Not just about journalism: BBC editorial guidelines and the wider public interest

As is of course to be expected, the horrific murder of one British charity worker by ISIS last weekend and the accompanying threat to behead another has been extensively covered by the UK media.Nye Jul 14 a

According to the Times:

“The security services are investigating whether kidnappers who abducted two Britons on aid missions to Syria were acting on insider tip-offs.

As part of efforts to build up a picture of the network around the British kidnap gang that has been executing westerners, MI5 and MI6 are trying to establish whether they had help in identifying victims. […]

It is thought unlikely that the gang, which could have as many as 20 western hostages, were able to conduct so many kidnappings without the help of informers on both sides of the border.”

The Daily Telegraph informs us that:

“Alan Henning was kidnapped within half an hour of entering Syria after he unwittingly became involved with a charity with links to alleged extremists, it has emerged.

Mr Henning, 47, now threatened with beheading by jihadists, ignored pleas from friends, colleagues and local guides not to cross the Syrian border, telling them he was determined to make sure the supplies he was carrying were delivered safely to the right people.

Mr Henning was driving an ambulance on behalf of Rochdale Aid 4 Syria, which raised money on behalf of Al-Fatiha Global, a registered charity currently under investigation by the Charity Commission after one of its leaders was photographed with his arms around two hooded fighters carrying machine guns. […]

There is no suggestion Mr Henning, a father of two from Eccles, Greater Manchester, knew of the apparent links between the charities and extremism. Al-Fatiha Global was only placed under investigation in March – three months after Mr Henning was kidnapped – after Adeel Ali, the son of one of its trustees, was pictured with gunmen on the front of The Sun newspaper.”

Among the BBC’s recent coverage of the issue is a filmed interview with Catrin Nye of the BBC Asian Network which was aired on BBC television news programmes on September 14th and also appears in a written report currently featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.  Nye met Alan Henning whilst she was making several reports for numerous BBC platforms on the topic of British aid convoys to Syria. Henning’s later participation in one of those convoys led to his kidnapping in Syria in late December 2013.Nye Jul 14 b

As was noted here at the time, Catrin Nye’s numerous reports – aired in November and early December 2013 – refrained from addressing the topic of the extremist links of some of the charities and individual activists involved in organizing those convoys. Catrin Nye produced additional reports on the same subject in July 2014 which once again failed to adequately inform audiences of the convoys’ organisers links to extremists, even though one of the charities involved in previous trips was already under investigation by the Charity Commission when the report was being made. Nye’s latest interview likewise fails to inform viewers on the same issue.

Notable too is the fact that Orla Guerin produced a report from Gaza on August 13th which was based on the claims of an ISM activist with additional links to the same UK charity currently under investigation.

It is all too clear that BBC promotion of the activities of NGOs and charities without the required disclosure of their ideologies, political agendas and any extremist links not only breaches the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, but also goes against the wider interests of the British public in general. 

The BBC and the ‘destroyed’ Gaza power plant

“Power plant destroyed” screamed the sub-heading in a BBC News website report on July 29th 2014.Power plant written

That article was among numerous items produced by the BBC on the same day which included content relating to what the BBC immediately concluded was an Israeli strike on Gaza’s power station. BBC journalists extensively promoted that version of the story despite the fact that Israeli sources had stated that the power plant was not deliberately targeted.

Viewers of BBC television news programmes (along with visitors to the website) saw reports by Chris Morris, Ian Pannell and Martin Patience and Chris Morris. They heard statements such as the following one from Ian Pannell:

“Israel wants to weaken Hamas any way it can, which includes hitting Gaza’s only power station – adding to the misery of those who live here.”

Listeners to BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour‘ on July 29th heard Chris Morris make the following baseless allegation:

“And it is Gaza’s only power plant so there are electricity cuts in Gaza City, there could be problems with water supply because many of the area’s water pumps also rely on that power plant. So if that was a deliberate Israeli attempt to cause economic pain – which is certainly how most Palestinians will see it – then it could be fairly successful.” [emphasis added]

Just over two weeks later, both television viewers and visitors to the BBC News website were again reminded of the story in filmed and written reports by Yolande Knell.Power plant Morris and Patience 2  

“At the end of last month, there was a huge fire at the only electricity plant after it was hit by Israeli shelling.

Its fire extinguishing systems were struck and then its fuel tanks were set ablaze.

The Israeli army says it is investigating what happened but the effects are clear.

“As you see, it’s total damage. It’s scrap,” says the Gaza power plant general manager, Rafik Maliha, as he points to the huge crumpled metal vats in the fuel storage area.

“It can’t be used and without the fuel, we have no operation.” “

However, Elder of Ziyon now reports that – despite the grim picture painted by foreign media, including the BBC – the power plant is now ready to return to operations.

Remarkably – especially given the amount of coverage the BBC devoted to the topic at the time – that news has yet to be reported by the corporation. 

No follow up on story which got four separate BBC News reports in one day

Back in the first week of July the BBC News website produced two written reports (here and here) and two filmed reports (here and here) all inReynolds Abu Khdeir story one day on the topic of American teenager Tariq Abu Khdeir who was arrested on July 5th in the Shuafat neighbourhood of Jerusalem during violent rioting following the murder of his cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir and allegedly beaten by a member of the Border Police.

