BBC’s Bowen provides a stage for Syrian propaganda

When the Russian state funded media organisation RT promotes outlandish notions of the type below – seen in an article on its website on September 4th – no-one is of course overly surprised.

““Of course, we know that there are different approaches to Syria. By the way, people are running away not from the regime of Bashar Assad, but from Islamic State, which seized large areas in Syria and Iraq, and are committing atrocities there. That is what they are escaping from,” RIA Novosti quoted Vladimir Putin as saying on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.” [emphasis added]

Eyebrows should though be raised when the BBC provides a stage for similar unchallenged propaganda from the mouth of the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister on its website, as was the case on September 3rd. The synopsis to that filmed report – titled “Syria: ‘Terrorist aggression to blame’ for refugee crisis” – reads:Bowen Mekdad report

“Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, has said that the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe is the direct result of terrorist aggression against Syria.

He blamed Islamist militants for forcing thousands from their homes and said the government had helped millions of displaced people.

Speaking to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, Mr Mekdad called for Syrians who had left the country to return.”

In the report itself visitors to the BBC News website see Mekdad make the following spurious claim:

The Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village and if you see at least the most recent attacks you will see them initiated by the terrorist factions and when these terrorist groups attack villages and cities you see a very big flood of people leaving those areas.” [emphasis added]

Mekdad later adds:

“When we see some leaders in Western Europe attacking the government of Syria day and night, I would like to assure you that those leaders have played a very big role in supporting terrorism in Syria because they are responsible for dispatching of these terrorist elements from their own countries under whatever pretext into Syria and into Iraq.”

The report as it stands on the BBC News website includes no qualification whatsoever to relieve audiences of the grossly inaccurate notion that the Assad regime has “never, ever” attacked Syrian civilians or of the idea that Western governments are “dispatching” people to join ISIS.

If this report was intended to contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of building “a global understanding of international issues” by means of accurate and impartial reporting, then obviously the crude propaganda of an official of the regime which has killed tens of thousands of its own people should have been clearly signposted as such. After all, Jeremy Bowen’s position was created with the ostensible aim of providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.

In the absence of any such clarification or even the faintest of challenges to Mekdad’s bogus claims from Jeremy Bowen, the BBC News website gives audiences very little reason to prefer it over Russian or Syrian regime sponsored media sites such as RT or SANA.

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Beyond the BBC narrative: Cardiff, coexistence and Israel

Cardiff council’s cancellation of a photography exhibition showing coexistence in Israel through football less than a day after it opened has recently been making news – although not, at the time of writing, on the BBC News website’s Wales or south-east Wales pages.

“The exhibition – called Jewish-Arab football: diversity and co-existence through lower-league football – was due to run for a week in Cardiff’s Central Library, but was shut down on council orders after complaints from undisclosed sources were received. […]

[Israeli] Embassy spokesman Yiftah Curiel said: “It is outrageous that the council has capitulated to people who hate Israel. The purpose of the exhibition is to celebrate racial and inter-faith harmony in Israel – something that is in stark contrast to what is happening elsewhere in the Middle East.

“Removing an exhibition showing how football promotes friendship between people of different backgrounds in Israel turns a celebration of coexistence into an ugly politics of division.”

Coexistence and cooperation between different religious and ethnic communities in Israel is of course evident in many other spheres besides football. Our colleagues at CAMERA recently reported on a meeting of Israeli Christian, Druze and Bedouin leaders in Nazareth, documented in this video.Nazareth

“As Ayoob Karra, the former Deputy Minister of Development for the Negev and Galilee pointed out: “If you look around in Syria, in Lebanon, in Egypt, you can find that it is not the human rights for Christians in all these states. Only in Israel they have power to say everything loudly.””

The article notes a growing new trend:

“The number of Christian Israelis in national and military service increased to 30% of all Christian high school graduates last year.

This surge in Christian enlistment in defense of Israel supplements the involvement of the Druze and Bedouin. Since 1957, at the request of their community leaders, IDF service has been mandatory for Druze men. It is not mandatory for Bedouins, but as in the case of Christians, the number of Bedouins volunteering for the army continues to increase steadily.”

