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

 

 

 

Source of the BBC’s three 2013 Iron Dome reports gets cosy with a Holocaust denier

h/t Adam Holland Twitter

On July 10th 2014 – soon after the commencement of Operation Protective Edge – the BBC News website’s Middle East page included an article by diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus in its ‘Features & Analysis’ section which was titled “What weapons are being used in the Israel-Gaza conflict“. In that article, Marcus wrote:Marcus 10 7

“As important in determining Israel’s strategic outlook as its offensive operations is the reliance that it places on missile defence – the Iron Dome system – to defend its civilian population. Indeed, as long as it is successful it is a powerful factor in crisis limitation. […]

Israel rigorously guards detailed data on Iron Dome’s performance. Its earlier use has prompted some debate among experts on its seemingly extraordinary success rate. But whatever the basic data, the evidence from its use suggests that it is having a significant effect in preventing Israeli casualties.”

The link inserted by Marcus leads to an earlier article he wrote in March 2013 promoting the claims of MIT professor Theodore (Ted) Postol which was discussed on these pages at the time. Jonathan Marcus did not like our post concerning his report and chose to respond in the comments section, informing us that:

“The report on Ted Postol’s work (with two other scientists cited) first ran in Ha’aretz. I saw this but waited until I had a chance to speak to Postol – who despite your rather nasty insinuations, is a highly respected scientist with a distinguished track record in this field. You will remember that he correctly questioned the performance of the initial Patriot system in the war to liberate Kuwait. His concerns about Iron Dome certainly merits an airing rather than criticism.”

Six weeks after the appearance of Marcus’ report – in April 2013 – the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly produced two additional reports on the same topic promoting the same claims advanced by Postol.

Well now it appears that Jonathan Marcus’ “highly respected scientist” has found a new outlet via which to promote his theories.Iron Dome

Towards the end of August 2014 Ted Postol gave two interviews to a person named Ryan Dawson who uploaded them to his Youtube channel which is titled ANC Report – “Anti-neocon Report”. In the first of those interviews Postol again promotes his claims regarding the Iron Dome (as well as his opinions on Israel in general and American domestic politics) and in the second he takes issue (as he has before) with the fact that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against civilians in Damascus in August 2013. Both interviews provide very revealing insight into Postol’s political views – and his motivations.

So who is the person with whom this “highly respected scientist” agreed to chat in such a chummy manner for an hour and a half? Adam Holland has more details on Ryan – or Ry – Dawson.

“The man behind the podcast promoting those videos, Ryan Dawson, has for over a decade used the internet to spread some pretty horrid ideas: ideas about Jews making up or exaggerating crimes committed by Nazi Germany, ideas about Israel carrying out the 9/11 attacks, even claims that the Jewish religion sanctions pedophilia, rape and ritual murder. Dawson has made clever use of the free publicity-generating possibilities provided by social media to promote some of the worst forms bigotry and conspiracy theories. On Facebook, he does this under the name “antizionist”. He’s “Anti-neocon,” “Super anti-neocon” or just “ANC” for his blog, web-forum and his podcast, the “ANC Report”.”

Perhaps Jonathan Marcus would be kind enough to tell us in the comments below whether he thinks it appropriate for the BBC to still be promoting on its website the bizarre claims of someone who collaborates with a known antisemitic Holocaust denier?  

 

 

Interesting insight into how the job of Trust chair is seen by BBC staff

On August 30th the BBC’s Media and Arts correspondent David Sillito reported on the appointment of Rona Fairhead to the position of chair of the BBC Trust. In his filmed report Sillito made the following statement:Sillitoe filmed

“The BBC chair is a big job. […] You are overseeing the BBC but you are also in many ways responsible for being the cheerleader, defending it when politicians have got something to say about the BBC.”

A very similar version of that statement also appeared in a written article on the BBC News website’s Entertainment and Arts page on August 31st.

“Being in charge of the BBC Trust is a “big job”, said BBC media and arts correspondent David Sillito.

“You are overseeing the BBC, but you are also in many ways responsible for being the cheerleader, defending it when politicians have got something to say about the BBC,” he added.”