In addition to appearing on the BBC News website, the two filmed items were also shown on BBC television news programmes and they – together with the second written report – remained on the website’s Middle East page for three consecutive days. In the first of those filmed reports the BBC’s James Reynolds told viewers that rioters “accuse Israel of failing to deliver justice”.

On September 10th it was announced that an indictment had been filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court against the Border Policeman in question.  

Notably, that news has not been reported by the BBC despite its considerable prior interest in the story. Significantly too, additional BBC insinuations regarding discrimination within Israel’s justice system from around the same time have also yet to be clarified to audiences. 

 

BBC’s ‘reporter in the rubble’ theme gets its own feature

On September 15th a big feature titled “Gaza: Life amid the rubble” by Yolande Knell and no fewer than eight additional contributors appeared on the BBC News website’s main homepage and on its Middle East page, with the item being heavily promoted on various BBC Twitter accounts.

Knell feature on ME HP

Knell feature on HP

Almost two months on – and long after clarification of the circumstances of the battles in Shuja’iya – the BBC continues to misrepresent the events as partially as it did at the time, promoting many of the same themes which were evident in its initial reporting from the district.Knell Shuja'iya pt 1

The feature – which includes text, video and photographs – opens:

“More than 400,000 of Gaza’s residents were displaced by Israel’s recent 50-day military operation. Some 18,000 homes were also destroyed and many more were damaged. One of the worst affected neighbourhoods was Shejaiya, near the eastern border, where the Israeli military says it targeted Palestinian militants and their tunnels.”

Note how this conflict has been turned into “Israel’s recent 50-day military operation” with all mention of the missile attacks on the civilian population of Israel – which not only sparked the conflict but persisted until its final minutes – erased from the picture presented to BBC audiences. Notably, another article appearing on the BBC News website the previous day similarly referred to “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in July” – suggesting that such framing is not coincidental.

As has been the case in all of its reporting from the Gaza Strip since July 8th, the BBC continues in this item to conceal from audience view the issue of buildings deliberately booby-trapped by Hamas and other terrorist organisations or those hit by missiles misfired by terrorists or destroyed as a result of their being used to store explosives. BBC audiences are hence led towards the mistaken belief that every single structure damaged or destroyed in the Gaza Strip during the seven weeks of conflict was the result of Israeli actions.

Once again, the BBC fails to adequately inform audiences of the true scale of Hamas operations in Shuja’iya, opting instead for its usual “Israel says” formulation. The fact is of course that the only reason fighting – and the resulting damage – occurred in Shuja’iya was because Hamas had turned it into a neighbourhood replete with military targets, including entrances to some ten cross-border attack tunnels, ammunition and weapons stores, missile launching sites and command and control centres.

Shujaiya comparative map

Knell’s feature continues:

“The crowded eastern district of Shejaiya in the Gaza Strip saw one of the bloodiest days of the recent conflict. Israel told the 80,000 residents to leave before it targeted the area. However, many did not believe the assault would be so serious and remained in their homes.”

Indeed, Israel did advise the residents of Shuja’iya to leave their homes four days before the operation there commenced and even delayed it in order to give people additional opportunity to relocate. This BBC report, however, deliberately misrepresents the reason why some residents failed to heed that advice, claiming that “many did not believe the assault would be so serious” and thereby concealing from BBC audiences the fact that Hamas ordered civilians to stay put. This deliberate distortion of the facts dovetails with the BBC’s policy – evident throughout coverage of the conflict – of downplaying and even denying Hamas’ use of human shields.

The feature goes on:

“On the night of Saturday 19 July, Shejaiya was pounded with heavy artillery, mortars and air strikes sending up columns of thick, black smoke. Within 24 hours, dozens of Palestinians and at least 13 Israeli soldiers were killed.

From early on Sunday morning there were chaotic scenes as thousands of local people tried to flee. They headed to Gaza City, searching for shelter at United Nations’ schools and at the main Shifa hospital, which was overwhelmed with casualties.

Battles erupted between Israeli troops and Hamas militants in the streets. Israel’s officials say the residential neighbourhood contained a fortified network of tunnels used for attacks and to produce and store rockets. The Palestinian government has described the killing of civilians as a “heinous massacre”.”

Details of the events in Shuja’iya on the night of July 19th and the day of July 20th have been in the public domain for many weeks now and so there is no excuse whatsoever for the BBC’s above incoherent account which misrepresents the sequence of events, downplays Hamas’ actions and yet again misleadingly presents the crucial issue of Hamas’ deliberate location of military assets in the Shuja’iya district in terms of “Israel says”.

Knell’s report goes on to show a graphic illustrating the locations of the houses of the four people later interviewed.

Knell Shuja'iya graphic

What that graphic of course does not show is the context of Hamas activity such as missile launching or the locations of the entrances to any of the cross-border tunnels found in the same area. Of the four houses showcased on that graphic, one is described as belonging to a “Grandmother” who, readers are later told, “lost one of her sons, Ismail, in the latest conflict”.

The photographs accompanying the section on the Grandmother include one of what the BBC describes as “a poster in his memory”. As sharp-eyed readers will be able to see, that poster includes the logo of Hamas’ Izz a Din Al Qassam Brigades, which could go a long way towards explaining what Ismail was doing “on the top floor of their four-storey building” and why “it came under heavy bombardment”, although Yolande Knell does not trouble her readers with such inconvenient details which would distract them from her story.