Unfortunately, the daily coexistence of different religious and ethnic communities in Israel is not a subject with which BBC audiences in the UK or elsewhere are familiar because it gets next to no coverage from Britain’s leading news provider.

Were the BBC to portray Israel’s multi-cultural society as it really is rather than ignoring anything which does not fit in with its chosen narrative, perhaps those Cardiff councillors would have been better equipped to deal with politically motivated complaints from people apparently unable to stomach the sight of Jews and Arabs playing football together.

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Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

On September 2nd an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Arafat poisoning inquiry dropped by French prosecutors” and a similar report appeared on the BBC Arabic website.

Although this report is about the closure of an inquiry opened three years ago in August 2012 after Suha Arafat filed a civil suit at a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre claiming that her husband had been murdered, the caption to the main photograph illustrating the English language article continues to infer foul play.Arafat art 3 9 15  

“Swiss tests found abnormal levels of polonium on Yasser Arafat’s body”

That theme is also promoted in the body of the report:

“Arafat died in Paris in 2004, aged 75. His wife says he was poisoned, possibly by highly radioactive polonium.

The claims were seemingly backed up by tests carried out in Switzerland.”

Later on readers are informed that:

“Three teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators were allowed to take samples from Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah.

But, earlier this year, one French prosecutor said the polonium samples were of an environmental nature.”

Readers are not told that the Russian investigation also ruled out poisoning.

As we know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that its content must achieve both “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time“. The BBC’s coverage of this story over the past three years presents an opportunity to examine its adherence to those editorial standards.

The story began in July 2012 when an Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ claimed that Swiss experts had found “significant” traces of Polonium 210 on some of Arafat’s personal effects provided by his widow.

In August 2012 Suha Arafat filed her suit in Paris and BBC coverage at the time informed audiences that:

“…many Palestinians continue to believe that Israel poisoned him. Israel has denied any involvement.”

In November 2012 Arafat’s remains were exhumed. The BBC’s Jon Donnison had already prepared the scene with two reports on Arafat’s ‘legacy’ – here and here – and a filmed item in which he promoted the notion that Arafat was “killed at the hands of Israel”. Additional filmed and written coverage by Richard Galpin also promoted the PA’s conspiracy theory of Israeli involvement in Arafat’s death. The exhumation itself prompted no fewer than five reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, three of which again promoted conspiracy theories about Israel.

A year later, in November 2013, the appearance of a Swiss report with findings described as “moderately” supporting the poisoning theory prompted the BBC news website to produce no fewer than thirteen different reports, nine of which amplified conspiracy theories concerning Israel’s involvement in Arafat’s death.website 6 to 8 11

In December 2013 a leaked French report stating that Arafat was not poisoned was covered in two reports on the BBC News website, both of which included repetition of Palestinian conspiracy theories which accuse Israel of being responsible for Arafat’s death.

Later on in December 2013, the Russian team also announced that its findings ruled out foul play and that news was covered in one report on the BBC News website, which again promoted Palestinian conspiracy theories concerning Israel. By this time the website had promoted four times more reports promoting the Swiss report which “moderately supported” the poisoning theory than it had devoted to the French and Russian findings which determined that Arafat died of natural causes.

In January 2015 the BBC’s flagship interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ produced a special programme to “mark the anniversary” of Arafat’s death in which Suha Arafat was provided with a platform to further promote the notion that Arafat was murdered.

In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.

In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.

In August 2015 the BBC found it appropriate to rebroadcast its January 2015 ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Suha Arafat despite the fact that it was obvious that the case was heading towards closure.

In this latest article concerning the French authorities’ decision to close the case from September 2015, the Swiss results are once again promoted as noted above.

So has the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” covered this story with “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time”? Well, for a start, the fact that the BBC’s backgrounder on the topic has not been updated since December 2013 does not enhance the impression of commitment to accuracy.

The repeated – if not obsessive – amplification of a baseless conspiracy theory even after two teams of experts had ruled that Arafat died of natural causes certainly cannot be said to contribute to the impression of accuracy in BBC reporting and licence fee payers may well be asking themselves how the BBC can possibly justify the use of resources, air time and column space to repeatedly propagate fact-free myth-cum-folklore and why it has spent three years lending an air of plausibility to this particular conspiracy theory.