Obviously the first interesting point about that statement is that Sillito appears to rule out the possibility that politicians might have something valid to say about the BBC which may in fact not merit defence on the part of the Trust’s chair.

Secondly, it is particularly remarkable that the role’s main function does not appear to enter into the BBC’s media correspondent’s understanding of the job.

The Royal Charter defines the role of the BBC Trust as follows:

“Within the BBC, there shall be a BBC Trust and an Executive Board of the BBC. These two bodies shall each play important, but different, roles within the BBC. In summary, the main roles of the Trust are in setting the overall strategic direction of the BBC ,including its priorities, and in exercising a general oversight of the work of the Executive Board. The Trust will perform these roles in the public interest, particularly the interest of licence fee payers.” [emphasis added]

The Charter further stipulates:

Role of the Trust

Guardians of the licence fee and the public interest

The Trust is the guardian of the licence fee revenue and the public interest in the BBC.

The Trust has the ultimate responsibility, subject to the provisions of this Charter, for—

(a) the BBC’s stewardship of the licence fee revenue and its other resources;

(b) upholding the public interest within the BBC, particularly the interests of licence fee payers; and

(c) securing the effective promotion of the Public Purposes.”

It would appear that one of Ms Fairhead’s first tasks may have to be to clarify to BBC staff why she is there and exactly whose interests her position is tasked with safeguarding. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

On September 9th the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel ‘coercing Eritreans and Sudanese to leave’” on its Middle East page and the main thing BBC audiences are able to learn from it is that a BBC staffer read a press release put out by the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’ on the same day.HRW PR art

The article is 555 words long, not including its headline, photo captions and sub-headings. It includes a recycled filmed report by Richard Galpin from January 2014 which was previously discussed here. One hundred and forty-five words of the report can be described as original BBC content; mostly dedicated to the response solicited from the Israeli foreign ministry. The other four hundred and ten words are rehashed statements from the HRW press release, as shown below.

BBC: “Israel is unlawfully coercing almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals into leaving the country at great personal risk, Human Rights Watch says.”

HRW: “Israeli authorities have unlawfully coerced almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals into returning to their home countries where they risk serious abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.”

BBC:  “They have been denied access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and detained unlawfully, a new report says.”

HRW: “Israeli authorities have labelled Eritreans and Sudanese a “threat”, branded them “infiltrators,” denied them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and used the resulting insecure legal status as a pretext to unlawfully detain or threaten to detain them indefinitely, coercing thousands into leaving.”

BBC: “Eritreans and Sudanese began arriving in Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in large numbers in 2006. By December 2012, about 37,000 Eritreans and 14,000 Sudanese had entered the country.”

HRW: “In 2006, Eritreans and Sudanese began arriving in Israel through Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in large numbers, fleeing widespread human rights abuses in their countries. By the time Israel all but sealed off its border with Egypt in December 2012, about 37,000 Eritreans and 14,000 Sudanese had entered the country.”

BBC: “HRW says that over the past eight years, the Israeli authorities have employed various measures to encourage them to leave.”

HRW: “Over the past eight years, the Israeli authorities have applied various coercive measures to “make their lives miserable” and “encourage the illegals to leave,” in the words of former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai and current Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, respectively. “

BBC: “They include “indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9% of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare”, it alleges.”

HRW: “These include indefinite detention, obstacles to accessing Israel’s asylum system, the rejection of 99.9 percent of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum claims, ambiguous policies on being allowed to work, and severely restricted access to healthcare.”

BBC: “In September 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that a 2012 amendment to an anti-infiltration law, which allowed for the indefinite detention of people for illegal entry, was unlawful.

In response, the Israeli parliament passed another amendment to the law in December that established the Holot facility in the remote Negev desert for those considered “infiltrators”.”

HRW: “Since June 2012, the Israeli authorities have indefinitely detained thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese for entering Israel irregularly, that is, without entering through an official border crossing. After the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in September 2013 that such detention was unlawful, the Israeli authorities responded by renaming their detention policy and began requiring Eritreans and Sudanese to live in the Holot “Residency Center” in Israel’s remote Negev desert in conditions which amount to detention despite the change in name.”