Knell art martyrdom poster

Readers are also told:

“Now the battered district stands as a reminder of the ferocity of the latest fighting and Gaza’s unsolved political problems. Locals, like the four featured below, long to rebuild their homes but are unable to do so while tight border restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt remain in place. Israel says these are for security reasons. It is worried militants will use construction supplies to rebuild tunnels and it currently allows very limited imports for international projects.”

As was noted here only recently:

“If there is one thing which should have become perfectly clear to foreign journalists since the beginning of July it is that the entry of building supplies into the Gaza Strip – which was increased in recent years due to intense pressure from assorted international bodies and aid agencies – was abused by Hamas to construct cross-border attack tunnels rather than for the advancement of projects which would have improved the lives of the people of Gaza.

However, not only has the BBC shown no interest whatsoever in discussing Hamas’ misappropriation of those building supplies or the very serious subject of the accountability of the aid agencies and international bodies which were supposed to be supervising and guaranteeing the construction projects for which those materials were destined; it continues to present the issue in terms of “Israel says”.”

Rather than investing the work of the nine BBC staff members it took to produce this feature in an in-depth investigation of how considerable sums of European tax-payers’ money has been misappropriated by Hamas over the years, the BBC has instead produced a feature designed solely to feed BBC audiences with yet more out of context images of rubble and damage in the Gaza Strip and to continue the campaign being promoted by the BBC in general – and Yolande Knell in particular – with regard to the border restrictions made necessary by the very terrorism which also brought about those images. 

Related Articles:

BBC omits vital context in reporting from Shuja’iya

Themes in BBC reporting on events in Shuja’iya

BBC’s Reynolds in Shuja’iya: still no reporting on what really happened

BBC’s Knell continues the Gaza border restrictions PR campaign

Reporter in the rubble: what is missing from BBC presentation of structural damage in Gaza?

 

More BBC promotion and amplification of lawfare NGO

On September 11th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israel orders criminal investigations into Gaza war incidents“.MAG art

The first half of the article indeed deals mostly with the headline’s stated subject matter: the investigations announced by the Military Attorney General the previous day.  The latter part of the report states:

“Israel is facing a series of steps in the international arena in the wake of the Gaza conflict.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, while the UN Human Rights Council has set up a commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.”

Notably, the BBC refrains from pointing out to readers that the UN HRC commission’s mandate charges it with the investigation of “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014″. In other words, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas terrorists on June 12th is not part of this already problematic investigation’s mandate.

But the most remarkable part of this article is its amplification – yet again – of claims made by the political NGO Human Rights Watch.

“New York-based Human Rights Watch carried out its own research into what it says were Israeli attacks that damaged UN schools in Beit Hanoun, Jabaliya and Rafah, killing a total of 45 people, including 17 children.

The human rights group says that the first two attacks “did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate” and that the third incident was “unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate”.

It adds that “unlawful attacks carried out wilfully – that is deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes.” “

That report was published on September 11th – the same day as this BBC article – and, as readers can see for themselves here, it is based heavily on statements from local witnesses with no military expertise or qualifications with additional ‘evidence’ from equally unqualified media reports. Remarkably, yet predictably, HRW has managed to reach its self-declared “in-depth” conclusions without input from the IDF beyond what anyone could find in the public domain and without waiting for the results of professional investigations. Notably too, the HRW report includes evidence-free assumptions such as the following:

“It is highly unlikely that at least four of the inaccurate, unguided rockets used by Palestinian armed groups hit in and around the school within a few minutes.”

But beyond the fact that the BBC provides promotion and amplification for HRW’s ‘report’, what is noticeable is that once again it does so without informing BBC audiences that HRW is not a neutral human rights organization but one of several political NGOs currently engaged in lawfare against Israel.

Until the BBC begins to adhere to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by ceasing the now commonplace practice of avoiding informing audiences of the political agenda of its preferred NGOs, it can only be considered as a self-conscripted party to that political warfare.

Related Articles:

Compromising public perceptions of BBC impartiality

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel

Documenting the BBC contribution to political warfare against Israel – part two

BBC audiences again fobbed off with HRW press release presented as ‘news’

BBC News report on 8200 tells a partial story

On the afternoon of September 12th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israeli intelligence veterans refuse to spy on Palestinians“. The report is illustrated with an unrelated image photographed during rioting in Qalandiya a month ago and carrying the amusing caption: “Intelligence gathering is a key part of Israel’s military operations”.  Intelligence gathering is of course a key part of any country’s military operations, including (one at least hopes) the UK.8200 art

Two hundred and thirty-seven of the report’s 407 words are devoted to amplification of the obviously politically motivated – and unverified – claims of a small group of apparently soon to be former reservists in Unit 8200. Ninety-five words are allotted to the IDF’s response to the letter which was promoted in local and foreign media and the rest of the report’s word-count is devoted to background, including amplification of a no less politically motivated UN position.

“Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, since 1967. It pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, though the UN still regards Gaza as under Israeli occupation.”

Since its publication, this BBC article has not been updated to reflect the fact that on the same day another letter was also published.

“Meanwhile, over 150 reservists from the same unit signed a letter on Friday protesting the claims put forth in the original letter.

