HMD edition of BBC One’s ‘The Big Questions’ not exempt from political propaganda

A tweet sent from the account of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious debate” programme ‘The Big Questions’ on January 25th has understandably caused something of a stir.

Big Questions tweet

In fact, the provocative question posed in that promotion was not the “one big question” discussed in the edition of the programme broadcast on the same day as readers unable to access BBC iPlayer can see for themselves below. No less contentious than the wording of that tweet was the fact that the programme’s subject matter was allowed to be exploited for opportunistic promotion of political propaganda by Nira Yuval-Davis of the University of East London.

“And part of the problem that we see is that on the one hand we see how Israel is using – very cynically unfortunately – this very important memory of the Holocaust. […]

[…] the fact [is] that the prime minister of Israel, whenever there is a diplomatic visit, he’s taking people to Yad Vashem – the memorial museum – and in order to show them this [is] what happened to Jews in the Holocaust as a preventative measure for any critique of Israeli policies.”

To be clear, the people sitting on the front row are invited guests and like all panel members appearing on ‘The Big Questions’ they would have been ‘vetted’ by the production team before their appearance on live television. That means that Nicky Campbell and his team must have known full well that they had invited an anti-Zionist, BDS-supporting proponent of the notion of the establishment of Israel as a project of “settler-colonialism” to appear on the panel of the edition of their programme advertised as part of the BBC’s Holocaust Memorial Season.

 

 

 

BBC amends ICC Q&A following reader complaint

h/t D

Readers may recall that on January 14th the BBC News website published a Q&A feature concerning the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the International Criminal Court. As was noted here at the time:ICC Q&A

“Under the sub-heading “When will they become ICC members and what does it mean?” the article states:

“The Palestinians have asked it to exercise jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza from 13 June 2014. This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.”

That, of course, is correct but notably the BBC refrains from pointing out to audiences that – as is also the case with the UN HRC’s Schabas commission – the ‘start date’ selected by the PA deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hebron-based Hamas cell on June 12th 2014.”

A member of the public who took note of the same point submitted a complaint to the BBC and recently received a response which includes the following:

“We have reviewed the article in question and agree the date chosen by the Palestinians as the starting point for the ICC to investigate requires explanation as it is clearly not arbitrary. We have therefore updated the article with the following lines, which we hope you will find satisfactory: […]”

Although no footnote has been added to the article to inform audiences that it has been amended, the relevant passage now reads:

ICC art amendment

The wording of that amendment still does not adequately clarify the point that the ‘start date’ selected by the PA for the investigation it wants the ICC to pursue deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach – or why.

Additionally, the statement “Israeli forces began a mass round-up of Palestinians” misleadingly suggests that people were arrested randomly simply because they were Palestinians and does not make it clear that arrests were based on intelligence linking those arrested to the suspects and/or to terrorist organisations. As Ynet reported at the later stages of the search operation:

“Since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keepers, a total of 419 Palestinians have been arrested, among them 59 were released in the Shalit deal, and 279 are Hamas operatives. The IDF has searched 2,200 sites.”

As the BBC’s reply to this complaint shows, it is fully aware of the fact that the Palestinian request for an investigation of events after June 13th 2014 is “clearly not arbitrary” and of the significance of that selected ‘start date’. And yet, despite acknowledgement that the issue “requires explanation”, the wording of this amendment still does not sufficiently clarify a point vital to audience understanding of the political motives behind the Palestinian ICC bid.  

 

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

Regular readers of these pages who happened to visit the Europe page of the BBC News website on January 23rd would not have been overly surprised to find the perpetrator of the January 9th terror attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, in which four people were murdered and fifteen others held hostage for hours, described as “[a]n Islamist militant”.Paris attacks art

Via an article appearing two days later in The Independent, we learn that the BBC has decided that he and the perpetrators of the attack at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo two days beforehand will not be described by the corporation as terrorists.

“The Islamists who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris should be not be described as “terrorists” by the BBC, a senior executive at the corporation has said.

Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, the largest of the BBC’s non-English language news services, said the term “terrorist” was too “loaded” to describe the actions of the men who killed 12 people in the attack on the French satirical magazine. […]

We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist. What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.” ” [emphasis added]

As longtime readers will know, the claim appearing in bold above is simply not true. The BBC does indeed use the word terror and its derivatives in certain cases – particularly in reports on Northern Ireland. The term has also been used to describe incidents in Great Britain, Norway and Spain, among others. A report appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘London’ page just one day before the Independent article was published informed audiences – albeit in confusing grammatical style – that:

Al Muhajiroun art

In the ‘through the looking glass’ world of the BBC, a UK-based organization which was proscribed by the British government on the basis of its engagement in the glorification of terrorism can be described as a “Terrorist organization” (with a capital T, no less) whilst other groups appearing on the same list of proscribed organisations but operating elsewhere are regularly described in BBC content in euphemistic terms such as “the Lebanese militant movement” or “the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas“.

The Charlie Hebdo terrorists carried out an attack not only directed at the staff of that particular publication but also with the intent of sowing fear and self-censorship in the wider Western media.  They sought to terrorise journalists – and Western society in general – into complying with their particular politico-religious demands just as terrorists of all stripes do the world over. Tarik Kafala’s claim that the correct terminology for those who gunned down seventeen people in cold blood is “loaded” means that the BBC cannot tell this story accurately and impartially to its audiences.

That fact will come as no surprise to anyone who has been monitoring the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word terror and its habit of hiding behind the smokescreen of “value judgements” it claims are implicit in that word’s use and may “raise doubts about our impartiality”.

But when shooting attacks by a far-right extremist in Norway do get the BBC editorial thumbs-up for description as “terror attacks” and “terrorist activity” is used to describe the actions of members of an armed group in Northern Ireland, it is of course difficult to conceive of any reason for the refusal to accurately name terrorism elsewhere which does not stem from a “value judgement” regarding the perpetrators – or their victims – and impossible to see how the BBC can make any honest claim to cover the subject of terrorism with impartiality.

Related Articles:

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’

Confusing BBC audiences with unqualified agenda-based opinion

“The BBC will use the opportunity presented by its long-form documentary and current affairs output to explore a wide range of contemporary issues that can engage a variety of viewers across TV, radio and online. A key priority for the BBC will be to provide explanation and analysis of the complex issues that confront the UK and the world (such as the Middle East, global terrorism and climate change). The BBC will offer in-depth, multi-platform seasons as a means of engaging audiences in relevant big issues and helping them make sense of the world.” [emphasis added] (Source: BBC Public Purposes: Sustaining Citizenship and Civil Society)

The plethora of information available to anyone in our modern world at the click of a mouse is of course both a blessing and a curse with the challenge being to sort the factual wheat from the often agenda motivated chaff. The BBC clearly has an important role to play in helping its audiences distinguish between the fact and the fiction surrounding news and current affairs in order to enable them to reach informed opinions and indeed the BBC Trust states that:

“All BBC journalism will display the core values of independence, truth and accuracy, impartiality, fairness, and diversity of opinion.” 

In that laudable statement of intention, however, lies a pitfall. The diversity of opinion the BBC commits itself to reflecting may not always be compatible with the other core values to which it professes to adhere simply because people hold a wide range of opinions which are obviously not always rooted in fact.

If a BBC report tells audiences that some people are of the opinion that the earth is flat, the corporation’s commitment to truth and accuracy should surely also mean that it is obliged to inform them of the available facts contradicting that opinion. Or should the BBC refrain from amplifying opinions which may indeed be “diverse” but cannot be defended as being based on fact?

It is not difficult to find BBC reports in which non fact-based opinion is promoted without qualification. For example, we not long ago witnessed commentators expressing the ‘opinion’ that a Palestinian bus driver who committed suicide had been murdered by Israelis with little or no challenge from BBC interviewers and on January 8th the BBC News website found it appropriate to amplify the opinion expressed in an Iranian newspaper that the terror attacks in Paris were a joint ISIS-Israel operation.