BBC: “Hundreds of Eritreans and Sudanese have since been ordered to report to the centre, where they live in conditions that HRW says breach international law on arbitrary detention.”

HRW: “Detaining people in Holot breaches the prohibition under international law on arbitrary detention because people are confined to a specific location where they cannot carry out their normal occupational and social activities.”

BBC: “The Israeli authorities say they are not detained because they can leave for a few hours at a time. However, they are required to report three times a day and to be in the centre at night. The only way for them to secure their release is to be recognised as a refugee or leave the country.”

HRW: “The only way for detainees to secure their release is to be recognized as a refugee.”

BBC: “In February 2013, Israel allowed Eritreans and Sudanese to lodge asylum claims in significant numbers. However, as of March 2014, the authorities had only reviewed slightly more than 450 “detainee” cases, and the rejection rate has been almost 100%, HRW says.”

HRW: “In February 2013, Israel allowed Eritreans and Sudanese to lodge asylum claims in significant numbers. However, as of March 2014, the authorities had only reviewed just over 450 detainees’ claims, while Israeli refugee lawyers said there was no evidence that the authorities had reviewed a single claim by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israeli towns and cities. The rejection rate has been almost 100 percent.”

BBC: ” “Destroying people’s hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently abusive,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

“Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are left with the choice of living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centres or of risking detention and abuse back home.” “

HRW: “Destroying people’s hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently  abusive,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are left with the choice of living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centers or of risking detention and abuse back home.”

BBC: “HRW says Israel is violating the international principle of “non-refoulement”, which forbids states from returning refugees and asylum seekers to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.”

HRW: “Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who agree to return from Israel to their own countries under threat of indefinite detention should be considered victims of refoulement, Human Rights Watch said. Refoulement, under international law, is the forcible return “in any manner whatsoever” of a refugee or asylum seeker to a risk of persecution, or of anyone to likely torture or inhuman and degrading treatment.”

There is of course a term for this sort of ‘news report': churnalism.

“‘Churnalism’ is a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added.”

This is not the first time that the BBC has produced a churnalism piece based on a HRW press release and far from the first occasion on which the BBC has amplified the allegations of political NGOs without informing audiences of the part those organisations play in anti-Israel campaigning.  As has been noted here previously:

“[…] the sheer number of organisations putting out statements for use by the media makes it important for BBC journalists not just to make do with identifying the source of the press release, but also to inform readers of any political and/or ideological affiliations which may have a bearing upon the impartiality of the information put out by the organization concerned – as indeed they are required to do by the Editorial Guidelines with other outside contributors.”

Human Right Watch’s dismal record was called out by its founder in 2009. Its increasingly deteriorating reputation on Israel-related issues took further blows throughout the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and it is one of several political NGOs currently conducting a lawfare campaign against Israel under the guise of ‘human rights’ – as the BBC should be well aware seeing as it has made its own contributions to that campaign.

And yet, rather than providing readers with the essential relevant information on HRW’s lack of objectivity which would enable them to place the NGO’s allegations (and motivations) on the very complex issue of African migrants in Israel into their correct context, the BBC once again self-conscripts to providing nothing more than parroted PR amplification for HRW’s politicised claims.

The British government’s Culture Secretary recently voiced the opinion that the size of the BBC suggests that more savings could be made and articles such as this add weight to Sajid Javid’s view. After all, rather than having a member of staff waste all that time rehashing HRW’s press release, the BBC News website could have shortened the process considerably by simply providing the link to it and adding “we think it’s super”. The end result as far as informing BBC audiences is concerned would clearly not have been any different. 

 

Mainstreaming Hizb ut-Tahrir ideology on BBC Radio 4

On September 8th BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of ‘Beyond Belief’ titled “Religious History of Iraq. Here is the programme’s synopsis:Beyond Belief

“Today life for religious minorities in Northern Iraq is perilous as the militant Islamist group, Islamic State, continues to attack a range of diverse groups across the country in its pursuit of establishing a new Caliphate. But in this programme Ernie Rea and guests explore how up until the 20th century Iraq was known as a harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity. How true is that assessment? What has happened to change that? Is there any way for Iraq to step back from the brink? And could a Caliphate ever be part of the solution?