“Having been familiar with the unit for many reasons, we can’t accept the claims regarding a lack of ethical and moral guidelines in the intelligence work of the unit,” the 150-plus soldiers wrote. “Throughout our service, we bore witness to many cases in which the use of intelligence capabilities made it possible to safeguard human lives, on both sides.”

“Even when moral dilemmas arise during the work, as well as in wartime, we have witnessed, and still witnessed, a mature and responsible response which is in line with international law and the ethical and moral code of the army.”

The soldiers noted that when summoned for reserve duty, they cast their political opinions aside and “come to serve the country, as any soldier should do, particularly in a unit like ours.” “

That letter now has some 200 signatories.

Likewise, BBC audiences have not been informed of other reactions to the letter, including from the leader of the Labour party and chair of the opposition.

“Also on Saturday, Israeli opposition leader and Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog came out against the reservists’ letter. Herzog, who served in the unit during his time in the military, said on his Facebook page that he strongly opposes the refusal of military orders, and warned that at the end of the day the Israeli public will pay the price. “This unit and its operations are vital not just for wartime but also, and in particular, during times of peace,” he wrote.”

The fact that 43 reservists of a particular political stripe were able to publish such a letter (just as similar ones have been published in the past), and that some 200 others were able to publish their counter-statement, is of course testimony to Israel’s free and vibrant democracy. BBC audiences, however, have missed out on that important aspect of this story because – after having published the part which conforms to the narrative it wishes to promote – the corporation then dropped the story. 

One to watch: BBC’s Panorama on ‘The War of the Tunnels’

An edition of ‘Panorama’ titled “The War of the Tunnels” – which has already been postponed twice for reasons unknown – is now scheduled for broadcast on BBC One on Monday, September 15th with repeats on the BBC News channel and BBC Two as shown below.

Panorama Corbin

The programme’s synopsis states:

“For seven weeks Hamas rockets roared over the border into Israel while Israeli bombs pounded Gaza. Panorama’s Jane Corbin goes deep into the underground tunnels where battles have been fought to investigate the war that has devastated Gaza.

What has each side really gained in this war and can there be a solution to the conflict which is fuelling hatred and fear all over the world?”

As readers are no doubt aware, Jane Corbin’s previous Israel-related documentaries have included the January 2010 programme titled “A Walk in the Park” which was extremely problematic and generated numerous complaints.  

In August of the same year Jane Corbin produced another documentary titled “Death in the Med” which related to the May 2010 ‘Mavi Marmara’ incident in which anti-Israel activists attacked soldiers trying to prevent the ship of that name from breaching the naval blockade. In that case Corbin’s reporting was considerably more accurate and impartial but nevertheless was the subject of complaints – partially at least as the result of an organized campaign by the PSC.

Assuming that “The War of the Tunnels” is finally aired, it will be interesting to see which of the above styles of reporting it more resembles.

Update:

It would appear that this programme’s broadcast in the UK has been cancelled yet again with the BBC One Panorama webpage currently informing visitors that “There are no upcoming broadcasts of this programme”. However, viewers of BBC World News not located in either the Middle East or Europe will apparently now (perhaps) be able to watch the programme on September 20th and 21st.

Panorama update

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

“Well the BBC’s one of the few organisations that has permanent offices in Gaza, in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, so we are better placed than many to make sure that we report both sides of the story. Ah…we’re very careful about the language we use. We’re very careful about the interviews we do and ensuring we have balance in both points of view that are put across and also just the volume of interviews we do from both sides. […] we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side.” (Source: BBC World Editor Andrew Roy, July 5th 2014)

Between July 8th and August 26th the BBC World Service’s flagship news and current affairs radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted considerable attention to coverage of the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip in its two daily editions – each of which is broadcast twice, with a version also be being broadcast in the US on American Public Media stations. Episodes are also available on the internet for around a year after broadcast. According to the BBC, its World Service radio had a total weekly reach of 43 million people in 2011, with 1.7 million weekly listeners in the UK and 9.9 million weekly listeners in America.Newshour 28 7

In this post we will take a look at one random but representative week of Newshour programmes (July 28th to August 3rd inclusive) in order to assess the accuracy of Andrew Roy’s above claims regarding “the language we use”, “balance in both points of view that are put across”, “the volume of interviews we do from both sides” and “fair balance to each side” as heard by the programme’s tens of millions of listeners.

On July 28th the programme’s evening version was presented by James Coomarasamy. The relevant seven and a half-minute section (00:38 to 08:10 in the link above) related mostly to incidents which had taken place a few hours earlier when misfired missiles launched by Palestinian terrorists hit a playground in Shati, killing ten people. Even though evidence presented by the IDF clearly showing the circumstances of the incident had been made public several hours before Newshour went on air, for more than two minutes at the beginning of the segment, listeners were led to believe that an Israeli attack had taken place.

James Coomarasamy: “After another brief truce the Eid al Fitr holiday has seen at least two airstrikes in Gaza itself as well as rocket fire going in the other direction. One of the attacks in Gaza was on the main al Shifa hospital, another on a playground. Ten Palestinians were killed in that second attack according to the health ministry in Gaza and it’s not hard to guess the sort of victims that you would find in a playground. Here’s an eye-witness.