On January 23rd another example came to light in an article by Owen Bennett-Jones appearing on the BBC News website’s Europe page under the title “Blasphemy, jihad and victimhood“.OBJ art

There, readers were told that:

” […] Blasphemy is the lead story now with political chat show hosts asking: “What is it? How come people take the issue so seriously?

And shouldn’t secular West European countries worry about racist or misogynist speech as much as blasphemy?”

Such discussions almost always develop into a row about power. Political Islamists and Western liberals often argue that Muslim sensitivities about public challenges to their faith and identity are informed by the fact that over time they have been colonised, invaded, tortured and falsely imprisoned by Westerners.

The US and Israel, they argue, are the subject of so much invective and even violence because, for all their talk of human rights, they hypocritically use their own strength to oppress Muslims, whether in Iraq or Gaza. Furthermore, it is argued, Muslims are singled out for abuse.”

There may indeed be people in this world who hold the opinion that they can ‘explain’ anti-Israel campaigning and violence against Israeli citizens by means of the false claim that Israel ‘oppresses’ Muslims in Gaza but that view is not rooted in truth and accuracy.

The trouble is that in his smörgåsbord presentation of the “diversity of opinion” on an issue which he makes no real effort to resolve, Owen Bennett-Jones does not make it clear to readers that there is no factual basis for that particular opinion. He avoids any explanation or analysis of the agendas of the “political Islamists” and “Western liberals” making that fictitious claim and thus – intentionally or not – he contributes to audiences’ further confusion.

Likewise, the additional reflection of ‘opinions’ from Bennett-Jones which follows that one does nothing to clarify to BBC audiences either the actual circumstances behind the incident concerned or the deliberate conflation of anti-racism with censorship inherent in that view.

“Thus, while the Charlie Hebdo management sacked a cartoonist for anti-Semitism, it did not hesitate to publish anti-Islamic cartoons.”

The admirable aspiration to provide “explanation and analysis of […] complex issues” and to help its funding public to “make sense of the world” cannot be achievable as long as the BBC promotes and amplifies agenda-based statements without the qualifications made necessary by its commitment to accurate and impartial journalism. The trouble is that many at the BBC obviously first need to clarify the difference between the fact-based and agenda-based to themselves. 

BBC’s Mike Thomson entrenches an inaccurate narrative

The Foreign Affairs correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Mike Thomson, recently produced a feature on the subject of the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach on June 12th 2014 and Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2nd 2014.

That feature appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The lost sons“.  Additionally, an audio version of Thomson’s report was broadcast by the BBC World Service on January 23rd in the programme ‘The Documentary’ under the title “The Lives And Deaths Of Naftali and Mohammed” and the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme featured segments from the audio version on January 22nd (from 2:40:20 here) and on January 23rd (from 2:50:27 here).Kidnappings on WS

On one level, all versions of this feature present the personal stories of two families – Frenkel and Abu Khdeir – coping with the loss of their sons. The chosen format naturally promotes equivalence between the two murders and Thomson does not adequately clarify the differences between them. Whilst he does inform listeners that a Hamas cell carried out the murders of the three Israeli teenagers, the fact that the operation was financed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not adequately explained. Neither the issue of the logistical help that the two murderers obviously received from their community during the three months in which they were on the run nor the widespread support for the kidnappings in Palestinian society (which went completely unreported by the BBC at the time) gets coverage in Thomson’s various reports. Significantly too, no mention is made of the condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir at all levels of Israeli society or the fact that he was recognized as a victim of terror by the State of Israel, which entitles his family to monthly financial benefits.

In both the website version and the World Service radio version of the feature, conspiracy theories about the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers are amplified. Whilst one must obviously question the editorial justification for the inclusion of such baseless claims at all, credit is due to Mike Thomson for challenging part of them – although not the one made in the audio version which falsely asserted that the boys were soldiers.