As for impartiality, the volume of coverage of the Swiss results which “moderately” supported the poisoning theory has clearly been much greater than the BBC’s reporting on the results produced by the other two teams and their continued amplification even in this latest report suggests that “impartiality over time” was not a priority in coverage of this story.

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No BBC coverage of Gaza border shooting incident

Early on the evening of September 2nd a house in the Western Negev agricultural community of Netiv Ha’Asara was hit by bullets fired from the Gaza Strip and two children had a very lucky escape.Netiv Haasara

“One of the bullets shattered the window of a home in the Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara and hit a television while two children, aged 6 and 9, were watching it.

The other hit a wall in the home just north of the Strip.

Their mother and a baby were also at home at the time. No injuries were reported.

Initial reports indicated the two bullets were stray sniper bullets that originated from a Hamas training camp on the other side of the border, the IDF said.”

Later that night the IDF responded with strikes on the source of the gunfire, which has for several months been a concern for residents of Netiv Ha’Asara.

The BBC did not report on that incident despite clearly being aware that it had taken place.

Netiv haasara incident Abualouf tweet

Similarly, missile fire claimed by Salafists in the Gaza Strip early on the morning of September 1st and an additional incident later the same day did not receive BBC coverage. In both cases the missiles fell short and there were reports that the second missile attack caused injuries to civilians in the Gaza Strip when one of the missiles fell on a house.

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More BBC downplaying of Iranian destabilisation of the Middle East

An article by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 31st under the title “Four wars and counting: Making sense of the anti-IS struggle” once again provides some interesting insight into the BBC’s Middle East narrative.Marcus ISIS

The article opens as follows:

“Adversity, they say, makes strange bedfellows. This is especially true in the contemporary Middle East.

The rise of so-called Islamic State (IS), which controls a swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq, has prompted the creation of a large, multinational coalition including the US, Turkey, and Washington’s Gulf allies, all intent on its destruction.

So too of course is Iran and, not surprisingly, Israel. This has resulted, for example, in pro-Iranian militias in Iraq appearing to be on the same side as the US.”

Marcus does not provide any supporting evidence for his dramatic claim that Israel is “intent” on the “destruction” of ISIS. Of course a more accurate and realistic portrayal would have clarified to readers that Israeli policy is to prevent ISIS, groups affiliated with it, or any other Islamist extremist elements from undermining her security – as clarified by the Israeli prime minister in July of this year.   

“We are partners with the Egyptians, and many other states in the Middle East and the world, in our battle against radical Islamic terrorism. This terrorism is directed by two different entities – Iran, and the radical Shiites, and ISIS and the radical Sunnis, as well as factions like Hamas.”

And:

“The world is facing two major threats, he [Netanyahu] said, the Islamic State threat, and the Iranian threat. “We should not strengthen one at the expense of the other,” he said, “we need to weaken both and prevent the aggression and military buildup of both of them.””

Later on in the article, the subject of Iran and its proxies is presented in muted language which does little more than obliquely hint at the real scale and significance of that issue and does nothing to clarify to BBC audiences exactly why so many actors in the region regard Iran as a very real threat.

“America’s Gulf allies – the Saudis and Qatar for example – have also been supporting various groups in Syria but they have had their eye very much on a second war: the battle against Iranian influence in the region exemplified by the embattled Syrian regime of President Assad and his (and Iran’s) Hezbollah allies from Lebanon.[…]

For the Gulf Arabs, the struggle against Iran is every bit as important as the battle against IS – possibly even more so. […]

The counter-Iranian struggle is also being played out in Yemen where the Saudis and their allies have intervened militarily […]”

Under the sub-heading “Israeli alliances”, towards the end of the article readers find the following:

“Indeed a fifth “war” – the region’s longest-running conflict – that between Israel and the Palestinians is also being influenced by the rise of IS.”

Some of course might question that description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the region’s longest running” and exactly how it is supposedly “being influenced by the rise of IS” is left unclear. Marcus continues:

“The collapse of Syria as a military player is a mixed blessing for Israel.