‘There were seven children playing. They were hit and then they died on the spot. Another three men were sat over there and they were also hit. The children were playing and they were happy, enjoying Eid, and then they got blown to pieces.’ “

The segment then moved on to the BBC’s Martin Patience reporting from Shifa hospital, with both he and Coomarasamy perpetuating the myth of an Israeli ‘attack’ on the facility. Only at 02:55 were audiences informed of what Patience terms “conflicting claims” and “differing accounts”. Coomarasamy’s commentary continued with the inclusion of recordings from news conferences by the Israeli Prime Minister and the UN Secretary General. At 04:57 he introduced IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner who spoke for eleven seconds before the following Hamas statement was read out by a BBC staffer.

“Israeli occupation airplanes targeted earlier this evening a kids’ park in a refugee camp and a building in the Shifa hospital complex in the west of Gaza City. A police explosives engineering unit has examined the target places and found remains of Israeli shells fell in those places. The Israeli allegations that Palestinian rockets hit these places is not true and is a failed attempt to escape from the responsibility for these crimes and fear of scandal and legal prosecution.”

The programme then returned to Peter Lerner who related to the Shati incident for a further 44 seconds before Coomarasamy turned the conversation to other issues.

As we see, audiences heard Coomarasamy, Patience, an anonymous eye-witness and a Hamas statement promoting the inaccurate notion that Israel had attacked both a playground in Shati and Shifa hospital, compared to 55 seconds of clarification from the IDF spokesman.Newshour 29 7

On July 29th the lunchtime version of Newshour (00:30 to 13:00) opened with presenter Rebecca Kesby saying:

“But first let’s go to Gaza where there’s been some of the most intensive bombing since the conflict began three weeks ago. Locals describe relentless bombardment. There’s been an enormous cloud of thick black smoke billowing over Gaza this morning. That’s from an Israeli airstrike on Gaza’s only power supply…power plant…overnight.”

The programme moved on to a report from the BBC’s Chris Morris in the Gaza Strip which includes the following entirely baseless allegation:

“And it is Gaza’s only power plant so there are electricity cuts in Gaza City, there could be problems with water supply because many of the area’s water pumps also rely on that power plant. So if that was a deliberate Israeli attempt to cause economic pain – which is certainly how most Palestinians will see it – then it could be fairly successful.”

The programme continued with Jon Donnison’s highly contentious presentation of a member of the PFLP from Beit Ummar as a charity worker – also promoted on BBC television news and on the website. After that, listeners heard a four-minute interview with Fatah’s Jibril Rajoub. No attempt was made in this programme to inform audiences with regard the situation in Israel.

The programme’s evening version (00:30 to 12:45) was presented by James Coomarasamy and it included a report from the BBC’s Martin patience in Gaza, an interview by Chris Morris with the deputy chair of Gaza’s energy authority Fathi el Sheikh Khalil and a six and a half-minute interview with anti-Israel activist Mads Gilbert during which – with more than a little help from Coomarasamy – the presence of Hamas officials in Shifa hospital was described to audiences as “a civilian administrator checking up, rather than the hospital used as a headquarters for Hamas”. Again, listeners heard nothing depicting the Israeli side of the story in this edition.Newshour 30 7

The afternoon version (00:50 to 12:45) of Newshour on July 30th was presented by Rebecca Kesby who opened:

“But first to Gaza and in recent days it’s been difficult to imagine how the situation could get any worse. Well today perhaps it did. A few hours ago, just before dawn, what appears to have been Israeli shells slammed into a United Nations school in the Jabaliya refugee camp.”

The programme continued with an emotive report from the BBC’s Chris Morris which included the following conversation with an unnamed woman:

Woman: “They didn’t kill any militant. They kill us. They kill us every day, every night. We cannot sleep, cannot eat, we can’t drink.”

Morris: “And there were no militants, no rockets in this school?”

Woman: “No, no, nothing. No militant, no weapons.”

There were, however, terrorists firing mortar rounds at Israeli troops in the vicinity of the school.  Morris’ report also included an interview with Robert Turner of UNRWA, after which he closed with the following remarks:

“Israel says it is investigating and that its forces were fired upon form close to this school and responded. That’s not what the survivors say and it’s pretty hard to find any justification for what happened here.”

That was followed by a short interjection by Kesby and then further reporting by Morris in which he again claimed that there was no firing by terrorists from the vicinity of the school. Next came by a short emotion-laden interview with UNRWA’s Chris Gunness after which Kesby interviewed IDF spokesman Peter Lerner who began by informing her that mortar fire had been launched from near the school. Despite that, and clearly once again in armchair military expert mode, Kesby continued to promote the inaccurate notion that the school was the target of an attack.

“Was it targeted? Did you target this school?”

“But I mean there just seems to be such a contradiction there, doesn’t there? Because you say that you’re making surgical strikes, that you’re being careful not to involve civilian casualties. You say that you didn’t target this school but you did hit it, so does that mean that your targets are off site? That people who are operating your machinery, your weapons, aren’t being accurate in their targeting? What…what…has someone messed up here or did you deliberately target the school?”

“How long do you think some of your allies will be prepared to tolerate the scenes that we’ve seen today coming from Gaza whereby you have shells in classrooms, you have women crying over their dead children and that this is a UN facility. This is an embarrassment what happened today for Israel, isn’t it? How are you going to explain that to the international community?”