“But Mohammed’s parents insist, despite all the evidence, that Naftali and his two Israeli friends weren’t actually murdered at all – they died in an accident and the Israeli government used the deaths to fuel anger against Palestinians.

His mother says the Israeli government “wanted to bomb Gaza and planned to use this as a justification”.

I ask how widespread is this belief. She replies: “Everyone knows this story, not only us. We didn’t come up with this story.”

But, I point out, senior Hamas figures have admitted that members of the organisation carried out the killings.

Hussein says: “I am not a politician, I am an ordinary man and didn’t hear of this story. The story that we know is that they died in a traffic accident.” “

However, in the World Service audio version Thomson’s conclusion regarding those bizarre conspiracy theories is that they “show the depth of distrust” between Israelis and Palestinians and he makes no attempt to place them within the broader – and highly relevant – context of the baseless rumours and incitement seen in official Palestinian media or heard in sermons in PA mosques on a quotidian basis.

In that same audio version broadcast on the World Service, Thomson adopts the usual BBC practice of failing to meet its own supposed standards of impartiality by refraining from any mention of the existence of legal opinions which do not conform to the spirit of his statement:

“Under international law the West Bank is occupied territory…”

He goes on to say:

“…but many Israelis, like the speaker you are about to hear, still see it as part of Israel and use biblical language to describe it.”

The speaker is an IDF officer who was responsible for the coordination of the search operation for the three teenagers and the “biblical language” Thomson obviously finds worthy of note is the term Judea and Samaria. Of course that term was universally in use  – including by the British mandate administration – until Jordan’s belligerent occupation and later unrecognized annexation of the districts of Judea and Samaria, after which the term ‘West Bank’ was invented in order to cement that occupation in language. In Thomson’s case that rebranding clearly worked.

A particularly significant aspect of this feature is its vigorous promotion of a theme which the BBC has been pushing for months.

Kidnappings Thomson tweet 1

In the introduction to the item in the January 22nd edition of the ‘Today’ programme, listeners were told that:

“The murders further fuelled hatred and bitterness on both sides, sparking riots in the West Bank, rocket attacks by Hamas and the Israeli invasion of Gaza.”

The next day listeners to the same programme were told that:

“After a summer war in Gaza and bloody clashes on the West Bank, Israel has suffered a winter wave of attacks, the latest wounding a dozen bus passengers in Tel Aviv. The catalyst for much of this was the abduction and murder of four teenagers – three Jewish and one Palestinian – in June and July.”

In the written version appearing on the BBC News website, audiences are told that:Kidnappings Thomson tweet 2

“These brutal killings, and those of two other innocent boys, have had far-reaching consequences. Riots in the West Bank, a war in Gaza and a deepened divide between Israelis and Palestinians.”

In the audio version broadcast on the BBC World Service, listeners heard Mike Thomson say:

“There is little doubt that the slaughter of these four innocent and like-minded boys proved a catalyst for the deaths and injuries of thousands more people last summer.”

Since the hostilities ended six months ago, it has become standard BBC practice to promote the narrative of the conflict of summer 2014 as having taken place exclusively “in Gaza”, erasing any mention of the fact that in Israel thousands of southern residents had to leave their homes and millions ran for cover in air-raid shelters from over four thousand missile attacks launched at civilian targets throughout the seven weeks of hostilities.

It is also apparently BBC policy to mislead audiences by downplaying or erasing from audience view the hundreds of missiles launched at civilian targets in Israel between the date of the kidnappings – June 12th – and the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th. It was of course that surge in missile fire which was the reason for Israel’s military action rather than the kidnappings and murders of the three teenagers, with the later discovery of dozens of cross-border tunnels prompting the subsequent ground operation. The military operation could have been avoided had Hamas elected to take advantage of the ample opportunities it was given to stop the missile fire before July 8th but the terrorist organisation chose not to do so – for reasons by no means exclusively connected to Israel such as the PA’s refusal to pay Hamas employees after the formation of the unity government. 

