How the BBC framed the story of Hizballah’s latest attack

There is nothing novel about the BBC suggesting to its audiences that major decisions about Israel’s security are made according to the electoral considerations of the country’s leadership. In 2012 the corporation’s journalists repeatedly misled audiences by portraying an entire military operation in the Gaza Strip as having been motivated by electioneering.

It therefore came as no great surprise to find that the BBC’s framing of the Hizballah attack on IDF soldiers near Har Dov on January 28th included ‘analysis’ from its Beirut correspondent Jim Muir into which he managed to shoehorn the upcoming Israeli elections.

Later versions of the report titled “Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah clash on Lebanese border” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 28th included the insert below.

Har Dov Muir analysis a

An additional article published on January 29th under the headline “Hezbollah ‘sends anti-escalation message’ to Israel” informed readers that:

Har Dov Muir analysis b

In other words, Muir would have BBC audiences believe that the sole consideration taken into account by the Israeli leadership in deciding how to react to this latest terror attack is the potential effect on their chances at the ballot box. Really.

In addition to that so-called ‘analysis’, we see some interesting framing of Hizballah’s own considerations. Whilst Muir correctly cites the terrorist organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war as a factor which would deter it from escalating violence further, he refrains from telling BBC audiences about the domestic opposition inside Lebanon to being dragged into another war by the Iranian proxy.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC’s framing of this story is the minimal mention of Iran. In the first article readers were told that:

“Mr Netanyahu said Israel was “prepared to act powerfully on all fronts”, adding, “Security comes before everything else.”

His office accused Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer, of being behind a “criminal terror attack” by the Shia Islamist movement.”

Of course – contrary to the impression given to BBC audiences – the office of the Israeli prime minister is not the only body in the Middle East which recognizes Iran’s role in this latest attack carried out by its Lebanese proxy: so does Hizballah itself.

“Earlier this week, before the Katyusha fire, a Lebanese parliamentarian representing Hezbollah was asked on the TV station Al Manar about Hezbollah’s delay in responding to the January 18 strike. The parliamentarian replied that the organization is still formulating an appropriate response together with Syria and Iran. The response, he explained, must not be too small – like, for instance, planting bombs along the border fence where Israeli soldiers patrol – but that it also must not lead to war with Israel. Hezbollah, he said, must refrain from rash moves.”

Additional framing of the story comes in the form of an insert in both these reports titled “What are the Shebaa Farms?”.

Har Dov Shebaa Farms insert

The Shebaa Farms issue of course has nothing to do with this story directly other than the fact that the location of the January 28th attack on road 999 (part of which also serves civilian traffic going to and from Ghajar) is in close proximity to the area known as Shebaa Farms or Har Dov. Despite the fact that fifteen years ago the UN determined that the area does not belong to Lebanon, Hizballah has indeed used the issue as one of the pretexts for its continued existence. This particular attack, however, was clearly stated by Hizballah itself to be a response to the strike on its operatives and IRGC officers in the Syrian Golan Heights ten days earlier and is not connected to the subject matter of the BBC’s insert.

Framing, of course, is also facilitated by omission and in these two articles the BBC makes no effort to inform audiences of the fact that Hizballah is an internationally proscribed terror organization. Instead, the articles use terms such as “Hezbollah militants”, “fighters” and “Lebanese militant group”. Both articles include a side-bar link to the BBC’s profile of Hizballah which, as readers may recall, was given a sympathetic make-over in December 2013.

Another crucial factor affecting the framing of this story is the omission of any information concerning the various UN resolutions calling for the disarming of Hizballah, with the most recent of those being Resolution 1701. BBC audiences cannot form a proper understanding of this story if they are not informed of the fact that the party which carried out the attack, according to a unanimous UNSC decision, should not be armed and should not be operating south of the Litani River. Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that the BBC has failed to inform – and even misled – its funding public on that issue. 

BBC pot calls the Russian media kettle black

h/t MW

In an article titled “Ukraine conflict: Is Russia stoking war or pushing peace?” published on the BBC News website’s Europe page on January 20th, Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford made the following observations:BBC logo

“For months, Moscow has accused a “fascist” government in Kiev of conducting a “punitive” operation – even genocide – against Russian speakers in Donetsk and Luhansk.