The programmes’s evening version (00:30 to 12:30), opened with presenter James Coomarasamy saying:Newshour 30 7 b

“But, we begin where we have begun all week – in Gaza – with a set of events that are becoming numbingly familiar. Palestinian health officials say at least 15 people were killed and more than 160 wounded in an Israeli airstrike on a crowded market in Gaza.”

Listeners then heard from a Hamas spokesman after which Coomarasamy returned to the Jabaliya incident, speaking to Jon Donnison – at the time still in Jerusalem – about both events.  Donnison did at least clarify that the Shuja’iya district where the market is located was not included in the areas under a four-hour truce at the time. The programme continued with an interview with UN spokesman Farhan Haq which was followed by an interview with Israel’s former ambassador to the US, Michael Oren.

The July 31st lunchtime version (00:45 to 13:00) of Newshour was presented by Rebecca Kesby. The item included a report from Bethany Bell in Jerusalem presenting – for the first time in four days – an Israeli view of events. After that, Kesby interviewed Israeli MK Danny Danon, displaying some of her interpretation of the BBC’s famed ‘impartiality’.Newshour 31 7

“You say it’s an insult that the Americans are asking you for a ceasefire, but do you not think that perhaps the Americans are asking you to show some leadership in Israel. I mean you’re a first world country…eh…you’ve got…you signed up to certain values. Shouldn’t you show some leadership and show the way forward?”

“But what the Americans and others across the world are seeing on their television screens are dead civilians and they’re seeing your artillery hitting schools and hospitals and the power supply and people see that as collective punishment against the Palestinians.”

Next Kesby showcased the opinion of an anonymous Hamas supporter in Gaza who claimed that “Hamas are struggling to lift the eight-year siege which has been imposed by the Israeli occupation and backed by the international community”. Kesby made no attempt to inform listeners that there is no siege on Gaza, that border restrictions were implemented as a consequence of Hamas terrorism or that the Gaza Strip is not occupied. She then interviewed Fawaz Gerges of the LSE on the topic of Hamas’ popularity.

The programme’s evening edition (00:24 to 13:00) opened with a statement from White House spokesman Josh Ernest concerning the incident in Jabaliya. Next came a report from the BBC’s Martin Patience in the Gaza Strip and that was followed by James Coomarasamy interviewing former PLO advisor Rashid Khalidi of Colombia university who was given four minutes in which to promote propaganda such as that below.

“My point is that this [cross-border attack tunnels] is not really what it’s about. Hamas uses tunnels – the Israelis claim of course to kill Israelis. What they have mainly been used for is to try and capture Israelis to exchange them for the many, many, many scores, hundreds, thousands of Palestinian prisoners who’ve been held – political prisoners I would add – for decades.”

“The whole point is that context, that background; that this is all taking place against a background of occupation. This is taking place against a background of blockade and siege. This is taking place against a background of every single time that there is an outburst of violence, scores of Palestinians die for every Israeli who dies, such that you have a disproportionate overwhelming imbalance in terms of the use of violence by Israel. All we hear about is Israeli casualties, Israeli concerns and so on.”

“Every time Israel has used its war machine against civilians, which it does regularly and systematically, they’re either totally imprecise or they’re trying to kill people. Those are the only two possibilities.”

The programme continued with an interview with Daniel Kurtzer – former US ambassador to Israel.

On August 1st the lunchtime version (00:00 to 10:00) of Newshour was presented by Rebecca Kesby who opened:Newshour 1 8

“And let’s start with the news from Gaza. And it was barely two hours in place before the humanitarian ceasefire collapsed.”

The item included a pre-recorded report by Jon Donnison in Beit Hanoun followed by a conversation between Kesby and Donnison about the breakdown of that day’s ceasefire. Kesby then spoke with the deputy secretary-general of Fatah Sabri Saidam who misrepresented the reasons for the breakdown of the truce.

The programme’s evening edition (00:24 to 13:00 and 30:00 to 39:15) was presented by Julian Marshall who informed listeners that “each side has accused the other of breaking the truce”. The item continued with a report by Jon Donnison which inaccurately portrayed the attack which breached the ceasefire as having taken place inside Israeli territory – as did Donnison’s television version of the same report – and Gilad Shalit as having been “captured in Gaza”.

Marshall went on to interview an Oxfam representative in the Gaza Strip followed by a 17 second-long recording of a statement made by the father of Hadar Goldin. Marshall’s next interviewee was Osama Hamdan of Hamas who misrepresented the circumstances of the truce’s breakdown. Next came a conversation with James Reynolds in Jerusalem presenting the Israeli view of the situation. Later on in the programme listeners heard from two Israelis – Ronit Keidar in Netiv HaAssera and retired Major General Giora Eiland.Newshour 2 8

Julian Marshall also presented both editions of Newshour on August 2nd. The midday edition (00:30 to 10:30 and 45:00 to 47:45) began with unnamed residents of Gaza describing what Marshall terms “the death and destruction” and with the language used including “…it’s an extermination. An extermination.” Next came a report from the BBC’s Martin Patience in the Gaza Strip. Marshall then turned his attentions to the amplification of a story about an offensive article by an outside blogger on the Times of Israel website, even though it was removed and the blogger’s posting rights removed.

The programme continued with a report by the BBC’s Andrew Hoskin doing ‘man in the street’ interviews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Later on listeners heard a report on the topic of ceasefire negotiations in Cairo from the BBC’s Mark Lowen.

