DCMS report on the future of the BBC

On February 26th the British Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee published the findings of its inquiry into the future of the BBC.BBC building

The BBC’s own reporting on the issue focused mainly on the topic of the licence fee although the report covered many additional subjects.

The committee’s conclusions are as follows:

  • In the short-term there is currently no better alternative to the licence fee but as a minimum the licence fee must be amended to cover catch-up television as soon as possible.
  • Criminal penalties and enforcement for non-payment of the licence is anachronistic and out of proportion with responses to non-payment for other services. However, decriminalisation needs to be accompanied by measures to prevent increased evasion.
  • A broadcasting levy on all households is the preferred alternative but a degree of subscription for BBC services could be a possibility in the future.
  • The BBC has tried for too long to provide “something for everyone”: it should reduce provision in areas where others are better placed to deliver excellence and better value for money, and make bigger, braver decisions on its strategy.
  • The BBC should seek to do more in partnership with others. It should also support local media through extending the indie quota to include local news.
  • The BBC must demonstrate transparency to eliminate suspicions of cross-subsidy of its commercial work if it is to produce content for others.
  • The BBC Trust should be abolished and new arrangements made for the governance, regulation and oversight of the BBC.  
    The BBC should have a unitary board with a non-executive Chair, who would be known as the BBC Chairman.
  • A new rigorous and independent Public Service Broadcasting Commission (PSBC) should be established with the role of scrutinising the BBC’s strategic plan, assessing the BBC’s overall performance, and determining the level of public funding allocated to the BBC and others. A small amount of public funding should made available for other public service content priorities.
  • The National Audit Office (NAO) must now be given unrestricted access to the BBC to provide assurance that the Corporation is spending money wisely. 

One proposal included in the report which will no doubt be of interest to many of our readers is that OFCOM should replace the BBC Trust as “the final arbiter of complaints about BBC content, including matters of impartiality and accuracy”. The report notes that:

“Our inquiry did not examine the way complaints about BBC’s output are handled in any depth but a significant amount of correspondence that we receive as a Committee relates to the BBC and its output and also the way complaints are handled by the BBC and the Trust. Given the importance of the BBC’s impartiality, it is nearly always the case that it is inappropriate for us to intervene in individual cases. Nevertheless, a common theme we have noted is that members of the public who believe they have reason to complain are often dissatisfied that their complaint or point of view has not been considered independently. For many the BBC Trust is essentially part of the BBC and as such the Corporation is seen as a self-regulating body and there is great dissatisfaction that there is no option for an impartial adjudication of a complaint about the BBC by an independent body. “

BBC Watch submitted evidence to the committee on the issue of the BBC complaints system based on the wealth of information provided by our readers over the years. 

The report states:

“We recommend that Ofcom become the final arbiter of complaints over BBC content including matters concerning impartiality and accuracy, but that complaints should be considered by the BBC in the first instance. Ofcom should be given additional resources for taking on this role which are commensurate with the responsibility and estimated workload. We believe this transfer of responsibility will, if anything, strengthen the independence of the BBC, and also make the complaints process simpler, and appear more transparent and fair.”

Readers can find the committee’s full report here and a pdf version of the same report here.

BBC’s Lyse Doucet does ‘reporter in the rubble’ redux – part one

Under no circumstances would it be accurate to say that BBC audiences have been deprived of information relating to the topic of structural damage and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip either during or after last summer’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. In fact, since the ceasefire came into effect at the end of August 2014, not a month has gone by without at least one BBC report on the topic.

Nevertheless, the BBC obviously found it necessary to revisit the same theme yet again and sent Lyse Doucet off to the Gaza Strip to mark the occasion of the passing of six months since the ceasefire. Thus, BBC audiences were once again exposed to context-free pictures of rubble and ruin on a variety of BBC social media platforms.