IS-inspired groups are active on both its northern border and in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. But the rise of IS (and a shared concern about Iran) has brought Israel and the so-called moderate Arab states closer together.

The most obvious manifestation of this are the growing military ties between Israel and Jordan. Israel has sold or transferred both attack helicopters and drones to Amman over recent weeks.

There are reports too that when Israeli and Jordanian warplanes flew to the US recently for a multinational exercise, the Jordanian F16s were accompanied on their transit by Israeli tanker aircraft.”

Jordan and Israel of course signed a peace treaty over two decades ago and collaboration in various fields is not novel. But even if that unverified report from one American website about accompanying Israeli aircraft and the similarly unconfirmed statement concerning retired helicopters originating from one anonymous Pentagon official do indeed prove to be correct, what is remarkable here is that Marcus puts the focus on ISIS as the reason for apparently extended ties between “Israel and the so-called moderate Arab states” whilst relegating the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme and the theocratic regime’s patronage of regional terrorist groups to a euphemistic comment in brackets.

He concludes:

“While all of the attention of analysts has been focused on the potential collapse of two existing countries – Syria and Iraq – the real driving force in regional politics is the response to the rise of two putative new states, the caliphate of Islamic State on the one hand, and the potential emergence of a new Kurdish nation of some kind on the other.

It is not just the demise of the old order that is forging unusual alliances, but the shock of the new.”

What Marcus coyly describes as “a shared concern about Iran” is obviously a no less “real” and important factor in contemporary Middle Eastern “regional politics” than ISIS or a potential Kurdish state. However, as has been the narrative in much of the BBC’s previous reporting, the issue of Iran’s destabilization of the region (particularly in Syria where its backing of the Assad regime has resulted in far more civilian deaths than those caused by ISIS) is downplayed and audiences are once again deprived of the full range of information needed to build a “global understanding of international issues”.  

Related Articles:

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BBC Trust consultation on local radio and news in England

The BBC Trust is currently running a public consultation on the topic of BBC local radio and local news and current affairs in England.

“The purpose of this consultation is to review BBC Local Radio and BBC local and news and current affairs in England. It covers: BBC Local Radio in England; BBC regional news and current affairs in England on TV; and BBC local news online.”

However, this particular review does not include:

“The BBC’s national news and current affairs output, i.e. news made available to, or targeted at, UK wide audiences. This was considered in our review of Network News and Current Affairs published in April 2014

BBC news and current affairs output made for and broadcast in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This will be considered in a separate review, due to start later this year

Editorial standards and impartiality. Service reviews do not consider editorial standards or give an assessment of accuracy and impartiality. However, as high editorial standards are a key component of high-quality speech and news services, we will consider any issues around compliance with editorial standards through this review.”

The consultation runs until September 28th 2015 and the online survey, together with more details, can be found here.

On a related note, readers may be interested to know that despite the BBC Trust having partially upheld a complaint concerning the wording used in articles about comments made by the former MP David Ward over two years ago and an amendment having subsequently been made to an article appearing on the UK Politics page of the BBC News website, another article on the same subject still available in the ‘Leeds & West Yorkshire’ local news section of the website continues to exhibit the same inaccurate language which was the subject of the complaint upheld by the BBC Trust. Clearly then the issues of communication and continuity might be among those raised in this consultation. 

screenshot taken 2/9/15

screenshot taken 2/9/15

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Yolande Knell passes up chance to mend previous BBC stereotyping

The August 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ – presented by Eddie Mair – included an item (from 36:40 here) by Yolande Knell of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau.

Mair’s introduction includes the simplistic description of a village located in Area B according to the terms of the Oslo Accords as being “in the occupied West Bank”:PM hilltop youth

“Last month an arson attack in the occupied West Bank killed a Palestinian baby and his father. It brought wider attention to a small group of young Jewish settlers who in the past conducted acts of vandalism but now advocate violence against Muslims and Christians and try to undermine the Israeli state. Yolande Knell reports.”

Neither Mair nor Knell bothered to clarify to listeners that to date no-one has been charged with the arson attack in Duma and Knell opened with some clear signposting for audiences. 

