BBC website’s flotilla article still misleads on ‘humanitarian aid’

Readers no doubt recall that the BBC’s report on the interception of the recent ‘flotilla’ publicity stunt included the following paragraph:

“The activists said the vessel was carrying humanitarian aid, including medicine and solar panels.”

As was pointed out here at the time:

“….the use of the plural term “panels” in that sentence is – according to a spokesperson for the flotilla organisers interviewed by Ma’an news agency – apparently superfluous.

“On board, the Marianne is carrying one solar panel to al-Shifa hospital and medical equipment for Wafa hospital, both in Gaza City. If everything goes as planned, activists will also leave the fishing trawler for Palestinian fishermen to use.”

On July 1st Washington Post correspondent William Booth published details of the ‘humanitarian aid’ aboard the Marianne.

“The Gaza activitists said the larger cardboard box contains a solar panel, donated by a Swedish magazine, ETC, which also runs an “environmentally-friendly electricity company.” The panel was bound for Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Ighe said the Swedish Association of Midwives also donated a nebulizer, a machine used to inhale medicines, often used to calm asthma attacks. That is the small cardboard box.”

flotilla cargo

In other words, the BBC’s promotion of the notion that the boat was carrying medicine is inaccurate and the “solar panels” turned out to be one single panel. Nevertheless, that misleading information still stands in the amended version of the BBC News website’s report.  

 

BBC censors ‘Jewish’ from IS affiliate’s claim of missile attacks

Despite its defined purpose of building “understanding of international issues”, the BBC has to date done little to inform its audiences on the topic of the approach to Israel prevalent among the Middle East’s rising force of Islamist Jihadists. Hence, one feature of an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 4th under the headline “IS affiliate in Egypt claims rocket attack on Israel” is particularly notable.Sinai attacks

Readers were told that:

“A group affiliated with Islamic State has said it fired three rockets into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The affiliate, which calls itself Sinai Province, said it had acted in retaliation for what it says is Israeli support for the Egyptian army.

Israel said two rockets landed in the south of the country, causing no casualties or material damage.”

Although the third missile was also found in Israeli territory on July 4th, that is a reasonable representation of events. However, audiences then went on to read the following:

“Sinai Province claimed the rocket attack on social media on Friday.

The group said it had fired Grad rockets towards “occupied Palestine”.

The Israeli military later said that two missiles landed in open areas in Israel’s Negev region, causing no damage.

Sirens were heard in communities in Israel’s Eshkol regional council, near the Gaza border.”

Given the BBC’s often curious use of punctuation, readers may well have concluded that the use of quotation marks around the words “occupied Palestine” signifies the use of a quote from the terrorist organisation’s Twitter account. Notably, no effort was made to clarify to readers – most of whom are unlikely to have much reason to be well versed in Israeli geography – that the area targeted in this missile attack cannot accurately be described as either ‘occupied’ or ‘Palestine’.

Not only is that point significant from the point of view of accuracy but of course the fact that an IS-affiliated group operating in Sinai regards the whole of Israel as “occupied Palestine” is indicative of the ideology underpinning the specific attack and the group’s approach to Israel in general.

No less remarkable is the fact that the BBC told its audiences about just part of the terror group’s announcement. As many media outlets – including the Times of Israel – reported:

“The IS-affiliated Wilayat Sinai in the Sinai Peninsula claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Three Grad rockets were fired at Jewish positions in occupied Palestine,” the group said Friday evening in a statement on Twitter.”

Not Israeli positions – but “Jewish positions”: that too is of course relevant information for anyone seeking to understand this particular ‘international issue’ but for some reason the BBC elected not to impart it to its readers.

Related Articles:

How the BBC cherry-picked its Jihadist terrorists

Baroness Deech on the BBC complaints system and OFCOM

We recently posed on these pages the question of whether or not OFCOM is up to the job of replacing the BBC Trust as the final arbiter for editorial complaints. Baroness Deech has been pondering the same issue and her conclusions are well worth studying.BBC brick wall

“Would OFCOM be any better? In their annual report 13-14 it is revealed that 12,774 complaints were made about content and standards, and 124 breaches found.  22 complaints about fairness were upheld from 241 made. OFCOM cleared Channel 4’s mockumentary on UKIP, The First 1000 Days, despite over 6000 complaints.

The BBC Annual Report for the same period reports 192,459 complaints, and 52 upheld by the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee.  I make that .02%. I rarely see apologies made in the same forum where the offending issue was first aired. Apologies by the BBC or its reporters are reported in the press but diligent searching of the BBC website does not necessarily turn them up. The Commons report referred to the dissatisfaction expressed by complaints about the process.

