The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part one

• How many complaints were made to the BBC over the last 5 years on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were upheld (i.e. the BBC makes a correction) on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were rejected by the BBC (i.e. no corrective action taken)?

Whilst none of the questions above may seem particularly controversial, the BBC refused to answer them when, in April 2013, they were presented by Mr Neil Turner – as previously explained in this article – as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. What followed over the next twelve months will be of considerable interest to the many readers whose expressions of frustration with the BBC’s labyrinthine complaints procedures drop into our inbox every day.

With the BBC having refused to answer the questions above posed by one of its licence fee payers, Mr Turner asked his Member of Parliament for help in retrieving the information from the BBC’s director general Tony Hall and chair of the BBC Trust Chris Patten. But despite the MP’s significant help, that request was also unsuccessful, as were further communications Mr Turner then made to BBC executives.

The BBC’s refusal to release the requested information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act cited a clause with which those familiar with the decade-long story of the Balen Report will be only too familiar: it claimed that the BBC was not required under the terms of the FOIA to respond to Mr Turner’s questions, because the corporation is only subject to the FOIA  “in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.”

In other words, the same claim used for the last decade to prevent publication of the Balen Report was again employed to avoid providing the information requested by Mr Turner.

In July 2013 Mr Turner contacted the Information Commissioner with regard to the BBC’s refusal to answer his questions under the FOIA, but the Commissioner backed the BBC’s stance, again citing the “journalism, art or literature” clause – as explained in the parts of the response reproduced below.






Mr Turner’s subsequent appeal to the Information Commissioner also upheld the BBC’s stance. His approach to the Information Rights Tribunal in November 2013 was followed in March 2014 by a surprising about-turn in the BBC’s position and a letter from the BBC’s Litigation Department which included the information below.

reply complaints 1

reply complaints 2

reply complaints 3

reply complaints 4

reply complaints 5

reply complaints 6

Despite this provision of previously withheld information to him personally, Mr Turner maintained that the purpose of the FOIA is to make information available to the public at large rather than just to interested individuals.  A week later, Mr Turner was informed by the BBC that should he not withdraw his appeal, he would be pursued for the corporation’s legal costs. As a private citizen without professional legal backing, Mr Turner had no choice but to comply.

This case – in particular given the BBC’s sudden change of stance – of course once again raises questions about the BBC’s use of the “journalism, art and literature” clause of the FOIA,  as indeed does the continuing Balen Report saga.

In part two of this article we will look at what the information provided by the BBC tells us about its complaints procedure.   






One to listen out for on the BBC World Service

On Saturday April 19th the BBC World Service programme ‘The Documentary’ will broadcast an edition titled “Africans in the Holy Land” at 18:06 GMT. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:Africans in the Holy Land WS

“Paul Bakibinga travels to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to explore the lives and experiences of people from three different African communities. 

Mahmoud Salamat takes Paul around the narrow alleyways of the old city of Jerusalem to the hidden African quarter and introduces a small but close-knit community, who are descendants of Muslim pilgrims or soldiers who came to the Holy Land during the time of the British Mandate. 

Paul also explores the experiences of different Ethiopian Jews who have returned to their ancient homeland, including rising star musician Ester Rada. 

And he spends time in South Tel Aviv, where the bulk of African asylum-seekers live – stuck in a legal limbo amid growing hostility from politicians and local residents. The state cannot deport them – but neither will it grant them refugee status.”

Mahmoud Salamat previously appeared in another BBC feature back in March 2010 – titled “In pictures: Jerusalem’s African quarter” by Heather Sharp.

BBC African quarter 2010

The ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website currently features a filmed report about Israeli singer Ester Rada which also appears on the website’s Middle East page.

Ester Rada

With Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt of course being part of Africa, it will be interesting to see whether Paul Bakibinga also addresses the subject of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who originate from those African countries and the reasons for their mass exodus from the countries of their birth.

The BBC World Service might care to correct the caption to the photograph illustrating this programme’s webpage which currently reads:

“Picture: A ‘Kessim’, a leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community”

The ending ‘im’ in Hebrew indicates the plural form of a masculine word: thus the two words “A Kessim” are incompatible. One religious leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community is a Kess - spelled קס or קייס in Hebrew and originating from Amharic – and the plural form of the word is Kessim קסים or קייסים.  