Joining Ernie Rea to discuss the current situation in Iraq from a religious perspective are Gerard Russell, former British and United Nations diplomat and author of “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East”; Dr Erica Hunter, Senior Lecturer in Eastern Christianity in the Department of Religions at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London: and Dr Reza Pankhurst author of The Inevitable Caliphate.”

Part of the programme relates to the topic of the former Iraqi Jewish community and there are few better qualified to assess the BBC’s treatment of that topic than Bataween at the excellent Point of No Return blog.

“You can hear Edwin Shuker (at 10 minutes into the programme) give an eloquent potted history of his life in Iraq, how the ancient Jewish community was persecuted again after the murder of King Faisal ll in 1958 and most of its remaining members fled to freedom over the mountains of Kurdistan in the 1970s.

Shuker was introduced by presenter Ernie Rea as an ‘Arab’ Jew, approved BBC-speak. Shuker told Point of No Return that he has never used this expression in his life to describe either Jews or Christians.” […]

“Ernie Rea and his guests projected the BBC party line that until the 20th century Iraq was known as a ‘harmonious melting pot of religious and ethnic diversity’. No mention of the 1941 Farhud.

All agreed that the persecution of the Jews (attributed solely to the Ba’ath party) was ‘political’ rather than religious.”

Zooming out a little though, this programme raised another issue which is becoming increasingly pertinent as Europe debates its approach to the topic of the thousands of young Muslims born and raised in Europe who have gone to fight with Jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq during the past few years – and in some cases, later returned to Europe.

As some observers – at least outside Europe – have noted, the issues of what strain of Islam young Muslims in Europe are being taught in schools and mosques and their exposure to extremist groups is obviously of paramount significance to that debate. The UK is one country in which a less than robust approach to the topic of extremism has often prevailed in recent years, with one manifestation of that being the mainstreaming of extremist opinions by the media – including the BBC – and a prominent example being the frequent appearance of Jihadist recruiter Anjem Choudary on BBC television.

More than twenty-four minutes into this thirty-minute BBC Radio 4 programme, listeners suddenly get a clue to the fact that Dr Reza Pankhurst is in fact not just some tweedy academic – and certainly not an objective commentator – when presenter Ernie Rea says:

“Reza, I’m interested in your response to this particular question about a Caliphate because as I understand it you would support a new Caliphate. You are a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir; the main plank of their platform is really the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, so I wonder how you would think an authentic Caliphate would differ from what IS are proclaiming?”

Beyond that brief “main plank” description, Rea makes no attempt to clarify the ideologies of his guest and the group to which he belongs (an organization about which the UK government has for years said it has “serious concerns”) and listeners are therefore unable to put Pankhurst’s opinions into their appropriate context.  Pankhurst’s links to the London-based Hamas support group MEMO and his sharing of platforms with assorted extremists, hate preachers and supporters of terrorism seeking to promote the notion of “the Islamophobic nature of the criminalisation of those who believe in fighting in Syria” are not revealed to listeners.

Moreover, in the last five minutes of the programme when Dr Erica Hunter challenges Reza Pankhurst about the discriminatory nature of marriage laws under a Caliphate, Rea quickly cuts off the conversation.

EH: “But that’s discriminatory because a man can marry a Jewish woman or a Christian woman but not vice-versa. If you’re a Christian man you can’t marry a Muslim.”

RP: “That’s…that’s…that’s fine Erica. There’s reasons for that but the point being is that’s the rules. I mean you won’t find anyone saying otherwise.”

EH: “But that’s discriminatory. That’s discriminatory.”

RP: “I don’t believe it is.”

Ernie Rea: “Well we must bring this programme to an end…”

Had the conversation been permitted to continue, listeners might at least have discovered more about the kind of ideology to which the BBC obviously considers it appropriate to give a platform, including the discrimination against minorities and women and the rejection of secularism, human rights, pluralism and democracy.