Doucet Gaza FB

Doucet Gaza twitter 1

Doucet Gaza twitter 2

The BBC World Service radio Twitter account also promoted an audio report by Doucet broadcast on an unidentified programme under the title “Gaza – the struggle to survive“. Doucet introduced the item as follows:Doucet Gaza audio on Twitter

“You reach the top step of this four-storey building that’s still standing and you look in front of you and for street after street all you can see is rubble. Cement blocks, trees torn from their roots, bits of clothing and plastic: all of it still strewn across this wasteland. It looks like the scene of a natural disaster: the immediate aftermath. But this is Gaza six months on. There isn’t the cement to rebuild, there isn’t the money and for many people, not even the will because everyone fears there’s going to be another war sometime soon.”

Doucet refrains from providing any explanation to listeners as to why there “isn’t the money”, failing to clarify that the donor pledges made at last October’s Cairo conference so enthusiastically reported by the BBC have largely failed to materialise because of internal Palestinian politics. Neither does she address the issue of the already evident failures of the mechanism adopted by the UN to ensure that construction materials were not diverted to Hamas or the fact that residents’ fears that “there’s going to be another war” may have something to do with the fact that there is obviously no shortage of funds available for the rehabilitation of Hamas’ military capabilities.  

Accompanied by a person she describes as “Gazan journalist Jihad Rustam [phonetic]”, Doucet talks to a resident of Shuja’iya neighbourhood.

“Can we talk to these people? They’ve got…put a bit of cloth and they’ve put some wooden planks together and it almost looks like a bus stop but actually it’s a very makeshift…a little wooden cabin in front with some signs inside.”

Her companion says:

“Yeah; this is also a photo of one of the guys who died in this house during the war. His name is Mohammed Tsukur [phonetic] – he’s a martyr. They hang his picture inside this little tent with a picture of Abu Amar – Yasser Arafat….”

Via her companion and translator Doucet asks the man in the cabin to tell her “what happened here?” and the translated response is as follows:

“It was during the dawn of the massacre on Shuja’iya when missiles and bombs were falling everywhere. We had to run out of the house. We didn’t get a chance to grab anything. My brother died instantly while we were running and we kept heading west. A couple of days later we came back and we found this: just rubble, just a bunch of rubble. No house, no store, no nothing.”

Neglecting to inform listeners that in fact the residents of Shuja’iya were given a four-day advance warning to evacuate the neighbourhood before military activity began there, Doucet observes (and it is worth noting her tone of voice as she does):Shuja'iya map sites

“Yes, it’s interesting they use the word ‘massacre’ because Israel calls it a targeting of military sites. But for the people here; so many died they do call it a massacre.”

Doucet cannot fail to be aware of the fact that over 140 missiles were fired from the Shuja’iya area into Israel between July 8th and July 20th. She must also know that the entrances to no fewer than ten cross-border attack tunnels, numerous weapons caches and Hamas command posts were to be found in that neighbourhood. Her failure to clarify those facts to listeners and her defence of the use of the inaccurate and loaded term ‘massacre’ hence shows a blatant disregard for supposed BBC editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Later on Doucet asks the man “who do you blame?” and the answer she gets via her translator is:

“We blame the Arab countries. We blame the donor countries who are supposed to be our brothers and just stood there while we were under attack and under the siege and contributed to the siege. Before we blame Israel we blame the Arab countries – especially Egypt – and then we blame Israel and the occupation and what they’re doing to us.”

Doucet makes no attempt to clarify to listeners that the Gaza Strip has not been under ‘occupation’ for almost a decade or why the term “siege” is not an accurate description of the restrictions on the entry of weapons and dual-use goods imposed by Israel in order to curb Hamas’ procurement of arms. She again fails to point out the factor of internal Palestinian politics which has caused the donor countries to hold back on their pledges.

Instead, she simply ends her pathos rich but fact lacking report there.

Back in July 2014 Doucet was one of the BBC’s reporters on the ground in Shuja’iya. Then too she amplified false claims of a ‘massacre’ and avoided giving BBC audiences a realistic picture of the terrorist infrastructure in that neighbourhood.

Over six months on, BBC audiences have still not been told what really happened in Shuja’iya and it is clear from this report that the BBC has no intention of rectifying that. The political agenda which underpinned the vast quantities of one-sided reporting produced by Lyse Doucet and her colleagues in the Gaza Strip last summer is still all too apparent.

