Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

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BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue. 

 

More narrative-inspired reporting from Bethlehem by BBC’s Yolande Knell

The December 27th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (available here from 01:48) described as follows in its synopsis:Knell Bethlehem FOOC

“…why Yolande Knell in Bethlehem is looking forward to two more Christmases in the coming weeks…”

A very similar written version that audio report from Knell’s appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on December 28th under the title “The town with three Christmas Days“. It opens by telling BBC audiences that:

“Christmas comes but once a year – unless you live in Bethlehem, where three different Christian denominations celebrate on three different days.”

Obviously Bethlehem is far from the only town in the region in which different Christian denominations celebrate Christmas on different dates. Towards the end of her report Knell states:

“Many Palestinian Christians see themselves as custodians of Christmas and its colourful traditions.

The dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land adds a sense of urgency to their celebrations. Nowadays many young people in the West Bank choose to emigrate because of the difficult economic and social conditions created by Israel’s occupation.”

Knell’s over-simplified claim of a “dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” misleads audiences by failing to distinguish between Israel – where Christian communities thrive and grow – and the PA ruled areas where their numbers continue to decline. Of course the vast majority of Palestinians in the PA-controlled territories do not live under “Israel’s occupation” at all with control of Bethlehem, for example, having been handed over to the PA in accordance with the Oslo Accords two decades ago. However, Knell continues to promote the mantra which has dominated previous BBC reports on the topic of Palestinian Christians, according to which emigration is entirely attributable to factors connected to Israel. And as we have seen in much other BBC reporting on the issue, Knell studiously avoids the long-standing but under-reported topic of intimidation of Christians.

“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.

In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.”

Interestingly, a BBC feature from 2011 called “Guide: Christians in the Middle East” (much of which is now sadly out of date due to events in Syria and Iraq) did briefly mention non Israel-related factors affecting Palestinian Christians.Knell Bethlehem written Mag

“Some Christian leaders also cite the rise of radical Islam in the area as a growing pressure on Christian communities.”

At the beginning of the audio version of Knell’s report presenter Kate Adie informs listeners that:

“Yolande Knell has lived in the city [Bethlehem] just a few miles south of Jerusalem for four years now…”

Despite that fact – or perhaps because of it – BBC audiences continue to be fobbed off with one-dimensional reporting from Yolande Knell which presents Palestinians exclusively as passive victims of Israeli policy and actions whilst concurrently refraining from any attempt to report on the internal Palestinian affairs which affect their lives.

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BBC report on Christmas in Bethlehem amplifies PA political messaging yet again

Attempts to co-opt Christmas for Palestinian political messaging are nothing new and neither is the BBC’s collaboration with those public relations campaigns. In previous years we have seen Jon Donnison and Yolande Knell using the occasion of Christmas Eve celebrations in Bethlehem for opportunistic promotion of political messaging. This year coverage of the celebrations was assigned to Quentin Sommerville who managed to produce a reasonable filmed report free of political messaging. The accompanying written article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, however, was not.Bethlehem Christmas art main

Titled “Christians hold Christmas Eve Mass in Bethlehem“, the report was amended no fewer than five times and those changes can be seen here. Just under 40% of that report’s word count is devoted to context-free amplification of political statements with descriptions of the religious celebrations themselves barely appearing in the article.

With no background information provided to BBC audiences on the obviously significant context of the political activities of some members of the clergy in the region, the report states:

“In a homily, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal called on Jews, Muslims and Christians to “live together as equals”.

Referring to violence in Gaza and Jerusalem, he said he hoped 2015 “would be better than this difficult year”.” […]

“Patriarch Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said the region had become “a land of conflict”.

“I hope next year there will be no separation wall and I hope we will have bridges of peace instead,” he said, referring to the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank, which separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Israel says the barrier is necessary to prevent attacks by militants.

“Peace comes from justice and we have a cause which we hope will be solved soon,” the Patriarch added.” […]

“Patriarch Twal urged Christians not to forget the residents of Gaza, where up to 19,600 families displaced by the 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants are still in need of medium- and long-term shelter…”

As usual, the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence is ignored by the BBC – along with the events which brought about its construction – and the reason for its existence presented in the partial language of “Israel says”. Readers are not reminded that the summer conflict lamented by the Latin Patriarch was instigated by Hamas or of the obviously relevant issue of continuing Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.

