are times when the BBC is beyond parody. It is so relentlessly awful, biased and reflexively p.c. that many viewers become inured to its excesses. Yet Orla Guerin's report from Pakistan is quite extraordinary -- even for the BBC.
Take a look at the video and story entitled "Pakistan police free chained students in Karachi" and see if you see what I see.
The print version of the story from the BBC website begins:
About 50 students have been freed from a religious school in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where some were being kept in chains, officials say.
The male students, some as young as 12, were reportedly beaten, deprived of food and kept in what police say amounted to a torture chamber.
Some parents paid for their children to attend the school known as the "jail madrassa" because their sons were addicted to drugs or involved in crime.
What type of religious school was it? We don't know yet. Should we assume that being Pakistan, it is a Muslim school? No. The country's leading private schools -- the institutions where the elite educate their children are run by the Catholic Church and the Church of Pakistan. One can find Christian schools all across Pakistan, many with no Christian students. However, the next sentence gives us some hints:
At least two people helping run the madrassa have been arrested, but the head escaped, police said.
Ah, its a madrassa -- you know what that is don't you? Is it a Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Unitarian, Quaker madrassa? The story continues:
Students have described the brutal regime inside the seminary - some spoke to the media while still wearing their chains.
O.K., its a seminary. I went to one of those. Perhaps these are particularly strict Episcopalians. I was once punished by the dean for wearing golf spikes to prayers -- there was a foursome ahead of me that would not allow me to play through. But while I was admonished for my gaucherie, the students at this seminary were "beaten 200 times" while others were told they would be "sent to join the jihad." Perhaps that's another clue.
The article states:
But the discovery of chained students of a religious seminary who claim they were being motivated to join the ranks of Taliban has come as a shock. These claims are still being verified as there seems to be no evidence of any weapons training being given there.
The words madrassa and seminary are used throughout the rest of the story, but it is not until the penultimate line that we are treated to the word "Islamic."
The video report is even worse -- it makes no mention of the world Islam or Muslim at all. When Guerin covered the Middle East for the BBC she was often pilloried for her biased reporting. Burying the Muslim angle of the story is shoddy reporting. Can you imagine a story about abuse at a Catholic school from the BBC not mentioning the world "Catholic" until the very end of the story? Compare the handling of religion in the Pakistan story to this one broadcast three days later entitled "Institutional Dutch Catholic abuse 'affected thousands'.
Tens of thousands of children have suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions since 1945, a report says.
The report by an independent commission said Catholic officials had failed to tackle the widespread abuse at schools, seminaries and orphanages.
I find the BBC's handling of the Pakistan abuse allegations troubling as well. While it reports the abuse, it juggles the facts of the abuse with their explanation, so that the explanation is given prominence of place. It gets the last word.
Many parents had left their children at the madrassa for treatment, believing that the harsh regime would aid rehabilitation - some of these parents told the BBC they were happy with the result. They say they were chained to prevent them for escaping.
"If a child has issues such as bad company, smoking and drugs then we have no choice but to get him admitted in such places," Mohammed Qasim, the father of one student, told the BBC.
In her broadcast report, Guerin follows this pattern. She begins her story by saying there were "disturbing" reports of children as young as 8 being beaten, and notes that a local education official states the basement where the students were kept resembled a "torture cell." But she then responds to a question from the newsreader by reporting that locals called the school the "jail madrassa". She adds that this was one of its "attractions" for some parents, who "paid for the privilege" of sending their troubled sons to the school and "some of these parents even provided the chains."
How does she know the mind of the parents? Was this a reform school or a seminary? Were no unhappy parents to be found? The arrangement of the arguments and lack of contrary voices gives the impression the BBC is explaining away the abuse. If the parents aren't bothered, why should we be? The abuse was one of the attractions of the school after all, the BBC reports.
Nor am I arguing that the BBC should omit mention of the Catholic angle to the Dutch abuse article. It is an important component to the story. I am saying the BBC appears to have two standards when it comes to reporting religion related abuse. Play up the Catholic theme - play down the Muslim theme.
There are different reporters, different editors, different departments of the BBC involved such that it is not possible to have a one to one comparison. However, the way in which religion was handled in this Pakistani abuse case gives every appearance of a double standard.
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