BBC Monitoring coverage of Ramadan soaps – the sequel

As was noted here last week, BBC Monitoring recently produced a written report for the BBC News website about the popular soap operas and dramas shown on television in the Middle East during Ramadan. That article refrained from informing audiences of the antisemitic and anti-Israeli content traditionally seen in many of those programmes.

On June 26th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ also devoted part of its content to the same topic.fifth floor

“It is the holy month of Ramadan – a month of prayer and fasting and for some also accompanied by a lot of television. TV soaps and dramas are commissioned for the season and often bring in the highest ratings. BBC journalist Doaa Soliman is something of a connoisseur of Ramadan TV. Not only has she watched a lot for pleasure, but in her current role with BBC Monitoring, she is also tasked with keeping a professional eye on the current selection. This is Doaa’s guide to what to watch this Ramadan.”

A clip of that segment of the programme can be found here and once again it is notable that the long tradition of antisemitic content in Ramadan entertainment is concealed from BBC audiences. 

Is OFCOM up to the job of arbitration of complaints about BBC content?

Depending upon which British newspaper one reads, the government seems to have decided (according to the Telegraph) to hand over the BBC Trust’s role to the UK communications regulator OFCOM – or not – according to the Guardian.BBC brick wall

Were that to be the case, it would not come as much of a surprise seeing as one of the conclusions arising from the DCMS inquiry into the future of the BBC was “The BBC Trust should be abolished and new arrangements made for the governance, regulation and oversight of the BBC”.

One consequence of such a step would be that late stage complaints concerning editorial issues would no longer be handled by the BBC. That topic was also addressed in the DCMS report published in February.

“…a common theme we have noted is that members of the public who believe they have reason to complain are often dissatisfied that their complaint or point of view has not been considered independently. For many the BBC Trust is essentially part of the BBC and as such the Corporation is seen as a self-regulating body and there is great dissatisfaction that there is no option for an impartial adjudication of a complaint about the BBC by an independent body.” […]

“We recommend that Ofcom become the final arbiter of complaints over BBC content including matters concerning impartiality and accuracy, but that complaints should be considered by the BBC in the first instance. Ofcom should be given additional resources for taking on this role which are commensurate with the responsibility and estimated workload. We believe this transfer of responsibility will, if anything, strengthen the independence of the BBC, and also make the complaints process simpler, and appear more transparent and fair.”

However, OFCOM’s record to date suggests that among the “additional resources” its management will need in order to effectively take on the suggested role of “final arbiter of complaints over BBC content” is a crash course in identifying antisemitism and the difference between “freedom of expression” and the propagation of pernicious antisemitic tropes.   

BBC Monitoring euphemises terror, whitewashes antisemitism, claims Egyptian Jews ‘vanished’

On June 18th an article appeared in the features section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Ramadan: Historical TV dramas break with past in Muslim world“. Written by BBC Monitoring, the piece correctly notes in its opening paragraphs that:Ramadan TV art

“The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is associated with TV dramas and soap operas across the Arab and Muslim world.

Millions of Muslims in the Arab World spend hours watching TV during and after breaking their fast.

It is during Ramadan that commercial TV channels get their highest ratings for the year. Egyptian and Syrian TV productions predominate.”

But how does the “break with past” described in the article’s headline manifest itself? The only very vague clue to that comes in this section of the report:

“Egypt goes further with historical dramas breaking tradition with a drama sympathetic to Egypt’s vanished Jewish community.

The Jewish Quarter depicts a time when Jews and Muslims lived together harmoniously.”

What BBC Monitoring refrains from telling readers is that in many cases, the television dramas produced for Ramadan are rife with antisemitic content and anti-Israel messaging. And whilst this new Egyptian series ‘The Jewish Quarter’ [Haret el Yahood] may indeed be “sympathetic” to Egyptian Jews – who did not mysteriously ‘vanish’ as this article suggests but were actually expelled or coerced to emigrate by Egypt – it too is apparently not without a specific political slant.

“The show, which presents the Jew­ish com­mu­nity in Egypt in the 40s through a love story between a Jew­ish girl and a Mus­lim Egypt­ian army offi­cer, attempts to present the dif­fer­ence between “good” Jews and “bad” Jews; the good Jews are the ones who are loyal to Egypt and sup­port its war against Israel while Zion­ist Jews, who are loyal to Israel, are depicted as wicked, liars, evil and try­ing to betray Egypt. Mid­hat Al-adl, who wrote the script for the show, told Al Jazeera that the show “con­demns Israeli Zion­ism and racism.””

Two additional segments of this article are also worthy of note. [all emphasis added]

“Another series – Darb al-Yasmin – takes place in a southern Syrian village during the late 1990s and focuses on the military and intelligence work of the resistance against Israel.”

“Also popular this Ramadan is The Soil and Salt – a Lebanese TV series about Islamic resistance against Israel.”

As veteran Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari has pointed out:

“The literal translation of the Arabic word muqawama is “resistance,” but that does not reflect the full meaning of the term. A more correct translation would be “the doctrine of constant combat,” or “persistent warfare,” which is how Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas’s Khaled Mashal define it.” 

‘Resistance’ is in fact an English language euphemism for violence and terrorism conducted by those negating Israel’s existence. The fact that the mainstream BBC chooses to adopt and amplify the term uncritically and without any proper explanation to audiences of what that euphemism really means is as worthy of note as its concealment of the long tradition of antisemitic content in Ramadan television programmes.