Knell: “Back at the scene of a shocking attack, Mohammed Dawabshe shows me the blackened interior of his cousin’s tiny house in Duma, south of Nablus.  Last month it was set on fire at night. Eighteen month-old Ali burned to death and later his father died of his injuries. His mother and brother remain seriously ill in hospital. ‘Revenge’ in Hebrew was painted on a nearby wall. It’s thought Israeli settlers did this.” [emphasis added]

Knell continues, paraphrasing her guide’s words:

“‘Nothing like this ever happened in our village before. Nobody in the world would accept it’, Mohammed says. ‘These are crazy terrorists’.

She goes on:

“In the car, we’ve left Duma and we’re driving around this part of the West Bank where there are many Jewish settlements but also outposts. These are usually just collections of caravans or tents where young Israelis are living up on the hilltops. While settlements are seen as illegal under international law, these outposts are also illegal under Israeli law.”

As usual, no effort is made to inform audiences of the existence of other legal opinions on the topic.

Knell continues:

“I’ve come to meet a settler grandmother who’s an inspiration to many from the so-called hilltop youth. They believe Jewish settlement of the land is a primary obligation and some advocate violent means. To most Israelis the views of Daniella Weiss are extreme but she has her own disputes with ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious settlers.”

Were Knell to aspire to true accuracy and impartiality, she would have informed her listeners that not only do the overwhelming majority of Israelis find Weiss’ views extreme, but so too do most of those whom the BBC elects to call ‘settlers’. Listeners then hear from Daniella Weiss, although it is difficult to imagine that those few sentences would have contributed much to audience understanding of the report’s supposed subject matter.

Weiss: “It’s not the majority numbers: this is the sect which is composed of a few hundred people who thinks that Jews and Arabs cannot live hear together – no option at all. And there’s another philosophy which would not accept the idea that the current – mainly secular- government in the existing state of Israel is of any value.”

Knell goes on:

“After the Duma attack Israeli security forces and the media went into overdrive, investigating individuals they described as Jewish terrorists. Israeli Channel 10 reported a manifesto belonging to one cell. It details how to set churches and mosques ablaze and recommends burning people inside their houses. The aim is to stoke violence and weaken the Israeli state.”

Knell refrains from informing listeners that the security forces did not just ‘investigate’ but also made arrests – including the author of the ‘manifesto’ she describes and his cell. She continues:

“The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a tough approach but Palestinian officials say that if his right-wing government wants to stop settler attacks, it must stop supporting settlements on land they want for their future state.”

Knell refrains from clarifying to audiences that according to the Oslo Accords – signed willingly by representatives of the Palestinian people – the future of Area C is to be determined in final status negotiations or that the same accords include no restrictions on Israeli building in Area C.

After a short contribution from PMO spokesman Mark Regev, Knell moves on to another location.

“It’s evening time in Qusra – a Palestinian village near Duma. In recent years it’s experienced dozens of attacks by settlers from nearby outposts. They’ve lost land and trees, had property damaged and their sheep killed. This area’s under full Israeli control so there are no Palestinian police. Now local men such as Abdel al Addin [phonetic] organise night watches.”

Both a report by the Palestinian political NGO ARIJ and maps produced by the NGO B’Tselem (often quoted and promoted by the BBC) place the residential part of Qusra in Area B where civil affairs are fully the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and security is under the joint control of Israel and the PA. Some of the village’s agricultural lands apparently do lie in Area C but Knell’s claim that Qusra is “under full Israeli control” is clearly inaccurate and misleading. Coincidentally, the Wikipedia entry for Qursa wrongly places the village in Area C, apparently on the basis of an inaccurate claim in an article which appeared in the Economist four years ago.

After telling audiences more about the night watches (which are actually not as new as this report suggests), Knell closes with the following take-away message:

“With no efforts to reach a peace deal in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tensions here continue to simmer and can flare up dangerously at any time.”

This report was billed from the beginning as being about the ‘hilltop youth’ and – as Eddie Mair correctly noted in his introduction – the aim of at least some of the groups falling under that title is to “try to undermine the Israeli state”. Knell also noted that the aim of the cell whose members are now in custody is to “stoke violence and weaken the Israeli state”.