Over the last six months this same distortion of the background to Operation Protective Edge has been seen time and time again in BBC content. Accurate and impartial representation of Hamas’ motives for instigating that conflict has been usurped by a simplistic narrative promoting the notion of a ‘cycle of violence’ which actively prevents BBC audiences from forming a realistic understanding of events. Mike Thomson obviously put a lot of work into this feature and hence it is all the more unfortunate that one of its main themes is based on an inaccurate narrative which it in turn goes on to further entrench. 

 

Some statistics the BBC R4 statistics programme managed to ignore

On January 19th BBC Radio 4’s statistics programme ‘More or Less’ included an item (available from 07:44 here) described in the webpage synopsis as follows:More or Less

“In the wake of the Paris killings, an imam in Paris told the BBC that 95% of terrorism victims around the world are Muslim. Is that true? More or Less speaks to Erin Miller of the Global Terrorism Database.”

Included in that item is a discussion between presenter Tim Harford and producer Ruth Alexander of what counts as terrorism.

TH: “But wait: what counts as terrorism? I mean saying that something is terrorism or isn’t terrorism – I mean this is something that politicians do all the time purely for their own convenience.”

RA: “It is, so the Global Terrorism Database has a particular methodology. They label an attack terrorism and put it into this data base if it’s intentional, violent or threatening and the perpetrators aren’t governments.”

TH: “So the alleged hack by North Korea of Sony Pictures?”

RA “If it was in fact by North Korea it wouldn’t count because that would be a state act and anyway it’s non-violent.”

TH: “OK and what else? Because if someone pulls a knife on me and demands money, well that’s an intentional, violent, non-governmental act so there must be some other criteria that go into the definition.”

RA: “That’s right; there are other criteria, other considerations. Is there a political, economic or religious goal is one. Is it an attempt to send a message to a wider audience – not just to the direct victims – or is it outside the context of legitimate warfare activities.”

TH “So all this goes into making up the definition of terrorism…”

Later on listeners were told that the countries suffering the most terror attacks in the ten years between 2004 and 2013 were Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Ruth Alexander adding:

“And just to put the latest available numbers on this, over the ten years from 2004 the UK suffered 400 terrorist attacks – mostly in Northern Ireland – and almost all of them non-lethal. The US suffered 131 attacks – fewer than 20 of them were lethal. France suffered 47 but in Iraq there were 12,000 attacks and 8,000 of them were lethal.”

On January 20th an article relating to the same topic by Ruth Alexander and Hannah Moore appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website under the title “Are most victims of terrorism Muslim?“. In that article, the definition of terrorism provided to readers was as follows:More or Less written

“The GTD defines a terrorist attack as the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non‐state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”

Reflecting the audio report, readers were told that

“When people in the West think of terrorist attacks, they may think of Charlie Hebdo, or the 7/7 London tube and bus bombs, the Madrid train bombs and of course 9/11 – and although some Muslims did die in these attacks, most of the victims wouldn’t have been Muslim.

The overall number of deadly terrorist attacks in France, the UK, Spain and the US, however, is very low by international standards.

Between 2004-2013, the UK suffered 400 terrorist attacks, mostly in Northern Ireland, and almost all of them were non-lethal. The US suffered 131 attacks, fewer than 20 of which were lethal. France suffered 47 attacks. But in Iraq, there were 12,000 attacks and 8,000 of them were lethal.”

The article also includes a chart attributed to information sourced from the Global Terrorism Database.

Chart GTD Magazine art terrorism

As we see, Israel does not appear in the written or audio reports either in relation to the number of fatalities or the overall number of terror attacks. One reason for that may be that, somewhat oddly for a statistics programme, its two reports are based on information gleaned from one source – the Global Terrorism Database – which does not provide a particularly accurate or comprehensive view of terror attacks in Israel.