In the evening version (00:30 to 13:30 and 26:30 to 36:00) of the programme Marshall interviewed Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson and that was followed by a report from the BBC’s Martin Patience in Gaza. Next Marshall spoke with British politician Lynne Featherstone, pushing the topic of arms sales to Israel, promoting the notion of a “disproportionate” conflict and asking his interviewee:

“How many more Palestinians need to be killed before Britain, other Western governments start to be more strident in their criticism of Israel?”

Later on in the programme Marshall repeated the Times of Israel story and the Andrew Hoskin report featured in the programme’s earlier edition, introducing the latter item with the dubious claim that:

“…the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews back the army’s offensive against Hamas: a view very much at odds with global public opinion.”

Marshall’s final interviewee was the PA’s representative in the UK, Manuel Hassassian who was given an undisturbed platform to promote his propaganda concerning a ‘siege’ and an ‘occupation’ which do not exist.Newshour 3 8

On August 3rd both editions of the programme were presented by Rebecca Kesby. In the lunchtime edition (00:30 to 12:54) Kesby opened by saying:

“But first to Gaza where this morning at least ten people were killed in an attack just outside a UN-run school in Rafah where displaced Palestinians were taking shelter from the fighting.”

The programme continued with a statement by UNRWA’s Robert Turner, after which Kesby spoke to IDF Spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner, who tried time and time again to explain to her that he was not in a position to make a statement on what happened outside the school in Rafah because investigation of the incident (actually a strike on 3 PIJ terrorists) had not been completed at the time. Note how Kesby – who, as is clear from her above introduction, knew full well that the incident took place outside the school building – used manipulative language to turn it into an attack on a school. [emphasis added]

RK: “Well the UN seems pretty convinced that it was an Israeli shell that hit their school. Robert Turner has been saying that it’s now the third such facility of theirs that your forces have hit. He’s very cross. He says that the UN keeps telling the Israeli forces the precise location of all their facilities where people are going to take shelter and they keep being hit.”

RK: “People listening to this will be very cross to hear this again – just three days after another attack on a UN school which provoked widespread condemnation around the world. You talk about surgical strikes and precision bombing but the evidence is very different.”

“On the question of the UN-run school that was hit in Rafah this morning: when will you know if it was your rocket that killed those ten people and injured those 30 others?”

“Excuse me, sir, but you’re telling Palestinians to evacuate from their homes and seek shelter. They seek shelter at UN schools. You then bomb the schools. Whether it’s near the school or not, it’s not safe for them there, is it?”

During the same conversation, Kesby also amplified Hamas propaganda concerning Lt Hadar Goldin.

“But at the time you told people that he had been captured and this is something that Hamas have been saying was an attempt by you to try to manipulate the news agenda. Hamas leader Osama Hamdan said that Israel’s claims that the soldier was captured is to divert the public opinion to speak of the soldier instead of the Palestinians.”

The programme continued with UNRWA’s Chris Gunness talking about medical services in the Gaza Strip, followed by an interview with Dr Bassel Abuwarda who was allowed to promote the falsehood that Shifa hospital had been attacked by Israel a few days previously and to say:

“Most of the injuries that arrive in the hospitals are from children and women because they are bombing the houses while people are sleeping or while they inside. The majority of the population here in Gaza are children so imagine that you are bombing a house full with the children and women.”

The programme’s evening version (00:30 to 19:20 and 26:30 to 35:10) began with a statement by James Rawley of the UN who inaccurately claimed that 84% of those killed in the Gaza Strip were civilians. Next, Kesby spoke again to Lt Col Peter Lerner, once again indulging her hobby of amateur military strategist.Newshour 3 8 b

“But you’ve got 1,700 people dead, nine thousand injured – this is according to the UN – most of them civilians. If you’re so off target so often, should you just not stop firing your weapons?”

Kesby next interviewed Ahron Bregman of Kings College whose contribution was to suggest that Israel should not use artillery or “big” bombs in Gaza and after that the earlier interview with Dr Bassel Abuwarda was repeated. Later on in the programme Kesby returned to the topic of Gaza with a report by the BBC’s Andrew Hosken in which he interviewed two Israeli Arabs in Haifa – one of whom promoted the notion of increased “racism from some Jews” as a result of the conflict – and one man in what Hosken described as “East Jerusalem […] annexed from Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967″ who was given an unchallenged platform to make the following claims.

“Well what’s happening in Gaza is a massacre, is a war crime that the Israelis are committing against children, against women, against old people. They are destroying everything, they are killing everybody. They are killers. They are vampires. They live on blood. This is my land, this is my home. This is my father land, my grandfather land, my grand, grand, grand, grand, grand, grandfather’s land. I have no place else to go.”

Kesby concluded with an interview with Arab Israeli author Sayed Kashua about his decision to leave Israel.

Throughout this particular week listeners heard BBC correspondents reporting four times on the Israeli side of the story and once on Arab Israeli views compared to nine reports by BBC journalists in the Gaza Strip. They heard from Israeli spokesmen five times and from other Israelis (including one leaving the country) on five additional occasions. UN officials presenting a Palestinian viewpoint were interviewed on seven occasions. Hamas spokespeople were featured three times and other Gaza functionaries four times. Fatah figures were interviewed on three occasions and anti-Israel activists and/or academics on four others.