It is therefore unclear why in her closing lines Knell materially misleads audiences by suggesting that the absence of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has any influence whatsoever upon what are essentially anarchist groups which reject the authority of the Israeli government. Clearly that knee-jerk closing mantra did nothing to enhance audience understanding of this particular ‘international issue’.

This item presented an ideal opportunity for the BBC to undo some of its previous stereotyping of the half million people it calls ‘settlers’ by providing audiences with more comprehensive background information on the small groups known as ‘hilltop youth’ and explaining the differences between them and the vast majority of residents of Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem. Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation for impartiality, Yolande Knell did not rise to the occasion.

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More BBC News rebranding of Munich Olympics terrorists

The current edition of the BBC News feature ‘This week in history’ includes the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972.

As can be seen below, both in the synopsis to the clip appearing on the BBC News website and in the on-screen caption in the video itself, the BBC has once again avoided the use of the word terror, preferring to describe the perpetrators as “Palestinian extremists” and a “Palestinian extremist group”.

This week in history Munich

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Mission creep in BBC Trending report on Egyptian graduate’s speech about Israel

A few days ago we posted here a video of a speech made by Tel Aviv University valedictorian Haisam Hassanein who was born in Egypt.

Nine days later, BBC Trending produced a video relating to the same topic which was promoted on social media and in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Trending TA Uni vid on ME pge

The video – made by BBC Arabic’s Mai Norman – includes frames of excerpts from Haisam Hassanein’s speech interspersed with comment from the video maker, edited written responses to the original film and comment from two interviewees.

Examples of comment from the video maker include:

Trending TAU vid comment 1

Trending TAU vid comment 2

Audiences then see an unidentified woman saying:

“I find no fit between what he said and what I see in my everyday life.”

Viewers are told that the film of Hassanien’s speech went viral “but many Egyptians were angry”. “Many” is of course a very unclear term: there are currently 385 responses to the film – not all of them from Egyptians by any means – and some of those that are from Egyptians are very positive.  Viewers are then shown edited versions of a few of the comments left on that Youtube page.Trending TAU vid comment 3The full version of Hatim Boturos’ comment is as follows:

Trending TAU vid Hatim Boutros full

Viewers then see the following frames. The word ‘Jewish’ does not appear in Hassanein’s speech at that point and was inserted by the video maker.

Trending TAU vid frame kibbutzim

Trending TAU vid frame relationship

Another comment from the video maker then appears:

Trending TAU vid comment easy

The film then cuts to commentary from the same woman shown before – this time identified.

Trending TAU vid RNM

“What he said has nothing to do at all with what we experience every day as Palestinians in Israel. I wish at some point in the near future that the picture will be very similar to what he draw but up till now things are very different.”

Rula Nasr-Mazzawi is from Nazareth. She is actually an industrial organisational psychologist (not a psychiatrist as claimed by the BBC) who studied at the University of Haifa for her BA and MA, as well as at San Jose State University. Prior to her current position, she worked for Kav Mashve: a non-profit organization established to promote the employment of Arab-Israeli academics. Kav Mashve was set up by the Manufacturers Association of Israel and others and its activities are supported by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Of course that side of the picture gets no mention in Ms Nasr-Mazzawi’s mini-monologue or in Mai Norman’s film in general.

The ostensible reason for BBC Trending’s pick-up of this story is that the video of Haisam Hassanein’s speech got a lot of views on You Tube. Although BBC Trending claims that its mission is “[r]eporting on what’s being shared and asking why it matters“, rather than exploring – for instance – why so many people found the film interesting or what causes citizens of Egypt to hold such obviously mistaken beliefs and stereotypes about Israel, BBC Trending seemed to be more interested in discrediting Hassanein’s impressions and presenting  counter views to what it described in the synopsis to this filmed report as his “surprising take on Israel”.

Why was that mission creep deemed editorially acceptable? 