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

As we well know, the BBC’s use of the word terror and its derivatives is highly inconsistent (and has been for many years) – as it stated itself last year in a reply to a complaint from a member of the public.

“The BBC has specific guidelines on this that do not proscribe use of the term but advise editors to consider the particular circumstances. It has never been outlawed by the whole of BBC News and so there’s little we can usefully add to your comparison, which involves citing one specific story in comparison with the BBC’s Middle East coverage more generally, despite their clear differences, in your belief that our approach is inconsistent.

We can only reiterate that there is no general approach and decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis.” [emphasis added]

In previous posts we have noted here that terrorism can apparently be named as such by the BBC in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well as in Spain. Three more recent BBC reports show that according to the BBC, terrorism also happens in Norway and in the United States and that “terrorism messages” can be sent in the Netherlands.

Terror Norway

In Kenya and in some parts of the Middle East, however, different standards have been shown to prevail, with use of the word terror or its variations more often than not presented in deliberately distancing punctuation or as a quotation and consistent adoption of euphemistic terms such as “militants”.

The BBC’s guidance on “Language when Reporting Terrorism” seems to contradict the above response to a complaint: [emphasis added]

“Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism. We recognise the existence and the reality of terrorism – at this point in the twenty first century we could hardly do otherwise. Moreover, we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones.

We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services. We have learnt from the experience of covering such events in Northern Ireland as much as in Israel, Spain, Russia, Southern Africa or the many other places where violence divides communities, and where we seek to be seen as objective by all sides, that labels applied to groups can sometimes hinder rather than help.”

Clearly, as the examples above indicate, that aspiration for consistency is not being achieved. The apparent reason for that can – ironically – be presumed to lie in another section of those same guidelines.

“The value judgements frequently implicit in the use of the words “terrorist” or “terrorist group” can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality. [….]

We also need to ask ourselves whether by using “terrorist” we are taking a political position, or certainly one that may be seen as such.”

As has been posited here before, the BBC’s avoidance of use of the word terror in certain definable geographic areas is just as much a “value judgement” and a statement of a “political position” as is its employment in stories which take place elsewhere.

If shooting attacks by a far-right extremist in Norway justifiably get the 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,  then it is difficult to conceive of any motivation for the markedly different description of similar attacks or activities elsewhere which does not stem from a political position regarding the perpetrators – or their victims.

A particularly interesting case study is that of the January 2013 attacks on the Amenas gas plant in Algeria. BBC coverage at the time was criticized in the UK Parliament for its choice of wording.  

“The Prime Minister said the attack that killed six Britons should be “condemned utterly” after a Conservative MP expressed “surprise and disappointment” at the broadcaster’s reporting.

The BBC, which has strict guidelines for reporters on the terms they should adopt, described the attackers as “militants” 12 times in one report on its website.

However, in the same report, the only use of the term “terrorists” occurred in a quotation from remarks by the Algerian prime minister.

During a debate on the hostage crisis in the Commons, Andrew Bridgen the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, asked the Prime Minister: “Are you as surprised and disappointed as I am that the BBC have consistently described the perpetrators of these heinous crimes as militants rather than the terrorists which they are?”

Mr Cameron said his colleague had made a “good point” adding: “These are terrorists and they should be described as such.

“This was a terrorist attack, it was to take hostages, to kill them, to kill innocent people and it should be condemned utterly.” “

Notably, later BBC reporting on the incident showed a reversal of policy. An edition of the BBC Two programme ‘This World’ broadcast in August, September and November 2013 used the word terror in its title and in the programme synopsis.

This World

An article which appeared in the magazine section of the BBC News website in August 2013 under the title “Algeria siege: ‘I wore a necklace bomb’” also did not shy away from clarifying to readers that the attackers were terrorists. The article opens:

“The survivors of January’s siege of an Algerian gas plant still cannot believe they are alive. Forty of their colleagues died when Islamic militants took them hostage. The Algerian army opened fire on the convoy of hostages and terrorists as they broke out of the plant. It is only now that some have felt able to tell their stories.