Additionally, the writer of this report saw fit to use it as a hook for the promotion of quotes from the PA Minister for Tourism.

“His sentiment was echoed by Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah.

“Our message this Christmas is a message of peace like every year, but what we added this year is that all we want from Christmas is justice,” the minister said.

“Justice for our people, justice for our case and the right to live like all other people in the world in our independent state without the occupation.” “

Readers are not informed that the phrase ‘all I want for Christmas is justice” is the official Christmas political campaign slogan chosen this year by Ms. Maayah’s department and neither are they told anything about the circumstances of how that quote reached the BBC just in time for its Christmas Eve report from Bethlehem.

Similar messaging was apparent in some of the images chosen to illustrate the report and their captions.

Bethlehem Christmas art pics

The article also includes the following snippet of unrelated information, echoing the BBC’s coverage at the time:

“On Tuesday, Pope Francis – who prayed at the West Bank barrier and called for an end to the “increasingly unacceptable” Palestinian-Israeli conflict when he visited the region in May – sent a message of solidarity to Christians in the Middle East.” [emphasis added]

If readers of this article assumed that – as suggested in its title – they were going to learn something about the celebration of the religious festival itself in Bethlehem, they were of course mistaken. Instead, the BBC has once again self-conscripted to the opportunistic exploitation of Christmas for promotion of context-free PA political sloganeering.  

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

h/t H

‘Open Bethlehem’ is a political campaign which describes its aim as being “to address the state of emergency in Bethlehem”. Partnered by the Amos Trust, promotion of its campaign message is largely focused around a film of the same name made by Leila Sansour.

The campaign’s Facebook account states:

“Open Bethlehem aims to bring world attention to the crisis facing the city by reaching out to decision-makers, church leaders and the media and acting as a route into Bethlehem for initiatives of all kinds. Above all, we aim to build a positive legacy for Palestine and the wider region by reasserting Bethlehem’s unique historical character as a living example of an open and multi-faith Middle East.”

A recent review in the Guardian informs readers that:

“Leila Sansour’s documentary Open Bethlehem follows her campaign to stop occupying Israeli forces encircling her hometown with a concrete wall.”

And:

“Palestinian director Leila Sansour has made a fierce, poignant film about her family and her hometown of Bethlehem, now in Palestinian territory but progressively stifled by the Israeli government’s anti-terrorist barrier…”

According to the film’s production company blurb:

“Iambic Dream Films is thrilled to present a film that Jon Snow calls: “One of the most remarkable and moving documentaries I have seen. The tragedy of the Palestinians encapsulated in the life of one town – Bethlehem.” […] The film spans ten momentous years in the life of Bethlehem, revealing a city of astonishing beauty and political strife under occupation.”

Bethlehem of course has not been “under occupation” for two decades and neither is it ‘encircled’ by a “concrete wall” but readers no doubt recall that same theme being promoted by the BBC’s Yolande Knell exactly a year ago in her Christmas reporting from Bethlehem and yet again in her reporting on the Pope’s visit in May 2014.

Hence, it does not come as too much of a surprise to see this:

Knell Crouch End 1

Knell Crouch End 2

Now, what would the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality have to say about the self conscription of a BBC correspondent to a political campaign directly connected to the field she covers?

“A conflict of interest may arise when the external activities of anyone involved in making our content affects the BBC’s reputation for integrity, independence and high standards, or may be reasonably perceived to do so.  Our audiences must be able to trust the BBC and be confident that our editorial decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures, or any personal interests.”

“15.4.1

News and current affairs output may at any time deal with any issue, cause, organisation or individual and there must be no doubt over the integrity and objectivity of editorial teams.  For this reason, there are specific constraints on those working in BBC News and Current Affairs, Global News and news output in the Nations.  Staff, correspondents and freelances primarily known as BBC news presenters or reporters are affected by these constraints.”