That message is hammered home daily by state-controlled television, which portrays patriotic rebel warriors alongside helpless civilians under attack by indiscriminate Ukrainian artillery. The fact that insurgents frequently fire from residential areas is never mentioned.”

The caption to a picture used to illustrate the article also informed audiences that:

“Russian state TV depicts rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk as warriors defending civilians”

Those observations may indeed be accurate and justified, but one does have to note the irony of the fact that the BBC finds it worth pointing out to audiences that the Russian state media’s failure to report that “insurgents frequently fire from residential areas” is one method used to influence the public’s perception of the hostilities in Ukraine. 

After all, it took the BBC itself no fewer than thirty-six days to get round to telling its audiences that “at times” terrorists in the Gaza Strip “have operated from civilian areas” in its coverage of last summer’s conflict between Hamas and Israel. And when members of the public complained about the corporation’s failure to report adequately on the issue of terrorist missile fire from residential areas, they were informed that “[i]t was very hard for journalists in Gaza to get to see rockets being fired out”.

If the BBC is serious about safeguarding its reputation as an accurate, impartial and independent reporter of news, it might care to examine how – and why – its own reporting of the conflict between Hamas and Israel was tailored to influence public opinion in ways apparently not all that different from those used by Russia’s non-independent media outlets. 

The BBC and the Houthi logo

Viewers of the BBC World News programme ‘Impact‘ who recently watched a report by Safa al Ahmed (which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th under the title “Yemen crisis: BBC gets rare access to Houthi rebels“) may have noticed a certain feature which cropped up repeatedly throughout the filmed footage.

Houthis report pics

Seeing as no attempt was made to explain that logo in Safa Al Ahmed’s report, audiences might perhaps have turned to the BBC News website’s profile of the group titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?“. There they would have found that same logo appearing in a picture captioned “Houthi supporters took part in weeks of protests calling for fuel price cuts and a new government”.

Houthi profile art pic

So does that logo have anything to do with fuel prices or demands for political reform in Yemen? Well, no – and its recurrent appearance is not coincidental because that banner is actually the official emblem of the Houthis, as explained by the New York Times:

“It includes the words “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews.” Houthis shout it when they march, wear it on arm patches, paint it on buildings and stick it onto their car windows. When pictured, those words are rendered in red, framed by “God is great” and “Victory to Islam” in green, on a white background.

Sometimes the red words are shown dripping blood.”

One might think that, given the BBC’s remit of building understanding of international issues, the corporation would consider that information worth communicating to its audiences, along with more comprehensive information on the Houthis’ alleged links to the Iranian regime (and Hizballah) than appear in its profile.

“Regional Shia power Iran has also been accused of giving financial and military support to the Houthis – something both have denied.”

“Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, believes that the rebels are backed militarily, financially and politically by its Shia regional arch-rival, Iran – something both have denied.”

Remarkably, the BBC does not appear to have much interest in conducting in-depth investigative reporting on that topic

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Just before 1 p.m. on January 27th incoming missiles from Syria triggered air-raid sirens in the northern Golan Heights.  Local residents took cover in their air-raid shelters and over a thousand visitors to the Mount Hermon ski resort had to be quickly evacuated. At least two projectiles were determined to have landed in Israeli territory and the IDF responded with artillery fire directed at the launch site in Syria and later on in the evening with strikes on Syrian army artillery posts. Both Israeli and foreign sources attributed the missile fire to Hizballah acting from Syrian army positions.

Despite at least one of its journalists in the region being aware of the incident, the BBC News website elected not to report those events at the time.

Aft 27 1 MEHP

A day later – Wednesday, January 28th – an additional incident took place when Hizballah conducted a cross-border attack in the Har Dov area, firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli army vehicles. Mortars were also fired at an IDF position on Mount Hermon and reportedly at the village of Ghajar.  Two soldiers were killed and seven wounded. Israel responded with artillery and air strikes.

In the BBC News website’s report on those events – originally headlined “Israeli soldiers wounded in Lebanon border attack” and later retitled “Israel fires into Lebanon after attack on troops”, followed by “Israel fires shells into Lebanon after attack on troops” and then “UN peacekeeper killed after Hezbollah-Israel clash” – the previous day’s events were described in one sentence.