For BP team leader Lou Fear and his wife Lori at home in the UK, the morning of 16 January 2013 began as usual with a text message from Lou. But the content was anything but normal.

It told her terrorists were roaming around – the plant was under attack. Lou was barricaded in his office with some colleagues and hiding behind a filing cabinet. The militants were just outside.” [emphasis added]

Later it states:

Three dozen terrorists from the Signed in Blood Battalion linked to al-Qaeda had taken Algerian military police, responsible for security, completely by surprise. First they attacked a bus carrying workers just outside the compound then broke into the plant itself.” [emphasis added]

In fact, the word ‘terrorists’ – or versions of it – appears some nineteen times in that article. Clearly the claim made in the BBC’s guidelines that “we try to avoid the word ourselves” because “terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones” did not apply in this case.

Whether that shift in policy was the result of the previous criticism from parliamentary sources is unclear, but certainly the BBC should not be surprised when people in other countries raise concerns similar to those expressed in the British parliament.

The topic of the double standards displayed by the BBC’s selective and inconsistent use of the term terror is one well worth continued observation and mapping.  

BBC’s profile of Ansar Bayt al Maqdis out of date

The BBC News website’s profile of the Sinai-based Salafi Jihadist terrorist group Ansar Bayt al Maqdis – complied by BBC Monitoring – was last updated in January 2014.Profile Ansar Bayt al Maqdis

Since the beginning of April 2014 Ansar Bayt al Maqdis has been declared a proscribed terrorist organization by the UK government (see page 5) and designated as a foreign terrorist organization and a specially designated global terrorist entity by the US State Department. In addition, an Egyptian court ruled on April 14th that the group is a terrorist organization.

Clearly it is time for an update to the BBC’s Ansar Bayt al Maqdis profile.

Related Articles:

Sources, outsourcing fact-checking and the BBC

Latest Sinai-based terror attack on tourism targets comes as a revelation to the BBC

75% of January terror activity on Israel’s southern borders ignored by BBC







More changes to BBC website article on Route 35 terror attack

Since the appearance of our post yesterday evening regarding the BBC’s treatment of the terror attack on April 14th in which Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi was killed and his wife and son injured as they travelled to a family holiday meal, the BBC’s report on the subject has undergone further changes, including a new title.later vers route 35 attack art

The report now appears on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Middle East peace talks meeting postponed after killing” and readers can view all the changes which have been made to the report since its initial publication at around 22:35 GMT/UCT on April 15th (approximately 28 hours after the terror attack took place) here.

In the original version of the report a mere thirty-four words were used to inform BBC audiences about the terror attack on the family and the victim remained unnamed in the first two versions of the article – despite that information having been available since the late evening of April 15th. In the report’s latest version, the attack is described as follows in non-consecutive paragraphs appearing throughout the piece. [all emphasis added]

“A meeting between Palestinian and Israeli peace negotiators has been postponed in the wake of a killing of an Israeli in the West Bank. […]

Israeli officials declined to give a reason, but the shooting of an off-duty policeman on Monday has caused outrage. […]

The official declined to explain the decision, but said Monday’s killing of Baruch Mizrahi, a high-ranking officer in Israeli police intelligence, had been the “direct result of ongoing incitement and glorification of terrorism that we see in the official Palestinian media and education system”. […]

Israeli security forces are still hunting for the gunman who opened fire on Mr Mizrahi’s car outside Hebron. His wife and child were also wounded.”

In other words, the BBC has still not adequately clarified to its audiences the fact that this was a terror attack, with the only reference to terrorism coming in the form of a quotation from an unidentified Israeli official. Once again, no mention is made of the praise for the attack issued by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Additionally, the report’s latest version continues to promote to BBC audiences the misleading notion of six-month-old building tenders as a reason for the collapse of negotiations and introduces the subject of the deduction of debt payments from tax transfers, but again without fully clarifying the issue to readers.