The GTD’s Israel-related data for 2013, for example, includes the incidents on December 24th (here) and November 13th (here) but absent from its list (which incidentally includes several incidents more accurately classified as criminal that terror-related such as this one) are the October 11th murder of Colonel Seraya Ofer, the murder of Sgt. Tomer Hazan on September 20th, the murder of St.-Sgt. Gal (Gabriel) Kobi on September 22nd and the murder of Evyatar Borovsky on April 30th.

Similarly, whilst the GTD clearly does classify missile attacks as terrorism, its data for 2013 records only four such attacks from the Gaza Strip: less than 10% of the actual number of attacks which took place during that year. In fact, were all the missile attacks – rocket and mortar fire – from the Gaza Strip between 2004 and 2013 to be counted as individual terror attacks – as they clearly should be according to the definitions provided by the BBC – then as far as the number of attacks is concerned, Israel stands alongside some of the countries in the top half of that chart above because thousands of attacks have taken place during that time.

Chart rocket attacks from Gaza Strip

Israel of course goes to considerable lengths to provide protection to its citizens and thereby manages to significantly reduce the number of fatalities from missile attacks. Nevertheless, during the ten-year period used by the BBC in its two reports, over 150 fatal terror attacks of various kinds have taken place resulting in more than three hundred casualties and thousands more non-fatal attacks have been carried out. The number of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip executed outside the periods of escalated conflict during that ten-year time span (Operation Cast Lead in 2008/9 and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012) is over 5,000 – not including mortar attacks – and if missile attacks on civilian targets during those conflicts are included (being, as they are, “outside the context of legitimate warfare activities”), the figure rises to over 12,000.

Notably though, in their partial inventory of terror attacks in Western states, the ‘More or Less’ team elected to ignore a country which has suffered more attacks than the UK, the US and France put together according to their data. Tim Harford’s remark about politicians “saying that something is terrorism or isn’t terrorism […] for their own convenience” is sadly sometimes no less applicable to journalists. 

BBC News misrepresents Israeli PM’s stance on P5+1 deal with Iran

On January 21st the BBC News website published an article titled “John Boehner invites Netanyahu to Congress on Iran” on both its Middle East and US & Canada pages.Congress invite

Relating to an invitation from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress, the BBC article states, inter alia, that:

“Six world powers want Iran to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

An interim deal was struck in November 2013 but deadlines for a comprehensive deal have since been missed.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly warned a deal with Iran could threaten Israel’s security. The Israeli Prime Minister has not officially responded to the invitation.” [emphasis added]

That representation of the Israeli prime minister’s position is inaccurate and misleading. In fact, what PM Netanyahu has said on repeated occasions is that a bad deal with Iran on the part of the P5+1 would threaten Israel’s security. He has not expressed opposition to a deal in general as is implied in this report.

For example, in November 2013 the Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu said:

“If you do a bad deal, you may get to the point where your only option is a military option. So a bad deal actually can lead you to exactly the place you don’t want to be”

In May 2014 Ha’aretz reported that:

“The [Prime Minister’s] bureau’s statement, released in Hebrew, quotes emphasizing to the audience Israel’s stance that Iran must not be allowed to create an atomic weapon. The Islamic Republic currently has thousands of centrifuges and thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium, with which a bomb could be created.

“A bad deal will enable them to preserve this capability,” Netanyahu said, according to the Hebrew statement. “It would be better not to reach an agreement at all than to reach a bad agreement,” the bureau quoted him as saying.”

The Times of Israel reported in July 2014 that:

“Netanyahu warned that “a bad deal is actually worse than no deal,” defining that as one in which Iran would keep enriched nuclear material and the capability to further enrich uranium in return for monitoring by international inspectors.”

And as recently as November 2014, the BBC’s own Kevin Connolly conducted an interview with PM Netanyahu in which he said:

“No deal is better than a bad deal. The deal that Iran was pushing for was terrible. The deal would have left Iran with the ability to enrich uranium for an atom bomb while removing the sanctions. The right deal that is needed is to dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atomic bombs and only then dismantle the sanctions….”