One of the public purposes defined in the BBC’s Charter is “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. In the opening paragraphs of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality it is stated:

“Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints.  Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.” [emphasis added]

As we have remarked here before:

“Needless to say, it would be perfectly obvious to most licence fee payers that “detachment from fundamental democratic principles” includes the promotion and amplification of the views of people to whom democracy is an anathema to be rejected on the basis of ideology.”

And of course the vast majority of people who fund the BBC – including those who share Reza Pankhurst’s faith – most likely view democratic principles as underpinning the kind of citizenship and civil society they expect their national broadcaster to sustain.

There is obviously a conversation to be had about the BBC’s provision of platforms to the proponents of extremist ideologies and the resulting legitimization and mainstreaming of those views. As time goes by, that conversation becomes increasingly urgent. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4 guest promotes Qaradawi as a source of “nuanced understanding”

On the BBC’s unwarranted use of legal terms during Operation Protective Edge

The following words will no doubt resonate with readers who have been following the BBC’s coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and have hence heard and read BBC employees and interviewees alike using the terms below on a disturbingly regular basis.EG

“War crimes. Disproportionate response. Collective punishment. Targeting civilians. Throughout Operation Protective Edge, these terms have been fired off at Israel with the same intensity and frequency as Hamas’ rockets. Arab government spokesmen constantly refer to Israel’s actions as “aggression.” In extreme cases, Israel is accused of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” “

Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation as a provider of accurate and impartial news, those loaded labels were liberally employed and promoted without evidence-based justification for their use and before any proper and professional investigations into the circumstances of the events described in that legal language had been carried out.

In a very interesting article in The Tower the writer of the above words, David Daoud, explains “Everything You Need to Know about International Law and the Gaza War” and it is well worth the long read. Another recent interesting article on a similar topic is titled “The Ethics of Protective Edge” and it was written by Professor Asa Kasher.

Throughout the seven weeks of conflict the BBC made remarkably little effort to explain to audiences the actual meaning of terms such as ‘disproportionate’, indiscriminate’,  ‘collective punishment’, ‘targeting civilians’ or ‘war crimes’ which were so frequently bandied about by its reporters and guests. One of the few efforts which were made came in the form of an eight-minute item (unfortunately no longer available) broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ show on July 29th in which David Turns of Cranfield University spoke about the meaning of “disproportionate” in international law.

“There is a general misperception that if any civilians at all are killed, then that is automatically disproportionate. But what such people generally fail to say is what something is disproportionate to, and you’ve got to consider; the law requires consideration of the legitimate military objectives of the other side as well.”

Apparently though, there was no BBC memo informing its own employees that the indiscriminate and unwarranted use of such terms is both inappropriate for an organization professing to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, as well as misleading to audiences who would quite reasonably (but wrongly) assume that the BBC’s frequent employment of such language must mean that a legal justification for its use exists. Obviously too, BBC presenters and producers had not been issued with any sort of guidelines on the topic of the legal definitions of such labels and the resulting significance of their use by correspondents and interviewees whilst no proven justification was available.

That in itself speaks volumes about the BBC’s lack of commitment to impartial reporting of Operation Protective Edge and it is an issue on which the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs obviously needs to provide answers to the corporation’s funding public.  

How is the Washington Post different from the BBC?

As readers are most likely aware, the BBC frequently uses the term “Palestinian land” to describe places in Area C of Judea & Samaria with a very recent example having appeared in the September 1st report discussed here.Error

In fact, the BBC’s ‘style guide’ has a section titled “Palestinian Land”:

“This phrase has become more widely used by politicians and broadcasters to refer to the Occupied Territories, for example to explain why the construction of settlements is considered illegal by the UN.

Critics of the phrase say it is not strictly accurate because, for example, the West Bank was captured from Jordan in 1967.