Related Articles:

Route 35 terror attack gets a grand total of 34 words in BBC report

Fatal terror attack in Judea – BBC silent

Route 35 terror attack gets a grand total of 34 words in BBC report

Over twenty-eight hours after the April 14th terror attack on Route 35 in which father of five Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi was murdered and his wife and son injured, the BBC finally managed to come up with a brief mention of the incident, buried at the bottom of an article titled  “Israelis and Palestinians in bid to extend peace talks” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the night of April 15th.

The article was illustrated using the misleading photograph below (which appeared at the top of the report’s original version and was moved further down about 12 hours after its initial publication, only to be removed completely in an even later version of the report) which reasonable readers would interpret as intending to inform them of some sort of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

talks art w attack pic

The photograph’s equally misleading caption reads:

“Tensions are high in Hebron after an Israeli policeman was killed in the West Bank”

That choice of wording reinforces the mistaken impression already given to BBC audiences by the photograph that the said policeman was killed in the line of duty rather than in a terror attack against him and his family. 

In the original article’s final paragraph the BBC managed to come up with the following thirty-four words to describe the incident, with notable use of the politically partial term “occupied West Bank”:

“Israel is also angry at the killing of an off-duty Israeli policeman in the occupied West Bank on Monday on the eve of the Passover Jewish holiday. The officer’s wife and child were wounded.”

talks art w attack para

The fact that this was a terror attack in which a Palestinian terrorist deliberately targeted random Israelis travelling along a major road is concealed from readers, along with the actual circumstances of the incident - details of which were amply available by the time the BBC got round to composing this report.

“The senior Israeli police officer was killed while driving to Hebron to celebrate Passover with his wife’s family. His pregnant wife, Hadas, was moderately injured in the attack and was transferred to Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem for treatment. The couple’s five children spent the holiday with their relatives as planned, and on Monday night were informed by their mother of their father’s death.

Hadas Mizrahi told the Ynet news website that while driving, her husband had seen the terrorist and cried “They’re shooting, they’re shooting, there’s a terrorist.” After her husband was shot, she took the wheel, drove out of sight, and alerted the authorities.

“I covered my blood with a rag,” Hadas, who was shot twice and broke a rib, said. “I saw that Baruch was dead. When the soldiers arrived I told them ‘Bandage me and take the children to the armored vehicle, so that they don’t see their father lying [there] dead.’

In the version of the report after amendment some 12 hours later, those thirty-four words became forty-one with the appearance of “a gunman”, an apparent realisation of the inappropriateness of the use of the term “occupied West Bank” by a supposedly impartial news organisation and a misleading new location for the incident which actually took place near the village of Idhna.

“Israel is also angry at the killing of an off-duty Israeli policeman by a gunman in the West Bank on Monday, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover. His wife and child were wounded in the attack outside Hebron.”

In the even later version of the report, that paragraph was changed slightly yet again:

“Tensions were raised on Monday when an off-duty Israeli policeman was killed by a gunman in the West Bank, on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover. His wife and child were wounded in the attack outside Hebron.”

In the report’s first two versions, audiences were not informed of the fact that no condemnation of the attack came from the Palestinian Authority until two days afterwards or of the celebratory announcements issued by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The report’s later version promotes the statement made in condemnation of the attack by the PA Minister for religious affairs, but fails to inform audiences that the same minister praised convicted terrorists just two weeks previously.talks art w attack

Additionally, the article continues to mislead BBC audiences with regard to the current impasse in the talks between Israel and the PLO, with the original version having stated:

“The talks hit a major crisis this month when both sides took what Washington called “unhelpful steps”.

The Palestinians launched moves to join 15 UN treaties and bodies, while Israel refused to release a tranche of Palestinian prisoners and unveiled plans for more settler homes in east Jerusalem.”

In the later version those paragraphs were altered to read as follows:

“The direct talks, which resumed last July, appeared on the verge of collapse earlier this month when both sides took what the US called “unhelpful steps”.

The Palestinians submitted applications to join 15 UN treaties and conventions, while Israel refused to release a fourth group of 26 long-term Palestinian prisoners and reissued tenders for more than 700 new homes at a Jewish settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.”