How unfortunate it is that BBC journalists do not even follow their own colleague’s work sufficiently closely as to prevent them from publishing inaccuracies. 

‘Special edition’ of BBC’s Hardtalk to commemorate a terrorist

At some point in the not too distant past, the producers of the flagship BBC interview programme Hardtalk obviously decided that the tenth anniversary of the death of a notorious terrorist responsible for the killing of thousands of people and the maiming of many thousands more warranted commemoration.

Hence, on January 19th they broadcast what was described as a “special edition” of the programme in order to “mark the anniversary” of the death of Yasser Arafat – according to Hardtalk host Zeinab Badawi who was sent specially to Malta to interview Suha Arafat.

That programme can be viewed in the UK on BBC iPlayer here or as a Youtube video here. An audio version was also produced for the BBC World Service and clips from the interview were promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the Hardtalk webpage.Hardtalk Suha Arafat

Despite the fact that Hardtalk bills itself as conducting “[i]n-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered”, Zeinab Badawi allows Suha Arafat to avoid providing any real answers to questions on the topic of Arafat’s notorious embezzlement of donor funding and to dismiss the topic as “character assassination against my husband”.

Badawi does however provide Suha Arafat with an ample platform from which to once again advance her unproven theories regarding the cause of her husband’s death. She also fails to correct the inaccurate impressions given to audiences by Suha Arafat via statements such as:

“When there’s a rocket on Israel we have 1,000 people who are killed in the same day.”

“Gaza…the most crowded city in the world…”

“…more than 1,000 people who are still in the coma…” [after the conflict last summer]

“….nothing happen [with the peace process] because Israel continue to do settlements, Israel continue to build the wall….”

Badawi herself fails to distinguish between civilian casualties and terrorists when she says that “two thousand people died in Gaza in July and August last year” and her description of Mahmoud Abbas’ signing of the Rome Statute in order to join the ICC as “some progress being made on the diplomatic scene” is of course both creative and revealing.

Far from having even a whiff of “in-depth” or “hard-hitting” about it, this puff piece interview not only does nothing to provide audiences with a realistic view of the man who is the only reason for this woman being interviewed (the word terrorism, for example, is not mentioned once), but audiences are treated to hefty doses of clichés such as “iconic leader”, “great leader”, Arafat’s “legacy” and “hero of the Palestinian cause” from both interviewer and interviewee.

That, together with the fact that this programme was made for the reasons stated by the BBC itself, says it all. 

This is why the BBC’s making do with Tim Willcox’s Twitter apology is pernicious

The January 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme contained a report by Sanchia Berg titled “Jewish school pupils trained to respond to armed attack“. The item includes the following:Sanchia Berg report

Sanchia Berg: “The headmaster said on several school trips pupils had been verbally abused by people who were angry about Israeli government policy and unfairly blamed British Jewish children. One child was threatened. Rabbi Efraimov:”

Rabbi Efraimov: “Nothing actually happened to the child but the child was told that he will be beaten up unless Palestine is freed.”

SB: “By other children? By adults?”

RE: “My understanding was that it was by young adults. The description was adults in their early twenties.”

SB: “And how old was the child at the time?”

RE: “The child was ten.”

One may of course ask where on earth young British adults would have got the idea that British Jewish schoolchildren – or British Jews in general – have anything to do with Israeli government policy, real or imagined.

And that is exactly why the BBC’s attempt to fob off criticism of Tim Willcox’s statement just after the Paris terror attacks (“…the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands…”) by claiming that an apology on Twitter is sufficient is so pernicious.

Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.

Likewise, the BBC needs to urgently address the fact that Willcox has not been alone in adopting and promoting a canard used – as we see above – by antisemitic bullies.

Obviously the BBC’s funding public would not tolerate its national broadcaster (which is of course committed by Royal Charter to the promotion of education and sustaining civil society) adding credence to racist or prejudicial notions about other groups within British society. Ensuring that the same standard applies to British Jews entails tackling the ignorance which causes racism to be passed off as political comment.