The BBC Governors considered this issue in a complaint which was referred to in the programme complaints bulletin of July 2004. Their decision was that, although the complainant objected to references to “Palestinian land” and “Arab land”, these terms “appropriately reflected the language of UN resolutions.” “

In other words, even though the final status of Area C is – according to agreements signed by Israel and the internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian people – subject to negotiations between those two parties, the BBC nevertheless elects to define the district as belonging to one party alone before those negotiations have even begun.

The Washington Post recently published an article which also referred to “Palestinian land” and our colleagues at CAMERA contacted the newspaper, pointing out that the area in question is:

” . . . disputed territory. Its status is to be resolved by negotiations anticipated by U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim accords, the 2003 international “road map” and related diplomatic efforts taking 242 and 338 as reference points. The co-authors of resolution 242, U.S. Under Secretary of State Eugene Rostow, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg, and British ambassador Lord Caradon made clear at the time and subsequently that Jews and Arabs both had claims in the territories, no national sovereignty over the territories had been recognized since the end of Ottoman rule and negotiations would be necessary to resolve competing claims.”

Readers can see the result of that correspondence here.

Would that the BBC were as committed to journalistic accuracy and impartiality. 

 

In which BBC R4 misrepresents an Israeli law and its roots

The September 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ was titled “Matters of Life and Death” and included an item by Claudia Hammond, described in the synopsis as follows:FOOC Hammond

“Claudia Hammond discovers that many patients in Israel remain on life support for years”.

 The programme is available here, with the relevant segment beginning at 18:10, or here as a podcast under the different title “The Silent Wards”.  

The item is introduced by programme presenter Kate Adie thus:

“The news from Israel has been dominated recently by events in and around Gaza. On this programme though, we like to give ourselves the space to examine other aspects of life and death. In January this year a former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon died after eight years in a coma following a massive stroke. In many other countries the machines keeping him alive would have been turned off earlier. Jewish law forbids people ending a human life. As Claudia Hammond discovered in Jerusalem, the result is that large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support.”

Hammond’s item is mostly devoted to the telling of individual stories, with the background she provides to listeners limited to the following segment:

“In most countries a ward like this would not exist and doctors and families in discussion together might have made the decision to turn off Hava’s husband’s ventilator to allow him to die. But since 2005 this has been illegal in Israel and is considered to be killing the patient, even if they’re already dying. The law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition. But talking to families of other faiths in the hospital here, it seems to have become a cultural viewpoint too.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy of some of those statements.

Kate Adie claims that “large numbers of hospital patients spend years on life support” but listeners are not told how many people “large numbers” actually are. In January 2011, for example, there were 787 people on life support in hospitals throughout Israel but by no means all would have been long-term chronic patients as that number includes, for example, premature babies and people in ICUs as the result of an accident or an illness. Israel’s population at the time was 7.7 million people: in other words, Adie’s “large numbers” are a few hundred people out of millions.

Adie states that “Jewish law” is the factor responsible for the “large numbers” of patients on life support. In fact Israeli state law is of course a separate issue from Jewish law, which is itself open to many different interpretations and by no means as simple and straightforward as Adie suggests.

According to Hammond, “the law in Israel was informed by Jewish tradition”. In fact the relevant law was the product of years of discussion by a public committee – the Steinberg Committee – appointed in the year 2000 by the Minister of Health. Members of that committee included, for example, Mr Ziad Abu Moch – Director of the College for the Study of Shari’a and Islamic Sciences in Baka al Gharbiya; Father Dr George Khouri – theologist and psychologist, President of the Greek-Catholic Court in Haifa and Sheikh Professor Fadel Mansour – member of the management committee of the Higher Druze Religious Council in Ussafiya and a biologist at the Vulcani Centre. Other members of the committee included experts in civil law, Jewish religious law, ethics, philosophy and medicine.

As we see, Hammond’s claim that the law “was informed by Jewish tradition” is a very partial and selective representation of the facts.