 

BBC amplification of Iranian regime charm offensive misleads audiences

BBC audiences could not have failed to notice the dominant theme promoted in the headlines of the plethora of multi-platform reports produced by Kim Ghattas during her recent visit to Iran.Ghattas Iran filmed

Iran to work with rivals for peace – VP Masumeh Ebtekar  (BBC News website, 18/8/15)

‘Iran Nuclear Deal Will Promote Peace’ (‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio, 18/8 15)

Iran VP Masoumeh Ebtekar: Nuclear deal ‘will help promote peace’  (BBC television news & BBC News website, 18/8/15)

Iran nuclear deal a step for ‘global peace’ (BBC television news & BBC News website, 18/8/15)

Iran Vice President: “We will promote peace and stability” (‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio, 18/8/15)

All of the above reports were based on an interview with one of Iran’s twelve vice-presidents, Masumeh Ebtekar. With the BBC not having had a permanent correspondent in Tehran for six years, Ghattas’ visit obviously presented a rare opportunity to provide audiences with an up-close, unembellished portrayal of a theocratic regime notorious for its human rights abuses which has recently featured heavily in the news and to enhance their understanding of the country and its influence on the region.

However, not only did almost half an hour of blatant regime propaganda go largely unchallenged in any meaningful manner by Ghattas but the ‘peace’ theme promoted in Ebtekar’s well-spoken charm offensive was amplified in the headlines the BBC chose for those reports.

When Ghattas raised the topic of Iran’s support for Assad and Hizballah – one of the obvious contemporary examples of Iran promoting anything but regional peace and stability – she not only allowed her interviewee to dodge the real issues but provided her with a platform for the promotion of crude propaganda.

Ebtekar: “You know Palestine has always…the issue of Palestine has always been a legacy for the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s always been supporting the oppressed against the oppressor. It’s always been supporting a cause which is just and deals with a nation which is now oppressed because it has no home.”

Ghattas: “But we’re talking about Syria.”

Ebtekar: “Yeah but Syria is part of that. It’s part of the movement to support Palestine in a sense. It’s part of a general approach in the region to support the Palestinian nation, to resist; it’s part of the resistance. It’s important, I think, that a lot of the equations in the region take shape on the basis of the resistance movement and that is to resist occupation, to resist oppression.”

Ghattas noted the civilian death toll in Syria and the Assad regime’s use of barrel bombs against its own people before adopting her interviewee’s terminology:

“How does that fit into the issue of resistance and what do you tell those Syrians who are suffering today?”

Again, she allowed Ebtekar to dodge the real issue.Ghattas Iran audio

Ebtekar: “I think that what has happened in the past few decades in this part of the world, it has created many reasons for nations like the Syrian nation or the Lebanese nation to feel threatened by the policies of the Zionist regime. They have been increasing their settlements; they have been pushing forward in different areas, occupying many of the lands belonging to the Palestinians. So it is considered as an imminent threat and that is a reason for resistance and that is a reason for governments like the government of Syria to stand up in the face of that.”

In addition to failing to challenge that whitewashing of the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people, Ghattas made no attempt to relieve viewers of the misleading and inaccurate impressions created by her interviewee in relation to ‘increasing’ settlements or ‘occupying’ lands. Later on when Ghattas asked if any of the funds freed up by sanctions relief will be funneled to the Assad regime, she allowed Ebtekar to fob viewers off with talk of “environmental challenges” and “green technologies”.

Kim Ghattas’ failure to cut through any of the slick replies to her questions means that this widely promoted interview obviously did nothing to advance the BBC’s purpose to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues”.  Rather, it actively misled BBC audiences by herding them towards ridiculous notions such as the idea that hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians have been killed by their own government and millions more forced to seek refuge in Europe and elsewhere because of Israel.  

The idea that a regime which produces violent anti-Israel propaganda videos and includes officials who state openly that “[o]ur positions against the usurper Zionist regime have not changed at all; Israel should be annihilated and this is our ultimate slogan” is a force for regional stability and peace is plainly risible. Nevertheless, the BBC chose to amplify that absurdity, selling out Syrians, Israelis, Iranians and many more along the way. 

Sadly, given the BBC’s record of reporting on Iran in recent months, there is nothing remotely surprising about that.

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