And:

“It is essential that BBC staff, BBC correspondents on non staff contracts and freelances known to the public primarily as presenters or reporters on BBC news or current affairs programmes do not undertake any off-air activities which could undermine the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. Nothing they do or say should bring the BBC into disrepute. No off-air activity, including writing for newspapers, magazines or websites, writing books, giving interviews, making speeches or chairing conferences should lead to any doubt about the objectivity or integrity of their work for the BBC. If BBC journalists, presenters or reporters publicly express personal views off-air on controversial issues, then their editorial or on-air role may be severely compromised.”

Whether or not Yolande Knell got the required permission from her Head of Department before agreeing to allow her name and BBC brand-linked title to be used for promotion of the ‘Open Bethlehem’ film we do not know. What is clear, however, is that her position as an ‘impartial’ BBC correspondent based in its Jerusalem bureau is compromised and indeed untenable after such political activity.

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BBC’s portrayal of ‘Palestinian peace plan’ unravels

At the beginning of this week we addressed the topic of the BBC’s framing of the PA’s presentation – via Jordan – of a draft resolution to the UN Security Council. In that post we noted the following:BBC News logo

“Neither does the BBC address the issue of exactly which Palestinian factions are involved in this unilateral move and the significance of the fact that Hamas, whilst party to the Palestinian unity government, is not a member of the body recognized by the international community as representing the Palestinian people – the PLO. Hence, the subject of which factions exactly would be bound by what the BBC revealingly chooses to term this Palestinian “peace plan” – and its resulting efficacy – remains unaddressed.”

Thanks to the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh we now learn that those questions were far from premature and that the thorny issue of who would be committed to this so-called “peace plan” even extends to Mahmoud Abbas’ own party.

“Some Palestinian factions and figures oppose the draft Palestinian statehood resolution that was presented to the UN Security Council last week.

They claim that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not present the measure to leaders of the PLO and Fatah before it was brought to the Security Council. […]

Abbas critics argue that the draft resolution, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, does not meet the political aspirations of the Palestinians.

Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti took issue with the text and called on the PA leadership to conduct an immediate and comprehensive revision of its wording. […]

Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO Executive Committee and a leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also criticized the draft resolution and called on the PA leadership to withdraw it from the Security Council.

The proposal does not represent the position endorsed by the PLO Executive Committee over the past few weeks, Khaled said. […]

The Palestinian National Initiative, an independent political movement led by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, said the draft resolution includes “dangerous lapses” that compromise Palestinian demands.”

Moreover, Palestinian unity government partner Hamas also joined in the criticism of Abbas’ move.

“Hamas on Tuesday joined several Palestinian groups that have rejected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s statehood bid at the UN Security Council.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the draft resolution that was presented to the Security Council last week, and which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines, does not represent the Palestinians.”

Curiously, the BBC (which seems to have Mustafa Bargouti on speed-dial every time an opportunity to defame and delegitimise Israel presents itself) has apparently not yet contacted its favourite “influential Palestinian politician” – or anyone else – for comment on these developments, which to date remain unreported.

A very prominent characteristic of BBC Middle East coverage is its consistent under-reporting of domestic Palestinian affairs, including internal politics. Thus, BBC audiences only get to see a sanitized, one-dimensional, homogenous view of Palestinians which actively hinders their understanding of the region and its events.  

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Tough luck Syrian and Iraqi Christians: the BBC’s Yolande Knell has other priorities

2014 has of course been a very difficult year for many minority ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East in general and not least for Christians in Syria and Iraq. With Christmas and the end of the Gregorian year approaching, it was to be expected that the BBC would turn its attentions to the plight of Christians in the Middle East but, as we will see in a moment, the topic of the decimation of those ancient communities in fact took a back seat due to Yolande Knell’s political messaging on a different topic.Newshour 21 12

On December 21st the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presented by Julian Marshall, included an interview (from 00:35:05 here) by Yolande Knell with the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani.  Marshall’s introduction to the item began promisingly:

“In recent months church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of more and more Christians from the Middle East. The civil war in Syria and the advance of Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.”