I highlight this issue because the crux of the importance of the BBC’s impartiality and accountability lies in the way in which complaints about its service are responded to and handled.  Here there have undoubtedly been failings and complications. […]

Taste and decency complaints (e.g. about Russell Brand or Jeremy Clarkson) are less important to my mind, than those about accuracy and impartiality, the values by which the BBC stands or falls. They are the heart of the public service of the BBC.  The current defensive handling of complaints is harmful to the BBC, albeit recently reformed to some extent.  Its impartiality is what makes it a world influence through the World Service.  It is therefore of the utmost significance that its impartiality be guaranteed by a complaints process that matches the significance of the issues.  Issues such as: was the Iraq intelligence dossier “sexed up”?, who may be designated a “terrorist” or a “militant”; reference to ISIL or Daesh; the accuracy of Middle East reporting, the attitude towards climate change science and so on.  These are issues of exceptional national and international importance and deserve to be treated as such, not least because they form national political opinions.   If complaints were transparently and satisfactorily handled, and if more were upheld, there would be even more confidence in the BBC and more audience satisfaction.” 

Read Baroness Deech’s full post – which includes some interesting practical suggestions – here.

One to watch out for on BBC Two

It has been known for some time that the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was in the process of making a programme about children caught up in last summer’s conflict between Israel and numerous terrorist organisations based in the Gaza Strip.Doucet doc

That programme will be broadcast this coming Wednesday, July 8th, at 21:00 on BBC Two. Revealingly titled “Children of the Gaza War” (as though nothing at all happened in Israel last summer) its synopsis reads as follows:

“Children in Gaza and across the border in Israel have lived through three major conflicts in six years. In the summer of 2014, more than 500 children were killed in a 51-day war, all but one of them Palestinian. Almost every child in Gaza lost a loved one. More than a third were left traumatised.

On the Israeli border, children lived in constant fear of rocket attacks and underground tunnels. Lyse Doucet follows the lives of children on both sides of the conflict in the midst of the war and through the months that followed, revealing how children born so close are growing further apart with each war.”

On the same day Doucet will be appearing at a promotional event hosted by Chatham House.

The Telegraph’s review of the programme can be found here.

Related Articles:

Will the BBC’s Doucet report on the real reasons for lost childhoods in Gaza?

Is a BBC documentary about Hamas’ child soldiers upcoming?

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part one

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC’s Knell exploits royal christening for political messaging

Among the articles appearing in the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website as well as in the ‘Features’ section of the site’s Middle East page on July 4th was one written by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell which ostensibly tells readers about the source of the water to be used at the baptism of Princess Charlotte.Knell Qasr al Yahud

Unsurprisingly, Knell uses the opportunity presented by the upcoming royal christening to promote some decidedly partisan political messaging in her piece titled “The special water flown in for Princess Charlotte“, once again calling the BBC’s impartiality into question.  

Readers are told that:

“Nowadays nearly half-a-million annual visitors, mostly Christian pilgrims, flock to rival baptism sites on opposite banks of the river a few miles north of the Dead Sea – one side is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the other in Jordan.” [emphasis added]

And, in an insert sub-headed “Naming the site”:

“Qasr al-Yahud, from the Arabic “Castle of the Jews” is the official name used by the Israeli authorities for the baptism site they run in the occupied West Bank near Jericho. This is the traditional site where Jesus’s baptism is said to have taken place and the most popular spot for pilgrims.

Palestinians traditionally call the same baptism site on their occupied land in the Jordan Valley, al-Maghtas.” [emphasis added]

Qasr al Yahud is situated in the Jordan Rift Valley and, under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed willingly by the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people, it is located in Area C. Like the rest of the places in what is currently defined as Area C, its permanent status has yet to be determined in final status negotiations.

Qasr al Yahud

Qasr al Yahud

Despite the fact that the Palestinians agreed to determination of the status of Qasr al Yahud and other areas occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 through negotiation, Yolande Knell unequivocally tells audiences that the region is ‘Palestinian land’. She is also disregards the fact that the BBC’s style guide includes the following recommendation:

“It is, however, also advisable not to overuse the phrase [occupied West Bank] within a single report in case it is seen as expressing support for one side’s view.”   

How telling it is that even the occasion of a royal christening is seen as fair game for the promotion and amplification of Yolande Knell’s political agenda.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC

  

Will ex-BBC Gunness tell the Frontline Club how he got a BBC article rewritten?