Part two of this post will deal with additional reports produced by Doucet on her latest trip to the Gaza Strip.

 

 

Why did BBC News cut the word terror from the headline of an article about a terrorism trial?

On February 23rd the BBC News website published a report on both its US & Canada and Middle East pages about the verdict issued by a New York court finding the Palestinian Authority and the PLO liable for a number of terror attacks which took place during the second Intifada.

That decidedly minimalist BBC report was originally headlined “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel terror fine in US”. By the time its third version was published some three hours later, the word terror had been removed from the headline and the article now appears under the title “Palestinian groups face $218m Israel attacks fine in US“.PA PLO trial art

Remarkably, in a report about the outcome of a court case entirely about terrorism, that word does not appear at all.

The first two versions of the article failed to inform readers that the damages awarded would be tripled according to US law, as explained by the NYT:

“The damages are to be $655.5 million, under a special terrorism law that provides for tripling the $218.5 million awarded by the jury in Federal District Court.”

From version three onwards the words “The US Anti-Terrorism Act could yet allow for the fine to be tripled” were added to the BBC’s report but no further clarification was offered to readers unfamiliar with US legislation.

Critically, the article fails to clarify to readers what the Palestinian Authority and the PLO actually are; instead repeating the use of the ambiguous phrase “Palestinian groups” seen in the headline.

“A US court in New York has found the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian Authority liable for attacks in Israel over 10 years ago.

Six attacks in and around Jerusalem killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more during the second Palestinian intifada between 2002 and 2004.

The jury awarded victims of the attacks more than $218m.

The Palestinian groups expressed dismay at the court’s decision and vowed they would appeal.”

Hence, the significance of the fact that the de facto Palestinian government (the PA) and the PLO (the body which is recognised as the ‘sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people’ by over a hundred countries worldwide and the UN and which officially represents the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel) have been found liable in a court of law for terror attacks against civilians is obscured from the view of BBC audiences.

The article also uses the tactic of ‘false balance‘, presenting highly edited versions of statements made by the defendants and claims made by their representatives on an equal platform with what had at the time of writing already been accepted by the court.

“A joint statement by the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) described the charges as “baseless” and said they were disappointed by the ruling.

The victims’ families allege that internal documents show the attacks were approved by the Palestinian authorities.

“Those involved in the attacks still receive salaries from the Palestinian Authority and still get promoted in rank while in jail,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel-based Shurat HaDin Law Center, a lawyer who is representing the victims’ families.

But defence lawyer Mark Rochon told jurors that the PA and PLO did not have knowledge of the attacks before they took place.

And he said the organisations could not be held liable for the actions of suicide bombers and gunmen, whom he argued acted alone.”

Of course the BBC has consistently refrained from carrying out any serious reporting on the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s past and current provision of funding to terrorists and their families past and present. Likewise, the subject of the PA’s glorification of terrorism is a no-go area for BBC journalists and BBC content typically avoids the issue of Yasser Arafat’s role in instigating and financing the second Intifada.

Had BBC audiences been accurately and impartially informed of those issues over the years, they would clearly be in a better position to understand the outcome of this court case and to place the quoted claims from the defence lawyer in their correct context. Significantly, no effort is made in this BBC report to rectify that situation. 

 

BBC contributors on the ‘flood libel’ bandwagon

Readers who follow our colleagues at CAMERA will know that they recently exposed a fabricated story by AFP’s Yahia (or Yahya) Hassouna in which it was claimed that Israel had deliberately flooded areas of the Gaza Strip by opening dams. The same fictitious story was also promoted by Al Jazeera, the Daily Mail and Russia Today, among others.

“In the video, Ead Zino, a resident of Al-Maghraqa, accuses Israel: “Every four years there is a war but here in Maghraqa every year there is a flood. This water comes from Israel. This is political. All Israel wants is to destroy us.”

 In addition, AFP’s caption at the beginning of the video is “Gaza village flooded as Israel opens dam gates.”