Next, however, listeners were given a hint of what the upcoming item is really about, with Marshall promoting one of the BBC’s newer themes seen in much of its recent content: the historically illiterate claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is morphing from one about land to one with religious overtones.

“In the Holy Land the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been to meet the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem to hear his thoughts on 2014.”

This entire item is four minutes and thirty-five seconds long. A mere thirty-four seconds were allotted to the Bishop’s generalised view of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.

Knell: “Good to meet you, your grace. We’ve come to get your reflections on the past year. Events have been taking place in the region. If we start off with Syria and Iraq – they’re two countries that are covered by your diocese – where we’ve seen Christians fleeing war, Islamic extremism. Of course Christians have been leaving the Middle East now for decades but how has this added to your concerns?”

In fact, Iraq is not part of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem (which includes Israel, the PA territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon): it falls under the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

Dawani: “It was a very difficult year for the people of the Middle East in general and for the Christian community in particular. When it has to do with the Anglican Church, I think that we lost most of our presence in Syria because of the conflict that has been in action for the last four years. It was also a big challenge to the Christian presence in Iraq, so it’s really our concern for the future presence of the Christians in the whole Middle East.”

One imagines that there is little in that short statement which BBC audiences did not already know. But Knell passes up on the opportunity to ask the Bishop for more details such as how many Christians remain in Iraq and Syria, what sort of threats they face, where those who have fled have gone and so on and quickly moves on to one of her own pet topics by means of some very dubious linkage between events in Syria and Iraq and those closer to her interviewee’s church in Jerusalem.

Knell: “And here in the Holy Land there have been troubles as well. After the summer conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza you went to Gaza yourself. What did you see there?”

Dawani: “In Gaza of course the war that took place it was a devastating one and as an Anglican church we run a hospital in Gaza – Al Ahli Arab Hospital – and during the war we used to receive more than hundred injuries every day and the hospital used to work around the clock. And after the war I visited the Gaza twice and of course I have seen, you know, lots of destruction and I’ve seen that people are very depressed. It wasn’t the last war or the last conflict. The conflict has been continuing year after year. So I believe that something must be done to alleviate the suffering for the people who live there.”

The topic of how many Christians remain in the Gaza Strip and under what sort of conditions they live, given the extremist Islamist regime which controls the territory, clearly does not interest Knell. Instead she turns the focus of her report elsewhere:

Knell: “And here in East Jerusalem, right on your doorstep, tensions have been rising as well. And what we’ve seen here really is in some ways the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians taking on a more religious dimension. I mean how dangerous is that, do you think?”

Dawani: “Let me start by saying that Jerusalem is a very dear city to the three religions – or the three Abrahamic faiths. And it witnessed lots of violence during the last ten months or so, in which religious places has been targeted by some extremists; I can say that whether Muslims or Jews. And Al Aqsa Mosque also witnessed the big fight and as a Christian leaders we really did visit to both Al Aqsa Mosque and even to the synagogue that has been attacked by some people. And our message was very clear: that please don’t attack any holy sites, whether to the Muslims or to the Jews or to the Christians. And I hope and I pray that religion will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Notably, organised violent rioting on Temple Mount by Palestinian youths which has necessitated a police response is placed alongside the terror attack in Har Nof (which, no less remarkably, is now portrayed to BBC audiences as an attack on a holy site rather than the premeditated murder of Jews) to supposedly demonstrate that the two sides are both victims and attackers. That warped narrative is not corrected by Knell and neither does she make any effort to enquire about the situation of Christians living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.

A slightly different filmed version of the interview with Suheil Dawani – with Knell’s questions edited out – was also published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem reflects on 2014” on December 21st. With similar messaging to that seen in Marshall’s introduction to the audio version of the report, the synopsis to the filmed version also places recent incidents in Israel in the same overall category as persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria in order to ease the shift to the report’s real subject matter.Knell filmed Dawani 

“In recent months, Church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of a rising number of Christians from the Middle East.

The civil war in Syria and the advance of so-called Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

In the holy land, the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute, with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, is head of a diocese that covers much of the troubled region. As he prepares to celebrate Christmas this week he gave BBC News his reflections.”