The law itself (a translation can be seen here), although passed in December 2005 actually came into effect in December 2006. Its wording is in fact considerably more nuanced than this BBC report suggests and it provides the opportunity for the patient to define in advance what sort of treatment he or she wishes to receive – or not receive – by means of signed advance directives. Hammond’s claim that “since 2005 this [turning off a ventilator] has been illegal in Israel” is both overly simplistic and inaccurate. Article C, clause 16 (a) for example states:

“Where an incompetent terminally ill patient is suffering significantly, and in respect of whom it has been determined pursuant to the provisions of section 5(b) that he does not want his life prolonged, medical treatment relating to his incurable conditions should be withheld from him, including tests, operations, resuscitation, ventilation, chemotherapy, radiation or dialysis, all in accordance with his wish as ascertained pursuant to section 5(b).”

In addition to its misrepresentation of the law itself, this BBC report clearly sets out to present an inaccurate view of an Israeli law as being synonymous with and defined by Jewish religious law. The political motivation behind that deliberate misrepresentation is all too apparent. 

Update:

A written version of this report by Claudia Hammond appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ sections of the BBC News website’s Middle East and Health pages on September 14th under the title “Suspended between life and death“. Unfortunately the inaccuracies evident in the audio version were not addressed before the written version was published. Moreover, they seem likely to be further amplified on BBC World Service radio in the near future. 

NYT sheds new light on the topic of BBC expert guests

A New York Times article titled “Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks” from September 6th makes for fascinating reading. There we discover, for example, that there is such a thing as the Norway lobby and that one of the prominent contributors to the Brookings Institution – from whence came the US special envoy to the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO and to which he returned – is Qatar; the country which harbours the Muslim Brotherhood’s antisemitic, homophobic and misogynistic ‘spiritual leader’ Yussuf Qaradawi and which of course finances Hamas.Riyal

“Some scholars say the donations have led to implicit agreements that the research groups would refrain from criticizing the donor governments.

“If a member of Congress is using the Brookings reports, they should be aware — they are not getting the full story,” said Saleem Ali, who served as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and who said he had been told during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government in papers. “They may not be getting a false story, but they are not getting the full story.” “

The article also reveals details of foreign funding to other think-tanks such as the Atlantic Council (UAE, Kuwait and others) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (UAE, China, Saudi Arabia and others).

“More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research. […]

The arrangements involve Washington’s most influential think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council. Each is a major recipient of overseas funds, producing policy papers, hosting forums and organizing private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas.

Most of the money comes from countries in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, particularly the oil-producing nations of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway, and takes many forms. The United Arab Emirates, a major supporter of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House. Qatar, the small but wealthy Middle East nation, agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to Brookings, which has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.”

The appearance of such scholars as expert guests of the media is of course not a rare occurrence and the BBC is no exception. In the past couple of months alone the Atlantic Council has, for example, been represented by Damon Wilson, Shuja Nawaz and Bilal Saab on BBC World News. Employees of the Center for Strategic and International Studies cite BBC appearances as part of their biographies – see for example here and here. In July 2014 an article titled “Will Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood return to political violence?” appeared on the BBC News website. That analysis was written by Dr Omar Ashour  – a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center.

The NYT article informs us that:

“… in 2012, when a revised agreement was signed between Brookings and the Qatari government, the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself praised the agreement on its website, announcing that “the center will assume its role in reflecting the bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American ones.” Brookings officials also acknowledged that they have regular meetings with Qatari government officials about the center’s activities and budget, and that the former Qatar prime minister sits on the center’s advisory board.”

Perhaps it is little wonder then that whilst the above article informed BBC audiences that “[i]n Gaza, Hamas, an ideological affiliate of the Brotherhood, is currently in its third war in six years with Israel”, no mention was made of Qatar’s funding of that terrorist organisation.

As we know, the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Obviously the New York Times’ revelations mean that expert guests and contributing writers from foreign-funded think-tanks – whom BBC audiences might very reasonably assume to be objective – should also have their less transparent connections made clear; especially if the topic under discussion happens to be connected to one of their organisations’ foreign funders. 

 

How BBC News transformed the PUG into a Cheshire Cat

One very notable feature in the BBC’s coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip was the fact that the Palestinian Unity Government (PUG) suddenly disappeared from the corporation’s reporting rather like the Cheshire Cat in the Alice in Wonderland story. Concurrently, the roles played by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the run-up to the hostilities and throughout them were heavily censored in BBC reports.Cat

As readers no doubt recall, the weeks preceding Operation Protective Edge saw generous, enthusiastic and yet very superficial coverage of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal which was announced on April 23rd 2014 – see examples here, here and here.  