AFP did not include any Israeli voice to refute the false charge.

 Regarding the claim that Israel opened dams, thereby flooding Gaza, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told CAMERA:

‘The claim is entirely false, and southern Israel does not have any dams. Due to the recent rain, streams were flooded throughout the region with no connection to actions taken by the State of Israel.

Prior to the storm, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories allowed the transfer of four water pumps belonging to the Palestinian Water Authority from Israel into Gaza to supplement the 13 pumps already in the Gaza Strip in dealing with any potential flooding throughout the area.’ “

That same malicious ‘flood libelwas also promoted on social media.

Abu Warda 3

Abu Warda 2

Abu Warda 1

Readers may recall that Dr Bassel Abu Warda of Shifa hospital was one of numerous Gaza Strip-based doctors given BBC airtime and column space last summer – ostensibly in order to provide audiences with a supposedly authoritative and objective view of the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

Another person who promoted the false flooding story on Twitter was Human Rights Watch’s MENA director Sarah Leah Whitson.

Whitson tweet

As regular readers know, Human Rights Watch is one of the NGOs most promoted and quoted by the BBC – including on the topic of the Gaza Strip.

It is always worth bearing in mind that – as cases like this one show – people from whom the BBC sources content may have an underlying political agenda.  That, of course, is why the BBC has editorial guidelines which instruct its staff that “we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint”. Unfortunately, adherence to that guideline is highly selective

BBC News website parrots Guardian’s leaked cable spin

One really would think that by now the BBC should have learned to take the serial Israel-related journalistic ‘scoops’ produced by the Al Jazeera-Guardian duo with the appropriate bucket-load of salt. After all, the same partnership was responsible for the publication of the so-called ‘Palestine Papers’ in 2011 and the Al Jazeera employee behind those leaks also engineered the ridiculous ‘Arafat was poisoned’ story in 2013.

But no: the BBC has once again swallowed the latest Clayton Swisher creation promoted via Al Jazeera and the Guardian hook, line and sinker, producing its own version of the non-story in the form of an article published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on February 23rd under the title “Israel PM ‘differed’ with Mossad on Iran, says report“.leaked cable story  

On the website’s Middle East page the article is promoted with the by-line:

“Israeli intelligence took a different view of Iran’s nuclear capabilities from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a leaked cable suggests.”

The article itself opens:

“Israeli intelligence did not share PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s view that Iran was a year away from making a nuclear bomb, a leaked cable suggests.

In 2012, Mr Netanyahu said Iran needed to be stopped, telling the UN the country could build a weapon next year.

But a Mossad report said Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”, according to al-Jazeera and The Guardian.”

Readers can study the leaked cable for themselves here. The spin put on it by the Guardian and Al Jazeera (and faithfully parroted by the BBC) is aimed at persuading the public that the Israeli prime minister deliberately misled the world with regard to Iran’s nuclear intentions in his 2012 speech at the UN and that statements in that cable from none other than the Israeli security services (a nice poetic touch) prove the point. Obviously, the timing of this leak needs to be viewed within the context of both the current stage of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and PM Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to the US Congress next week – as this paragraph in the Guardian’s report indicates:

“The disclosure comes as tensions between Israel and its staunchest ally, the US, have dramatically increased ahead of Netanyahu’s planned address to the US Congress on 3 March.”

We would not of course expect anything else from the Seumus Milne-Clayton Swisher stable of politically motivated ‘journalism’, but is there actually anything in the leaked cable which backs their claim? As several observers have already noted, the answer to that question is no.

“A cable from October 2012, apparently from the Mossad, assesses the state of Iran’s nuclear program. Al Jazeera notes that the document says that “Iran at this stage is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons,” but “is working to close gaps in areas that appear legitimate such as enrichment, reactors, which will reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time instruction is actually given.” They contrast this with “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2012 warning to the UN General Assembly that Iran was 70 per cent of the way to completing its ‘plans to build a nuclear weapon’” and (in their video report) with his line that “by next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage.”

The Mossad report doesn’t actually contradict this.