So tough luck for the few remaining Christians trying to survive in Iraq and Syria: their barely described plight is for Yolande Knell merely a hook upon which to hang yet more of the same political messaging, whilst their co-religionists in Jordan and Lebanon and in the de facto Hamas-run Gaza Strip and in the PA-controlled territories do not even get a mention.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell politicises St George’s Day with promotion of PA propaganda

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive

Missile from Gaza not news for the BBC but Israeli response gets headlines

On the morning of December 19th a missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol region of the Western Negev in the third such incident since the ceasefire in late August which brought the fifty-day summer conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terrorist organisations to a close. Like those previous incidents of missile fire, this one too was not reported by the BBC at the time.

During the night between December 19th and 20th, the Israeli air-force launched a retaliatory strike against a Hamas military installation near Khan Yunis. That event was considered news by the BBC.

With no mention of the obviously crucial context of the preceding missile attack some hours earlier, the BBC World Twitter account informed its 8.22 million followers:

KY strike bbc world tweet 1

Jerusalem bureau correspondent Quentin Sommerville did inform his 24 thousand followers that the Israeli action came in response to missile fire, whilst taking the opportunity to revive the well-trodden BBC theme of “home-made rockets”. There is no evidence to suggest that Sommerville was at the scene of the impact and hence his ‘diagnosis’ of the missile’s nature is apparently based on guess-work. Equally questionable is Sommerville’s geography: there is no city called Eshkol: that name refers to a regional council. Nevertheless, that inaccurate information was retweeted by the BBC World Twitter account.

KY strike Sommerville tweet 1

KY strike Sommerville tweet 2

More context-free ‘last-first’ reporting was seen on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of December 20th where visitors were informed that “Israel launches an air strike on an alleged Hamas site in Gaza, in the first such action since the declaration of a truce in August”, but with no mention in the headline or sub-heading of the missile attack several hours beforehand.

KY strike on HP

That headline leads to an article titled “Israel launches Gaza air strike on ‘Hamas target’” which fails to clarify to BBC audiences that this latest missile attack was the third since the end of August.

Readers will note that one of the recommended articles presented on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with that article is headed “Gaza: Life amid the rubble” which was discussed here. Whilst the BBC has put much effort in recent months into the production of numerous ‘reporter in the rubble’ items showcasing the topic of damage to houses and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip (see some additional examples here, here and here), it has refrained from carrying out any reporting whatsoever on the subject of Hamas’ reconstruction of its military infrastructure, including cross-border tunnels and missile capabilities.

Once again licence fee-payers relying on the BBC to meet its half of the bargain by providing them with reporting which will enhance their understanding of international issues are being sold short. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the corporation’s continuing policies of ‘last-first’ reporting and framing by omission. 

BBC reporting on Abu Ein incident: the numbers and the narrative

In addition to the grossly inaccurate account of the circumstances preceding the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein presented in the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 10th, the programme’s evening version, presented by Tim Franks, included a report on the same topic by Kevin Connolly (available from 00:39:00 here).Newshour 10 12 Franks

As has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting on this subject, Connolly failed to provide listeners with an accurate representation of the circumstances behind the demonstration at Turmus Aya, saying:

“A group of demonstrators set out for the village of Turmus Aya because they believe that Israel’s marking out land there to build a new settlement of the sort regularly condemned by the international community near the existing settlement of Shilo.”

In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad. The demonstration – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 07:24) – was intended to garner publicity for that move, as the presence of film crews obviously informed of the event in advance also indicates. Whilst Connolly may have been told that the demonstrators “believe” there are plans to build a new community in the area, he obviously did not bother to fact-check the existence of any such plans before repeating that hearsay.

Once again, Connolly’s account of the sequence of events is also misleading.

“The Palestinians found the Israeli security forces waiting for them and a confrontation which was perhaps inevitable began quickly. In television images you can see an old man pushed to the ground and getting up and striking Israeli soldiers with a flag pole. There is a lot of violent shoving and tear gas is used. In the midst of it, Ziad Abu Ein finds a camera and begins telling the crew what’s going on. Listen carefully and you can hear him fighting for breath before he begins to speak.