On July 29th the Frontline Club in London will hold the event described below.

frontline club event 1

So who is scheduled to be on that “panel of journalists”? At the moment it appears to consist of two people.

frontline club event 2

Readers considering attending the event and seeking advance insight into what they might hear from the generously portrayed Mr Blumenthal can find information collated by our colleagues at UK Media Watch here and at CAMERA here. A particularly useful research paper on Blumenthal’s book ‘Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel’ by Petra Marquardt-Bigman can be found here.

Those participating in the event might of course take the opportunity to ask Chris Gunness about his apparent role in instigating the politically motivated rewrite of the August 8th 2014 BBC article titled “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures“. Licence fee payers in the audience and further afield would, after all, probably be very interested to learn about the potential for outside influence on BBC editorial decisions. 

The event will also be available live on the Frontline Club’s Youtube channel.

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BBC College of Journalism “associations”

When the BBC proclaimed imminent peace in the Middle East

h/t Presspectiva

An article which appeared in the print version of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot on June 30th opens with the following anecdote:Yediot art

“In June 1999 the heads of the BBC invited Guy Spiegelman, one of the journalists at its Israel office, for a talk. ‘We are making cuts in personnel’ they told Spiegelman, who quickly understood the hint. Before going on his way, he asked his British editors about the reasoning behind staff cuts in one of the most vibrant news areas in the world. The answer surprised even him: the peace which would soon dawn between Israel and the Palestinians following Ehud Barak’s election as prime minister. ‘It was a little weird, but I assumed they knew what they were talking about’ he says.” [translation BBC Watch]

As events later proved, they obviously did not…

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Elections 2015 – a postscript on BBC framing of Israeli elections over 23 years

BBC avoids yet another Hamas story

Over the past year we have on several occasions had cause to note the fact that the BBC has consistently avoided telling its audiences about efforts to strengthen and increase Hamas’ presence in Palestinian Authority controlled areas of Judea & Samaria in general and those directed by senior Hamas figures residing in Turkey in particular.No news

Equally absent from the reporting provided to BBC audiences has been information concerning the links of Hamas’ Qatar-based branch to terrorist activity in the same area – for example in January 2013 and June 2014 – and the connections between the Turkey and Qatar-based branches of the terrorist organisation.

On July 1st the Israel Security Agency announced that, together with the IDF and the Israeli police, it had exposed extensive Hamas activity in the Nablus (Schem) area and that some forty arrests had been made. As Ha’aretz reported, the ISA noted the role of Hamas spokesman Husam Badran (also spelt Hossam or Hussan) in the plot.

“Several of the detainees have already been charged in the military court in Samaria, and more charges are expected in the coming weeks. Two of those arrested are considered to be the top Hamas operatives in Nablus: Ghanem Salme, who the Shin Bet defines as the Hamas commander in the region, and Samih Aliwi, owner of a gold shop in the city who was responsible for the Hamas HQ’s finances. Several of the arrested activists had previously served time in Israeli prisons for involvement in Hamas activity.

The establishment of the headquarters in Nablus, the Shin Bet believes, was assisted by Hamas spokesman Husam Ali Badran, who used to be the commander of the organization’s military wing in the Samaria area. Badran was released as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap and expelled to Qatar. According to the Shin Bet, he is currently operating in Turkey under Saleh Aruri, who is in charge of Hamas operations in the West Bank. […]

The Shin Bet claims that Badran was involved in the decision to recruit operatives for the new headquarters in Nablus, transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to them in order to finance their activity.”

Seeing as it has been covered extensively by the Israeli media as well as by foreign news agencies it is of course highly unlikely that the staff of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau are unaware of this story’s existence. Nevertheless, there has once again been no coverage of this latest link in the chain of Hamas efforts to strengthen its presence in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps next time the BBC approaches Khaled Masha’al for a quote or invites him to do a sympathetic interview it could also make the most of the opportunity to do some journalism on a topic which would undoubtedly contribute to meeting its remit of building “understanding of international issues”.

The BBC, the MPs and the semantics of ISIS terrorism

Those without access to the Times may have missed the gem published on July 2nd under the headline “BBC: we must be fair with Islamic State“.Tony Hall

“The head of the BBC has refused demands from 120 MPs to drop the term Islamic State on the ground that its coverage of the terrorist group must be impartial.

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director- general, warned that an alternative name for the militants was “pejorative” and said that the broadcaster needed to “preserve the BBC’s impartiality”.