In other words, in terms of what Andrew Roy describes as the “volume of interviews” and “ensuring we have balance in both points of view”, Newshour audiences were exposed to over twice as much material representing Palestinian viewpoints as they were to the Israeli side of the story, both in terms of guest interviewees and reports by BBC staff.

 Whilst hours of coverage were devoted to depiction of the situation of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, audiences were told very little indeed about how civilians in Israel fared during the same week – clearly debunking Roy’s claim of “fair balance to each side”.

With regard to Roy’s claim that “we’re very careful about the language we use” the performances of the three presenters of Newshour – and in particular Rebecca Kesby – demonstrated clear bias to the extent of the deliberate misleading of listeners with regard to the facts surrounding incidents and the presenters’ own political views were amply apparent.

Examination of Newshour’s output throughout the rest of the period between July 8th and August 26th shows that this sample week is entirely representative of that programme’s performance as a whole and prompts the very pertinent question of whether – beyond the type of platitudes voiced by Andrew Roy – the BBC actually has any sort of quality control mechanism in place to review and analyse its content and learn from the results.

Beyond the issue of adherence to BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality (relevant not least because these programmes will still be available on the internet for months to come), the wider issue of the BBC’s contribution to the distortion of news and that practice’s contribution to manipulation of public opinion, even to the point of fostering hatred and racism. is a very relevant and topical issue which responsible news organisations should feel obliged to examine and address after their performance throughout this summer.  

Related Articles:

‘From Our Own Correspondent': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

‘Hardtalk': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

 

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

On Saturday September 13th at 20:00 UK time BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4′ will broadcast an episode titled “Media and the Middle East“. The synopsis reads as follows:Archive on 4

“The rockets and missiles fly, from Israel into Gaza, from Gaza into Israel. It’s the latest iteration of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours which has flared since the very founding of the Jewish state in 1948.

Accompanying the conflict has been an unprecedented level of media coverage. And almost nothing is uncontested. Every sentence, every word of a news report is parsed for signs of bias by individuals and organisations dedicated to ensuring a fair deal for their point of view. Coverage is measured in minutes and seconds of airtime. Media organisations stand accused, by both sides, of prejudice, systemic bias and deliberate distortion.

Why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does? And why does it create such strong emotion, even among those with no connection to the region?

John Lloyd, a contributing editor at the Financial Times, examines the evolution of coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict from the founding of Israel to the present day.

With contributions from journalists and those who monitor them, Lloyd asks why there is such focus both on the conflict itself and on those who report it. He traces the way reporting has developed from the early television age, through the introduction of 24-hour news channels to the inception of social media. And he examines the challenges of reporting fairly and accurately on a conflict in which every assertion is contested.”

John Lloyd is also a founder and director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (which readers may recall has been the recipient of BBC funding) and in addition he writes a blog at Reuters. Some of his recent entries relevant to the topic under discussion in the above programme can be seen here, here and here

BBC News report on Palestinian rioter shot near Ramallah fails to provide context

On September 10th a short report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian man shot dead in West Bank raid“.Jelazoun

“A Palestinian has been killed during an Israeli raid on a refugee camp near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Palestinian medics said Issa Qatari, 22, was shot in the chest and died shortly before reaching hospital.

The Israeli military said its forces had clashed with dozens of protesters after entering the al-Amari camp on Wednesday to arrest a Hamas operative.

“A main instigator attempted to hurl an explosive device” at the troops, who opened fire in response, it added.

Witnesses in the camp gave a similar account of the incident.

Protesters “showered the invading forces with stones, and soldiers responded with live ammunition, injuring a number of other Palestinians”, one told the Maan news agency.

The Israeli military said the Hamas operative was arrested in the raid.”

The BBC’s “dozens of protesters” would have been more accurately described as rioters.

“An IDF unit sent to arrest a Hamas member in Ramallah encountered violent disturbances when approximately 50 Palestinians hurled rocks, firebombs, and burning tires, the army said. One of the rioters was seen throwing an explosive device at soldiers, according to the IDF Spokespersons Unit. Soldiers opened fire at the suspect, striking him. The man later died of gunshot wounds.”

What is missing from this report is of course the context necessary to enable BBC audiences to understand the background to the incident. There has been no BBC reporting of any of the recent violent rioting and attacks in Jerusalem and in Judea & Samaria. In fact, the last time visitors to the BBC News website were told anything about violence in those areas was on July 25th when Jon Donnison presented a very selective report on incidents in Qalandiya and elsewhere. BBC audiences are hence entirely unaware of the fact that the number of attacks in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem has – according to ISA reports – risen dramatically since the beginning of July with 507 attacks having taken place during that month compared to 100 the month before.

The chart below was compiled using the monthly statistics provided by the ISA but does not include separate representation of kidnappings, murders, stabbings or attacks using vehicles.

Chart jan 13 to jul 14

Of course there is nothing new about the BBC’s failure to report on security incidents, as we have frequently documented here in the past (see related articles below). However, that practice means that incidents such as the one reported in the above article are seen by BBC audiences in isolation, without the essential understanding of their backdrop.

Related Articles:

BBC silent on doubling of terror attacks since renewed ME talks

Review of the BBC’s reporting of security incidents in Judea & Samaria in January

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

Round-up of BBC coverage of security incidents – April 2014

100% of missile fire from Gaza Strip in May ignored by BBC