“The incident came just hours after Israel launched an air strike on Syrian army positions near the Golan Heights in retaliation for rockets that were fired into Israel on Monday.”

In fact, the missiles were fired on Tuesday (January 27th) and readers obviously would not understand from this description that Hizballah was responsible for that attack as well, meaning that their ability to put the attack which is the subject matter of the report into its correct context would be impaired.

Also notable was the change in description of the incident on the BBC News website Middle East homepage. Initial reports portrayed events in the order in which they had happened – albeit without mentioning Hizballah.

Har Dov attacks on HP

As the day went on, that description was altered and became less clear as terms such as “border clashes” and “trade fire” were employed, creating a false and misleading sense of equivalence.

Har Dov attacks on HP later

The BBC report at that URL was later replaced with one titled “Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah trade fire” in which the fact that the incident took place near the ‘Shebaa Farms’ area is noted twice in succession.

“The peacekeeper was killed close to the disputed Shebaa Farms area, where an Israeli convoy was earlier hit by anti-tank missiles, killing two soldiers.”

“Wednesday’s cross-border violence erupted when Israeli military vehicles were hit at about 11:35 (09:35 GMT) near Mt Dov, in the Shebaa Farms area, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.”

The fact that this incident and the one preceding it in the northern Golan Heights have nothing to do with the dispute arising from Lebanese claims to the Shebaa Farms area defined by the UN as not belonging to Lebanon is not made clear to readers. The report also states:

“The flare-up along the Israeli-Lebanon frontier recalls the beginning of the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which was triggered by a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military vehicle that led to the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers.”

Significantly, the BBC refrains from informing readers of the crucially relevant point that according to UN SC resolution 1701 which brought the 2006 conflict to an end, Hizballah should have been disarmed and neither that terrorist organization nor any others should be operating in southern Lebanon.  

Related Articles:

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

Update on the BBC’s response to complaints about Willcox statement

Thanks to all the many readers who have taken the time to keep us informed regarding the progress of their complaints to the BBC concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during coverage of the march in Paris on January 11th.editorial guidelines  

To recap, complaints were initially answered with a response stating that Willcox had issued an apology on Twitter. Those who pursued their complaint further have now received a response from the Complaints Director at the Editorial Complaints Unit, Andrew Bell.

Mr Bell writes:

“As you may be aware, however, we have received a very large number of complaints on this issue, and if we were to deal with them in the normal way, investigating each complaint separately, it would be many weeks before some complainants received a finding. In order to reach a speedy determination on the essential issues, as they are reflected in the totality of the complaints we have received, we propose to deal with them in a slightly different way.” 

The response goes on to explain that the ECU has summarized the editorial issues arising from all the complaints into the points below and that those points will be considered against the relevant Editorial Guidelines of accuracy, impartiality and harm and offence.

  • That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the middle east;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that Jews were responsible for the murder of other Jews;
  • That the question was offensive because it trivialised the holocaust;
  • That the question displayed bias against Israel;
  • That Tim Willcox’s comment “But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives” suggested there was a justification for the killings;
  • That the interviewee was not treated with appropriate respect;
  • That the terms of the apology from Tim Willcox were inadequate and failed to address what was inaccurate and offensive about his remarks;
  • That posting an apology on a private Twitter account was inadequate and that it should have been published by the BBC.

Mr Bell further notes that he hopes to inform members of the public of the outcome of his unit’s investigation by February 23rd.

Obviously it does make sense for the ECU to avoid wasting public resources by streamlining the process of investigation and considering a high volume of similar complaints together. Particularly following the unsatisfactory initial replies received by members of the public, it is now good to see that Mr Bell’s department appears to be making a serious attempt to address the issue. 

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

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

Big Questions tweet

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

BBC amends ICC Q&A following reader complaint

h/t D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICC art amendment

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

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

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

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

 

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Muhajiroun art

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

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

Confusing BBC audiences with unqualified agenda-based opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, readers were told that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC’s Mike Thomson entrenches an inaccurate narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He goes on to say:

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

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

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

Kidnappings Thomson tweet 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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