The background to the story is frankly no less bizarre:

“MPs want the corporation to drop the label Islamic State to deprive the extremists of associations with Islam or statehood.

Rehman Chishti, the Tory MP who has led calls for a change of name, said last night that the BBC’s response in a letter to him was “unacceptable” and criticised its “excuse” for rejecting the term Daesh, an Arabic acronym seen by Isis as derogatory. […]

Mr Chishti said that many Muslims would be offended by the BBC’s use of the word “Islamic” in the name of a group responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent civilians and the beheading of western hostages.”

One imagines that many Muslims would actually be more offended by ISIS’ hijacking of the term ‘Islamic’ to excuse its violent atrocities than by BBC terminology but apparently a letter from British MPs to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is not yet in the post.

The article goes on:

“In a letter to the MP, seen by The Times, Lord Hall said that the word Daesh risked giving the “impression of support” for the group’s opponents and “would not preserve the BBC’s impartiality”. Daesh was pejorative and the BBC would not be using it in its output, he added. Instead, he pledged to “redouble our efforts” to use caveats such as the “Islamic State group”. […]

In his response to Mr Chishti, Lord Hall said that the BBC would use terms such as “the Islamic State group” to “distinguish it from an actual, recognised state”. He added: “We will also continue to use other qualifiers when appropriate, eg extremists, militants, fighters etc. To avoid overuse we will also usually revert to IS after one mention of the Islamic State group.”

The director-general erroneously claimed that the term Daesh was not an Arabic acronym, before correctly adding that it was “a pejorative name coined in Arabic by its enemies, including Assad supporters and other opponents in Syria”.”

Readers are told that:

“According to the Arabic translator Alice Guthrie, Isis dislikes the fact that Daesh sounds similar to the word “daes”, meaning someone who crushes or tramples things underfoot.”

Alice Guthrie has written a much more comprehensive explanation of the term Daesh:

“So what does Daesh really mean? Well, D.A.E.SH is a transliteration of the Arabic acronym formed of the same words that make up I.S.I.S in English: ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’, or ‘لدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام’ (‘al-dowla al-islaamiyya fii-il-i’raaq wa-ash-shaam’). That’s the full name chosen by the organisation, and – when used in full – it’s definitely how they want to be referred to. In Arabic, just like in English, that phrase consists of six words, four of which make it into the acronym (‘in’ and ‘and’ are omitted) : ‘دولة dowla’ (state) + ‘إسلامية islaamiyya’ (Islamic) + ‘عراق i’raaq’ (Iraq) + ‘شام  shaam’. That last word, ‘shaam’, is variously used in Arabic to denote Damascus (in Syrian dialect) ‘Greater Syria’ / the Levant, or Syria – hence the US-preferred acronym ISIL, with the L standing for Levant.” 

Quite how British MPs arrived at the conclusion that the use of an acronym which includes the Arabic word ‘islaamiyya’ is less offensive than the employment of the English word ‘Islamic’ is – to this writer at least – a mystery.

Equally unclear is why the use of the word Islamic in the term ‘Islamic State’ is allegedly controversial and offensive but its use in the titles of other terrorist organisations such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Ḥarakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah (more often known by the acronym Hamas) has apparently escaped the notice of British MPs.

Of course the BBC’s self-imposed need to “be impartial” about a vicious terrorist organization speaks volumes in itself – as does its stubborn employment of euphemisms such as “extremists, militants, fighters” in place of the word which most accurately and clearly describes an organization engaged in terrorizing the populations of large parts of the Middle East and beyond. Frankly though, it would have been unrealistic to expect any different a response from an organization which finds the use of the word terror too “loaded”.  

 

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part two

On April 24th visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page found an article by Lina Sinjab extolling the virtues of Qatari foreign policy. Headlined “Qatar casts size aside with assertive foreign policy“, the report tells readers:Qatar 2

“But Qatar is not satisfied with being just a wealthy country – it wants to be seen as a serious regional power as well.

It is a role it is already carving out for itself, for example having mediated in peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel, and having opened offices in Doha for the Afghan Taliban.

And, in sharp contrast to its neighbours, Qatar openly supports both the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the militant Hamas movement. It has hosted Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshaal since he was kicked out of Damascus for supporting the anti-government protests.