Making nuclear weapons is complicated. A working warhead is the result of several distinct lines of technical development. You need enough enriched uranium to sustain a rapid chain reaction (the core of the bomb), and you need a way to induce that chain reaction (the mechanism of the bomb). (You’ll also probably want a way to deliver the bomb, a third line of technology.) Netanyahu’s argument rested on this distinction: he said that the world must draw a red line on Iran’s activities that could be useful for making a core because those activities are much harder to hide than those for making the mechanism:

For Iran, amassing enough enriched uranium is far more difficult than producing the nuclear [detonation mechanism]….it takes many, many years to enrich uranium for a bomb. That requires thousands of centrifuges spinning in tandem in very big industrial plants. Those Iranian plants are visible and they’re still vulnerable. In contrast, Iran could produce the nuclear detonator…in a lot less time, maybe under a year, maybe only a few months. The detonator can be made in a small workshop the size of a classroom. It may be very difficult to find and target that workshop…So in fact the only way that you can credibly prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, is to prevent Iran from amassing enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

Bibi was, in other words, not asserting that an Iranian nuclear device was coming soon—he was saying that Iran was approaching the end of the phase in which its nuclear program would be easiest to interrupt. The Mossad’s statement that Iran “is not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons” doesn’t contradict that, particularly when read with their line that Iran’s activities at the time would “reduce the time required to produce weapons from the time instruction is actually given.” Iran was taking steps that made weaponization easier, even if it wasn’t weaponizing. A closer reading of the speech, and a better understanding of the underlying technical issues, would have revealed the harmony between the two positions.”

Either the BBC did not bother to check out the substance of the Guardian/Al Jazeera story before deciding to replicate it on its own platforms or it has no qualms about playing the role of amplifier for politically motivated ‘scoops’ originating from a media outlet owned and controlled by a terrorism-supporting Middle East dynasty. Perhaps Steve Herrmann would like to tell us which it is. 

On and off the BBC radar: terrorism in Jerusalem and Hebron

As we have often noted on these pages the BBC usually refrains from reporting on non-fatal terror attacks against Israelis and so when an illegal Palestinian infiltrator from the Ramallah area stabbed an Israeli father of four in central Jerusalem on the afternoon of February 22nd it came as something of a surprise to see that the BBC News website did get round to producing an article on the subject a day later.Nir Barkat  

The factor which prompted this exception to the rule can be determined from the title of the BBC report: “Jerusalem mayor overpowers attacker after man stabbed“. Indeed, the mayor of a city overcoming a terrorist with a rugby-style tackle is not an everyday occurrence, but terror attacks of various types on Israeli citizens are, and it is a pity that the BBC is apparently in need of some ‘celebrity interest’ in order to deem such attacks newsworthy. 

Whilst for most people the random stabbing of an identifiably Jewish man in the street by a Palestinian would not leave much room for doubt about the background to the incident, readers of the BBC’s report were informed that:

“The exact motive for the stabbing is not clear, but it is the latest in a series of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in recent months.”

On the same day that the BBC published the above report the Israeli security services announced that members of a Hamas terror cell in Hebron had been apprehended last month.

“The Shin Bet said it arrested 11 members of the cell in January, and that the group had carried out a failed bomb attack on Israeli troops in the West Bank.

Along with the arrests, security forces seized two sub-machine guns and explosives the cell allegedly planned on using to target Israelis, the Shin Bet said.

The main suspects in the case were named as Suhaib Mamoun Saltan, 20, from Hebron, and his cousin Salam Abbas Saltan, 28, a Hamas operative, who had been convicted and imprisoned by Israel in the past and was also at one time held under administrative detention.”

The BBC – which of course has made no real attempt to enhance its audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the issue of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian Authority controlled areas since the issue came to the fore last summer with the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers – refrained from reporting that story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS promotes Hamas claim of “normal right” to carry out terror attacks

BBC sticks to inaccurate narrative despite Hamas claim of June kidnappings

BBC News report on kidnapping suspects downplays Hamas connections

 

 

 

BBC ECU rejects complaints about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish hands’ remarks

Many people have written in to inform us of the response they recently received from the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, concerning complaints they submitted about remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th.