On June 2nd the Palestinian Unity Government was sworn in and the previous Hamas government in the Gaza Strip stepped down. Again, BBC coverage was positive yet simplistic and it notably refrained from informing audiences of the significance of the failure to disarm Hamas as part of the reconciliation deal. 

Ten days later on June 12th three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion by what we now know to be a Hamas financed terror cell from Hebron. The BBC’s coverage of the search and rescue operations between the kidnappings and the discovery of the boys’ bodies on June 30th completely ignored the aspect of Hamas calls to the local population to instigate rioting to hamper the operations as well as the many inflammatory statements made by Hamas, Fatah and the PA in support of the kidnappings.

BBC reporting on the escalation in missile fire from the Gaza Strip beginning on June 12th was patchy and what reporting there was failed to clarify to BBC audiences that the Gaza Strip was by then under the control of the PA unity government meaning that the PA’s existing agreements with Israel (with which the PA had assured the world the unity government would comply) were being breached.

After the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th the BBC erased the existence of the Palestinian Unity Government entirely from its reporting on the Gaza Strip, instead using the standard formulation “Hamas, which controls Gaza” – see examples here, here and here. Notably, not one BBC report out of the hundreds produced during the seven weeks of conflict informed BBC audiences that Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had taken part in missile fire from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilian targets and had also claimed responsibility for the use of live fire during rioting in Qalandiya. 

Another topic which did not get any BBC coverage at all was the August 18th discovery of a planned Hamas coup against the Palestinian Authority. In addition, there has been no BBC follow-up regarding claims that Hamas attacked and in some cases killed members of Fatah during the conflict under the pretense of ‘collaboration’. Since the August 26th ceasefire came into effect the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies have arrested dozens of Hamas supporters and assorted public accusations have been flying in both directions.

But remarkably, after weeks of hiatus, the Palestinian Unity Government suddenly made a reappearance in BBC content in a September 7th report on the BBC News website titled “Abbas warns Hamas on unity deal“. In that article BBC audiences are told:Abbas PUG

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned Hamas it must change the way it operates in Gaza if it wants to continue in a unity government.

Mr Abbas criticised the “shadow government of 27 deputy ministers” running Gaza, insisting that there must be “one regime”. […]

Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah – Mr Abbas’s faction that dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority – had been embroiled in years of bitter rivalry until signing a reconciliation deal in April.

Hamas’s government officially stepped down when the unity cabinet took office in Ramallah on 2 June, but it remains in de facto control of Gaza.

Much of the unity agreement has yet to be put into effect.”

Three months earlier on June 4th the BBC News website had reported that:

“US Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected Israeli criticism of his recognition of the new Palestinian government formed by Fatah and Hamas.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he was “deeply troubled” by the decision.

But during a visit to Lebanon, Mr Kerry noted the ministers were independent technocrats and insisted that they would be watched “very closely”.” […]

“We are going to be watching it very closely, as we have said from day one, to make absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things that it has talked about, that it doesn’t cross the line.”

Both the UN and EU have welcomed the new government, on the basis of the assurances that it will abide by its commitments of recognition of Israel, non-violence and adherence to previous agreements.”

And:

“Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said his cabinet was committed to all previous agreements with Israel and would continue “programmes of peace” aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state.”

Obviously the PUG’s commitments to “all previous agreements with Israel” have not been met during the three months of its existence and the above statements from the US Secretary of State, the UN, the EU and PUG PM Rami Hamdallah turned out to be worthless platitudes. Any serious news organization would be looking for answers from the people who voiced those commitments and engaging in a serious examination of the performance of the Palestinian Unity Government – as well as the actions of Fatah and the PA during recent weeks – rather than making the PUG intermittently appear and disappear from the picture presented to audiences according to whatever particular political message it chooses to promote at the time.