Voiceover: They are assaulting us. This is the terrorism of the occupation. This is their terrorist army; practices terrorism against the Palestinian people. Nobody threw a stone and nobody fought back.

Connolly: Now, within minutes of recording that brief interview Ziad Abu Zain [sic] had died in an ambulance taking him to hospital and it’s still not clear exactly what caused his death. At one point an Israeli Border Police officer was seen to grab him by the throat but perhaps very briefly. He would have inhaled tear gas and there are also stories of him being hit and shoved.”

Connolly fails to clarify that the use of tear gas was in response to an attempt by the demonstrators to approach Adei Ad and that the media interview given by Abu Ein occurred after his provocation of and altercation with the Border Police officer rather than beforehand, as clarified by Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon here (Hebrew) from 03:16.

Connolly then uses an extended version of the interview with Hanan Ashrawi (who was not present at the scene) also found in his television report on the subject from the same day and, despite the lack of any evidence proving that Abu Ein was “killed”, nevertheless includes that allegation in this item.

Ashrawi: “Well first of all it’s extremely sad that a colleague and an old friend has been killed in such a cruel way. But I’m also…I have a sense of outrage. Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees, was guilty of nothing more than ensuring that we remain on the land where Israel was trying to expel people: that we save the land where Israel was attempting to steal the land.”

No mention is made in this report of Abu Ein’s conviction for the murder of two Israeli teenagers and the injury of over 30 others in a terror attack on Tiberias market in 1979. Neither are listeners informed that when the terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti was arrested by Israeli special forces in 2002, he was hiding in Abu Ein’s house.

The next day, December 11th, the evening version of Newshour (also presented by Tim Franks) included a report by Yolande Knell (from 00:45:00 here) which contained a statement from Saeb Erekat similar to the one used in her television report from the same day.Newshour 11 12 Franks  

Knell’s description of the previous day’s events is as follows:

“Yesterday television crews filmed Mr Abu Ein as he joined dozens of protesters in a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But Israel’s security forces were waiting for them. After scuffles broke out an Israeli Border Policeman briefly grabbed Mr Abu Ein’s throat and later he fell to the ground, clutching his chest. An Israeli doctor was present at the Palestinian post-mortem examination and Chen Kugel from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine gave Israel’s conclusions.

Kugel: The findings of the autopsy were that the cause of death was a heart attack. Now this type of heart attack is caused by stress and apparently he had a stressful event just before – we all saw it – and we found some bruises in the muscle layer and the sub-cutaneous layer of the neck.

Knell: For the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, it was more clear-cut.

Erekat: Ziad Abu Ein was killed in cold blood. The autopsy report said he had an explosion in the major artery. What caused this was Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein. They are fully responsible.”

As was the case in her filmed report, Knell refrains from informing audiences that there is no evidence to show that Abu Ein was “killed” or ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten’. Note too how she places the evidence-free rhetoric of Erekat on the same level as the scientific opinion of a senior physician. Neither is any attempt made by Knell to inform listeners of Abu Ein’s past conviction for terrorism.

A look at the coverage of this incident across various BBC platforms (see related articles below) shows that in two filmed reports for television, two written articles and three World Service radio programmes, the picture presented to audiences adheres predominantly to the Palestinian narrative.

In addition to hearing or reading differing and conflicting reports from unidentified Palestinian “witnesses”, “medics” and local reporters for foreign news agencies, BBC audiences were presented with two interviews with Hanan Ashrawi, one interview with Abdallah Abu Rahma and two interviews with Saeb Erekat, who was also quoted in one of the written articles. Despite the lack of any supporting evidence, audiences have been told that Ziad Abu Ein’s collapse and subsequent death was caused by inhaling tear gas, being hit and/or shoved, being hit by a tear gas canister, being beaten up, being suffocated and being hit on the head with a helmet – to name but some of the proffered accounts. They have also been told on two separate occasions across all platforms that Abu Ein was “killed” and on three further separate occasions that he was “killed in cold blood”.