As readers will recall, the BBC initially responded to complaints by informing members of the public that Willcox had apologised for what he termed a “poorly phrased question” on Twitter. Members of the public who pursued their complaint further then received another generic response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell, informing them that the BBC had decided to deal with the many complaints it had received on the issue as a single unit rather than as individual complaints. The communication most recently sent to complainants by Fraser Steel (see below – click to enlarge) summarises the provisional outcome of the ECU’s consideration of the points made in all the complaints against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

BBC reply Willcox 1

BBC reply Willcox 2

BBC Willcox reply 3

BBC reply Willcox 4Let’s take a closer look at Steel’s interpretation of the most crucial part of the interview. As he notes, the initial question raised by Willcox raised the topic of the fears of the Jewish community in France in relation to the Muslim community in the same country.

TW: Do you ever feel threatened or frightened by the Muslim community here, because if you look at the figures more Jews in France seem to be leaving France than in other European countries, and yet France has the biggest population of Jews, as it does indeed of Muslims, in Europe.  Do you feel that fear?

His interviewee’s response noted that whilst Israelis like herself living in France feel less insecure because they have alternatives more accessible than those available to the non-Israeli Jewish population in France, nevertheless she – as an Israeli Jew living in France – felt less secure in recent days.

Chava: I didn’t feel this fear until last days, I have to say.  As I’m coming from…it’s not the same for Jews being born here and Israeli coming to here.  This is two different populations.  Israelis, when they come to France, they have something already inside them, they are not, we are not afraid, we know that every moment we can go somewhere else.  We have like a back very strong.  The Jews which were born here, they are coming from another culture, so it’s completely different.  But I can tell that since a few days I feel again not secure and not…It’s something which is very, and I was talking to Aziz also, I feel that now it’s like in 1930s, we are…the situation is going back to these days of 1930 in Europe.

Willcox then turned to the topic of possible solutions to that feeling of insecurity, with his interviewee expressing the opinion that the solution must include recognition of the fact that Jews living in Europe are being targeted.

TW: But do you think it can be rescued now with the right approach, with a more inclusive society addressing the problems that people have?

Chava: I didn’t understand completely your…

TW: Do you think that can be resolved, though, now, before it’s too late?

Chava: Yes of course – we have to, we have to not to be afraid to say that the Jews are being the, they are the target now.  It’s not only the…the…er…

At that point Willcox inserted an interruption with which he did two things: firstly he quickly diverted the topic of conversation away from the limited framework of French Jewish and Muslim communities previously under discussion by introducing the issue of conflict in the Middle East. He also cut short discussion of the topic of the targeting of Jews in Europe by inserting a false equivalence – evident in his use of the words “as well” – in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity.

TW: Many critics, though, of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well.

Chava: We cannot do an amalgam…to…between…

TW: But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives…

Chava: Of course, but this is not my…er…

TW: No, I understand.

Fraser Steel’s claim that Willcox’s statement “was in effect a question put to Chava for comment” completely ignores the issue of why Willcox found it necessary to divert the conversation away from both the events in Paris and the topic of the targeting of French Jews by interrupting his interviewee.

“I think it’s clear from what I’ve quoted above that Mr Willcox’s reference to the Palestinians, though framed as a statement, was in effect a question put to Chava for comment.  I would accept that (as Mr Willcox has himself acknowledged) what he said was poorly-phrased, but what the Editorial Complaints Unit must decide is whether his words amounted to a serious breach of the BBC’s editorial standards.  That’s the question I’ll be keeping in mind as I address the particular points of complaint as summarised by my colleague.

That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East;

Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said.”