Whilst in fact there is no clause in the agreement which was the precursor to this round of talks which limits Israeli construction of what it chooses to term “settler homes” (thereby pinning clearly political colours to its supposedly impartial mast), the BBC continues – as has been the case in its last two reports on the subject – to imply to audiences that the reissuing of building tenders first publicized six months ago for housing in a Jerusalem neighbourhood which, according to any realistic scenario will remain under Israeli control in any final status agreement, was somehow a contributing straw to the breaking of the camel’s back.

Notably too, Israel is inaccurately described as having “refused” to release the fourth and final tranche of Palestinian prisoners whereas in fact the release was actually delayed until the PA made its unilateral bid to join UN agencies: a move which was in breach of the agreement from last July which kick-started the current round of negotiations.

 The organization which cynically claims to aspire to “remain the standard-setter for international journalism” continues to lower the bar in order to reduce those ‘standards’ to the deliberate misleading of audiences and the whitewashing of Palestinian terrorism. Hence, it is worth reminding ourselves of the wording of the opening sentence of the BBC’s own guidelines on the subject of reporting terrorism: 

“We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly.” 

None of those four conditions was met in the BBC’s reporting of the Route 35 terror attack.  




BBC continues to yawn at PA glorification of terrorism

We have noted here on numerous occasions in the past that the consistent glorification of terrorism by official Palestinian Authority bodies is systematically unreported by the BBC.  

Recently, yet another example of that practice came to light when the Palestinian Authority chose to name a forest after the terrorist leader and planner of numerous terror attacks Khalil al Wazir – a.k.a. Abu Jihad.PMW forest

Via PMW we learn that:

“The official Palestinian Authority daily reported that the PA and Fatah inaugurated a forest they chose to name after arch-terrorist Abu Jihad: “The Martyr Abu Jihad Forest.”

Abu Jihad was a founder of Fatah and deputy to Yasser Arafat. He headed the PLO’s military wing and planned many deadly terror attacks. These attacks, which according to the official PA daily killed at least 125 Israelis, included the most lethal in Israeli history – the hijacking of a bus and killing of 37 civilians, 12 of them children.  […]

The inauguration ceremony was attended by several PA officials: Minister of Agriculture Walid Assaf, District Governor of Hebron Kamel Hamid and representatives of the PA Security Forces, as well as several mayors from the Hebron district and relatives of terrorist Abu Jihad, the paper reported. 

Official PA TV also showed footage from the ceremony. “

Can we really imagine that if the Northern Ireland Assembly chose to name a forest after an IRA terrorist and to televise the inauguration ceremony on state-run TV, that would not make BBC headlines? 

We’ve said it before, but unfortunately we have to say it again: BBC audiences cannot reach an “understanding of international issues” if the habitual glorification of terrorists and terrorism by a party to the peace process is consistently and deliberately kept out of their view.

Related Articles:

Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad


Fatal terror attack in Judea – BBC silent

On April 14th – the eve of Pessah – as Israelis travelled to join family for the traditional holiday meal, a terror attack took place on Route 35 near the Tarqumiya checkpoint when several vehicles travelling along that road were attacked by a gunman with an automatic weapon. One man died at the scene and a pregnant woman and a child were injured.Route 35

“An Israeli man was killed and a woman and child were wounded Monday evening, when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Israeli cars near the West Bank city of Hebron. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the people were members of the same family, travelling to a Passover Seder.

The 40-year-old man was critically hurt in the attack and received CPR at the scene, but succumbed his wounds. Two other people were wounded – his 28-year-old wife, who was moderately hurt, and a nine-year-old boy who sustained light wounds.”

Whilst terrorist organisations have already praised the attack, no group has to date claimed responsibility.

“A Hamas spokesman called the shooting “heroic” on his Facebook page.

Islamic Jihad called the attack “a natural reaction to the crimes of the occupation and settlers against our people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” “

Israeli security forces are still searching the area.

At least one BBC journalist is aware of the fact that a fatal terror attack took place.

Tweet Shuval route 35 incident

However, as of mid-morning on April 15th, no report on this latest incident of terror in Judea & Samaria has appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Related Articles:

A round-up of BBC reporting of security incidents in March 2014