In contrast, audiences heard one interview with an Israeli official (the pathologist) and in two other reports the BBC paraphrased statements concerning Abu Ein’s medical condition made by the Israeli authorities. Abu Ein’s terror conviction was only briefly mentioned in one of these reports.

The amplification of unproven, inaccurate hearsay, rumour and propaganda from obviously interested parties is not ‘impartiality’ as demanded by the BBC editorial guidelines. It is the BBC’s job to present its audiences with the verified facts behind a story in order to enable them to become better informed about events – not to blindly repeat the narratives promoted by anyone and everyone willing to speak to journalists.

Unfortunately, this kind of jumble sale journalism, in which all the tales offered to the BBC – however bizarre or disconnected from the facts – are promoted and presented as legitimate news, seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in BBC Middle East reporting.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in Kevin Connolly’s filmed BBC report on death of Ziad Abu Ein

BBC’s Knell at Abu Ein funeral: all the rumour not worth reporting

BBC News website’s written reports on Abu Ein continue to spread rumour

Palestinian activist gets open mic for propagation of lies on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

 

 

BBC’s Knell at Abu Ein funeral: all the rumour not worth reporting

On December 11th viewers of BBC television news were shown a filmed report by Yolande Knell about the funeral of Ziad Abu Ein which was also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Thousands attend funeral for Zaid Abu Ein amid tensions“.Knell funeral Abu Ein filmed

By the time that report was broadcast well over 24 hours had passed since Abu Ein’s death, during which not only had filmed material from a number of sources come to light, but an autopsy had been carried out. One may therefore have expected that Knell’s report would be free of the many inaccuracies which marred Kevin Connolly’s filmed report from the previous day. That, however, was not the case.

Like Connolly, Knell does not adequately inform audiences of the circumstances of the demonstration attended by Abu Ein, saying:

“A day ago, dozens of protesters gathered to plant olive trees by a Palestinian village. This was meant to be a symbolic show that the land, near a Jewish settlement, is rightly theirs.”

As was noted here in connection with Connolly’s very similar representation of the subject:

“In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 7:24).”

Like Connolly, Knell also misrepresents the sequence of events, telling viewers that:

“…Israel’s security forces were waiting for them and Mr Abu Ein was caught up in angry scenes. At one point an Israeli border policeman briefly grabbed his throat. He fell to the ground.”

The fact that (as can be seen in filmed footage of the incident) Abu Ein engaged in physical and verbal provocation of the security forces goes unmentioned in Knell’s account of events. Likewise, she inaccurately tells audiences that Abu Ein “fell to the ground” when he actually sat down of his own accord and implies that happened immediately after the altercation with the Border Police officer, whilst in fact Abu Ein managed to give an interview to the media between the two events. Knell also fails to mention that an Israeli paramedic tried to treat Abu Ein, but that he was instead quickly evacuated by a Palestinian ambulance and died on the way to hospital.

Knell misrepresents the results of the autopsy, presenting the fact that Abu Ein was already suffering from ischemic heart disease as an Israeli claim only. She both amplifies Palestinian conspiracy theories herself and provides an unchallenged platform for Saeb Erekat to further embroider the tale.

Knell: “Israel says he died of a heart attack and had a pre-existing condition. But after a post-mortem exam, Palestinians say he was killed in cold blood.”

Erekat: “Of course, ya’ani, he could have been killed by his…eh…an explosion his main artery but what caused this? What caused this was Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein. They are fully responsible. The Israeli government is held fully responsible in accordance with the autopsy report.”

There is of course no evidence to show that Abu Ein was either ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten up’ but nevertheless Knell fails to communicate that fact to viewers.

This is of course far from the first time that we have seen the BBC not only failing to provide audiences with the necessary information which will help them to distinguish between reality and the chaff of rumour, hearsay and propaganda but also amplifying the latter on an equal footing with established facts. Just last month when an autopsy determined that a Palestinian bus driver had committed suicide, the BBC saw fit to promote unproven claims that he had been murdered in no fewer than seven reports on numerous platforms.

Licence fee payers are no doubt wondering what is the point of funding a news organization which cannot – or will not – distinguish between blatant political propaganda and reality and thus repeatedly fails to help its audiences understand the facts behind events.