But that is exactly what Willcox did and it is inconceivable that Steel’s powers of English language comprehension are so limited that he cannot see it. Willcox’s statement clearly not only introduced the subject of the Middle East into the discussion but also misled BBC audiences in that it misrepresented events in the Middle East by means of the inaccurate suggestion that “Jewish hands” cause Palestinians to “suffer” because of motives identical to those of an Islamist terrorist who carried out a pre-meditated attack on identifiably Jewish targets at the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

Steel continues:

“That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel

Many complainants argue that the question must be regarded as anti-Semitic because it falls foul of a definition of anti-Semitism which includes “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”, and which they attribute to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).  That, however, seems to me an unduly harsh construction of what Mr Willcox said.  In the light of the opening reference to “Israeli policy”, it seems to me more natural to construe “Jewish hands” as referring to Israeli Jews (insofar as they might be responsible for the formulation or execution of Israeli policy), rather than to Jews collectively.  I would accept that it was inept to use a form of words which was even open to the first construction, but I would regard that as an aspect of the poor phrasing already acknowledged, rather than a manifestation of anti-Semitism.”

Steel’s obviously erroneous suggestion here is that “Israeli policy” is formulated and executed exclusively by “Israeli Jews”: he conveniently ignores the fact that among those formulating Israeli policy and those executing it are members of the non-Jewish communities in Israel making up over 20% of the country’s population. Hence, his transparent attempt to rewrite Willcox’s reference to “Jewish hands” to make it mean Israelis is obviously disingenuous. 

It is worth noting at this point that Steel’s rejection of the classification of Willcox’s statement as antisemitic is based on the following claim inserted as a footnote:

“In fact the phrase isn’t part of the EUMC definition, but is one of a number of examples provided of what might be considered anti-Semitic under the definition, subject to “taking into account the overall context”.  The EUMC definition was withdrawn in 2009 by its successor organisation, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which has published no definition of its own.”

This of course is not the first time that the BBC has exploited the fact that the European Agency for Fundamental Rights has not put out its own definition of antisemitism because its mandate does not include such activities. Whilst the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism was indeed removed from the FRA’s website along with other EUMC documents in 2013, it has not been “withdrawn”.  

But beyond the technicalities, more importantly what we see here is that the BBC apparently believes itself to have both the authority and the expertise to make pronunciations on what is – or is not – antisemitism. Clearly that arrogant assumption flies in the face of the MacPherson Report which recommended that racist incidents should be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”. Had Fraser Steel bothered to consult with expert bodies and/or representatives of the Jewish community (and there is no evidence in this document of his having done so) he might have been better placed to understand the essence of the complaints he was tasked with reviewing.

The issue of the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system is one which has been under discussion for quite some time and is likely to be raised again when the BBC’s Royal Charter comes up for renewal next year. Many people have become convinced by their experiences of navigating the system that it does not serve the interests of the corporation’s funding public and that it fails to ensure that the BBC adheres to its obligations to accuracy and impartiality.

Fraser Steel’s dismissive response to the high volume of complaints made about Tim Willcox’s statements can only further entrench the growing view that a self-regulating BBC is incompatible with the public purposes defined in its constitutional document. 

 

A view of the 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict you won’t hear from the BBC

Since covering the story of the resignation of William Schabas from the position of chair of the jaundiced UN HRC inquiry into the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel (see here and here), the BBC has dropped that story.

A house in Be'er Sheva after a missile hit on 13/7/14. Photo credit: IDF

A house in Be’er Sheva after a missile hit on 11 July 2014. Photo credit: IDF

One does not need a crystal ball in order to predict that the inquiry’s findings will be reported extensively when they are finally published. It remains to be seen whether or not the BBC will then finally get round to clarifying to its audiences that the mandate of the commission of inquiry set up by the UN HRC was biased and politically motivated by definition, with its start date defined as one day after the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas-funded terror cell and its geographic stipulations excluding “violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in Israel – such as missile fire at civilian targets.

“Decides to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults, and to report to the Council at its twenty-eighth session.” [emphasis added]

The deadline for submissions to the commission of inquiry was extended after Schabas’ resignation and one of the people to have submitted evidence is Colonel Richard Kemp CBE – formerly the commander of British forces in Afghanistan. Colonel Kemp’s professional view of the issue makes for fascinating reading, especially for anyone who got their news of the 2014 conflict exclusively from BBC reporters lacking military experience and expertise – such as Jeremy ‘I see no human shields’ Bowen.