It is a foreign policy principle of Qatar that in the search for peace and stability no-one should be excluded and everyone should be engaged with.” [emphasis added]

Sinjab’s first two supporting arguments for that debatable claim are provided by none other than the leader of Qatar’s protégé terrorist organization Khaled Masha’al and the editor of a newspaper with a vice-chairman and managing director from the Qatari ruling family which, unsurprisingly, takes a pro-government stance.

“It is an example of what Jaber al-Harmi, editor-in-chief of Al Sharq, one of Qatar’s leading papers, sees as an attempt by the emirate to forge a new approach to dealing with the region’s problems.

“Qatar tried to suggest a new attitude in the Arabic sphere and wanted to say that there is another view to what’s prevailing,” he said.

This became apparent at the start of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Qatar’s government publicly supported protests in the region and its leading pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera gave voice to those opinions.

“Qatar believed that it had to side with the Arab streets, the people and their aspirations for reforms and freedoms. What distinguished Qatar is its transparency in its policies,” said Mr Harmi.”

At this point any journalist truly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality would surely have told audiences about the Qatari regime’s lack of transparency and its disregard for “reforms and freedoms” in its own back yard.

“Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, both print and broadcast media content are influenced by leading families. The top five daily newspapers are privately owned, but their owners and boards include members of the ruling family. In 1996, Hamad permitted the creation of Al-Jazeera, which has achieved global reach. Although it is privately held, the government has reportedly paid for the channel’s operating costs since its inception. As a result, Al-Jazeera generally does not cover Qatari politics. All journalists in Qatar practice a high degree of self-censorship and face possible jail sentences for slander. In October 2013, a 15-year prison sentence was upheld for poet Mohamed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who was convicted in 2012 for insulting the emir through his poetry. Local news outlets were reportedly ordered by a Qatari court to refrain from covering the 2013 trial of two members of the royal family convicted for 19 deaths in a 2012 shopping mall fire.

In 2012, the Advisory Council approved a draft media law that would prevent journalists from being detained by authorities without a court order, and would allow them to protect their sources unless required to reveal them by a court. However, it also would impose fines of up to $275,000 for publishing or broadcasting material that criticizes the Qatari regime or its allies, insults the ruling family, or damages national interests.”

Sinjab’s next interviewee is Al Jazeera’s Director General and her report includes the following – apparently written with a straight face.

“Mr Abou Hilaleh says, contrary to a popular view, Al Jazeera’s coverage is not dictated by Qatar’s foreign policy.

“When I worked for Al Jazeera as a correspondent and now as a director, in both cases, we have nothing to do with Qatar’s foreign policy. But in certain countries, our offices are treated as embassies for Qatar.”

Let’s take a look at what Mohamed Fahmy – one of the Al Jazeera journalists detained and tried in Egypt – recently wrote in the New York Times.

“When Al Jazeera was started in 1996, Qatar was widely praised for its enlightened thinking. […]

Like many young Arabs, I was impressed. Al Jazeera seemed a model of courageous broadcasting in a region not known for upholding freedom of speech. That was still my view when I became Cairo bureau chief in September 2013.

I have since realized how deeply I, like the viewing public, was duped. I came to see how Qatar used Al Jazeera as a pernicious, if effective, tool of its foreign policy. […]

The Doha management also neglected to tell me that it was providing Brotherhood activists in Egypt with video cameras and paying them for footage, which it then broadcast, without explaining its political provenance, on the banned Arabic channel. During my detention, I met a number of prisoners who told me how this worked, and I have seen court documents confirming it.

Al Jazeera’s managers crossed an ethical red line. By attempting to manipulate Egypt’s domestic politics, they were endangering their employees.”

Those familiar with Al Jazeera’s record will of course not be surprised by Mr Fahmy’s words.

Lina Sinjab’s final ‘character witness’ is, like Khaled Masha’al, apparently also dependent on Qatari generosity.

“Husam al-Hafez, a former Syrian diplomat who defected to Doha, sees Qatar’s policy as pragmatic.”

In other words the BBC’s glowing – but cringingly superficial – portrayal of Qatari foreign policy is based entirely on the testimonies of two journalists from media outlets with links to the Qatari ruling regime and two people dependent upon that regime’s hospitality. No effort is made whatsoever to provide audiences with views which do not adhere to the party line or analysis from contributors not in some way dependent on the Qatari regime.

“One of the things about Qatar’s foreign policy is the extent to which it has been a complete and total failure, almost an uninterrupted series of disasters,” says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. “Except it’s all by proxy, so nothing bad ever happens to Qatar.”

So much for the BBC’s self-awarded title of “the standard-setter for international journalism“.

Related Articles: 

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part one