A school in Rishon LeZion after a missile hit on 15 July 2014. Photo credit: IDF

A school in Rishon LeZion after a missile hit on 15 July 2014. Photo credit: IDF

“Much of the Hamas military infrastructure was located amongst the civilian population in Gaza. In these circumstances, neutralizing the threat from Hamas made civilian casualties unavoidable. Under the Laws of Armed Conflict this fact does not render such operations illegal assuming they were necessary. However the IDF had a duty to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians and to ensure that operations were conducted in accordance with the principle of proportionality as well as necessity.

It is worth emphasizing that proportionality is not, as often believed by critics of Israel, a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict, but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack. […]

Turning now to Hamas’s conduct in the 2014 conflict. During my time in Israel during this conflict I witnessed what I believe to be a series of war crimes and planned war crimes by Hamas and other Gaza groups, both by missile attack against civilians and by construction of attack tunnels from which to kill and abduct civilians. I am also aware of, but did not witness, Hamas and other groups’ use of their own civilian population as human shields. […]

I know of the deliberate policy of using human shields, including women and children, which is also a war crime, by both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. I am aware of this as a result of my previous British government work involving secret intelligence on these groups, from public statements made by the Hamas leadership on a number of occasions since the 2008-09 Gaza conflict, from media reports including film footage showing such action and statements by individuals forced to remain in declared target areas, from publication of training manuals found in Gaza by the IDF and from debriefing of IDF personnel and journalists. From the same sources I am also aware of Hamas’s use of buildings and vehicles protected under the Laws of Armed Conflict including schools, hospitals, UN buildings, mosques and ambulances. Use of such facilities for military purposes constitutes a war crime.”

Read Colonel Kemp’s entire submission here.  

 

Watching the BBC’s Israel election coverage

There are 5,881,696 people in the world who might have a practical interest in the subject matter of the article published on February 17th on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel PM Netanyahu criticised for ‘excessive’ spending“.Expenses art  

Those five million and some people are Israeli citizens with the right to vote in the upcoming elections and estimates of how many of them are native English speakers vary, with the more generous appraisals putting the number at around 200,000. Of course even they can hardly be said to be in need of a BBC report on the topic because their local media has covered it (to put it mildly) extensively, including the English language version of Ha’aretz which coincidentally produced a similar article on the same day, along with the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post to name but some.

45.9% of the BBC News website’s visitors come from the UK, 14.5% from the US, 3.6% from India, 2.6% from Russia and 1.8% from Brazil. In other words, the editorial decision to publish a four hundred and nineteen-word article about a report by Israel’s State Comptroller and Ombudsman on the subject of expenses at the Israeli prime minister’s official residences cannot be said to be based either on the degree of relevance that subject has to the website’s audience or the importance of the story in the overall framework of major news events in the Middle East.

Related articles:

BBC News, impartiality and the Israeli elections

Tim Franks on BBC WS Newshour: ‘you make Israel sound like a normal country’

What makes a story newsworthy for the BBC?

Background to the BBC’s claims regarding the Iron Dome missile defence system

Readers may recall that soon after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent saw fit to recycle a link to an article he had written in 2013 questioning the performance rate of the Iron Dome missile defence system on the basis of publications by MIT professor Ted Postol. The same claims were also the basis for two additional reports by the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in April 2013.Iron Dome

The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University recently published a paper by Uzi Rubin in which he examines Israel’s air and missile defence during Operation Protective Edge.

“Skeptics in Israel and the US voiced doubts about the disclosed achievements of the Iron Dome system. US critics used commercial and private videos of rocket interceptions to allege that the system was significantly less successful than claimed. The low number of casualties was attributed by them to the efficiency of Israel’s public alert system and extensive shelter network, as well as the supposedly low lethality of the Gaza rocket warheads. However, a comparison of losses and damages in the 2014 Gaza War to those from the 2006 Lebanon War, when no active defense system existed, refute the critics’ allegations.”

Dr Rubin’s very interesting report can be found here in both English and Hebrew.