BBC Trending airbrushes MPACUK

On June 15th BBC Trending got in on the ‘Mossad stole my shoe’ carnival with an article which for some unknown reason was deemed newsworthy enough to be included in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

Trending on ME HP

BBC Trending purports to be “the BBC bureau on the internet” and states that its mission is “reporting on what’s being shared and asking why it matters”. BBC blogger Mike Wendling opened his post with an unsourced description of Asghar Bukhari as a British Muslim ‘leader’.Trending shoe art

“Thousands have now mocked a British Muslim leader’s comments by using the satirical slogan “Mossad Stole My Shoe” – but the man behind the hashtag says it was intended to expose anti-Semitic attitudes in Muslim communities.”

Wendling’s description of Bukhari’s home-baked organization is no less bizarre – and heavily airbrushed.

“It all began with a Facebook post by Asghar Bukhari, a founding member of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPAC) – a UK pressure group which works to counter Islamophobia and Zionism, among other aims. He said his home was burgled, only a single shoe was stolen, and claimed it was a deliberate tactic of intimidation by Zionists.” [emphasis added]

Given Bukhari’s long-held penchant for launching personal attacks on Muslims who do not conform to his own check list of ‘appropriate’ Muslim qualities, one might very well question the accuracy of the description of MPAC UK as an organization “which works to counter Islamophobia”. And in fact, Wendling’s account of the story includes a description of Bukari’s subsequent racist jibe at one of his regular targets – Maajid Nawaz.

“In the video, Bukhari called Nawaz an “Uncle Tom nut job” and accused him of getting funding from pro-Israel supporters. Nawaz dismissed the allegations.”

Likewise, Wendling apparently has no qualms about describing an organization which sets out to “counter” the right of a particular ethno-religious group to self-determination with the bland term “pressure group” – although one would of course be surprised to find the BBC characterizing any group which opposed the rights of women or homosexuals in such anodyne terms.Bukhari tweets

Wendling writes:

“”There’s an unhealthy anti-Semitic strand to MPAC’s thinking,” Nawaz told BBC Trending.”

However, he refrains from providing readers with any further information about MPACUK’s controversial record. As ‘Harry’s Place’ reported a decade ago:

“The evidence of MPACUK’s virulent antisemitism has been available for years to anyone who cared to seek it out. Writing in 2003 for a website of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, Dave Rich revealed:

‘The Muslim Public Affairs Committee have used their website to reproduce material taken from the sites of both David Irving and The Heretical Press (a far right publisher based in Hull)… Often when Islamist organisations use far right sources it reveals a deeper antisemitism. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee’s reproduction of material from the far right sits on their website alongside open support for Holocaust denier David Irving, accusations of Zionist media and political control, lists of Jewish donors to New Labour and an investigation into whether the Talmud is “the most Powerful and Racist book in the world”. In one example which neatly illustrates the growing commonalities between political extremes, the Islamist Muslim Public Affairs Committee published an article by Professor Kevin MacDonald – who appeared as a witness for David Irving in his failed libel action against Professor Deborah Lipstadt – on the subject which is currently of so much interest to the far left and the anti-war movement: the “International Jewish Origins of Neoconservatism”’.”

Here is what the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism had to say about MPAC UK way back in 2006:

“The activities of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, MPACUK, have given cause for concern. Although its rhetoric is often extremist, MPACUK identifies itself as part of the mainstream British Muslim community, describing itself as “the UK’s leading Muslim civil liberties group, empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad and political activism”. Originally set up as a web-based media monitoring group, MPACUK’s declared first mission was to fight the perceived anti-Muslim bias in the media and to redress the balance. However, MPACUK has been criticised for publishing material on its website promoting the idea of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, including the reproduction of articles originally published on neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denial websites, and is currently banned from university campuses under the NUS’s ‘No Platform’ policy. MPACUK are known to have removed an offensive posting from their website on one occasion, after complaints were made, but thereafter continued to publish similar material.”

So, whilst Mike Wendling may have reported “on what’s being shared”, beyond the obvious reason put forward by Maajid Nawaz (“By mocking something like this, I hope to make it more taboo and less acceptable for Muslims to spread these kinds of conspiracy theories”), he actually did not adequately address the issue of “why it matters”.

One of the main reasons this story does matter is because (although Wendling refrains from mentioning the fact in his piece) the obviously obsessive conspiracy theorist and extremist Asghar Bukhari (along with others from his organization) is a regular guest on BBC programmes – and not least the BBC’s Asian Network which even promotes the MPACUK website as a “useful link”.

That in turn matters because the BBC’s constitutional document charges it with the task of “sustaining citizenship and civil society” and civil society is not sustained by the airbrushed amplification of conspiracy theory promoting organisations with any kind of racist agenda. Obviously though, the BBC has yet to realise that. 

Resources:

Mike Wendling: Twitter or michael.wendling@bbc.co.uk

BBC Trending: Twitter

BBC News – contact and complaints

A Jerusalem story the BBC will not be covering

Late last year, when a surge in terror attacks against Israelis took place – particularly in Jerusalem – the BBC provided its audiences with backgrounders and numerous articles and reports which purported to explain the ‘context’ to those attacks.Knell backgrounder filmed

However, one essential aspect of the story was consistently concealed from BBC audiences: that of Palestinian Authority incitement. As was noted here at the time:

“So, whilst BBC audiences were repeatedly told that the “rising tensions” which supposedly led to the terror attack in Har Nof can be attributed to a variety of factors which are mostly – according to the BBC’s portrayal – attributable to Israeli actions, they remained completely ignorant on the issue of the crucial factor of the atmosphere being engineered by the Palestinian Authority and its main party Fatah – also headed by Mahmoud Abbas.”

The speaker in the video below (filmed on May 29th 2015) teaches two religious classes a week at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and is apparently paid by the Palestinian Authority funded Waqf (religious authority) to do so.

BBC audiences have of course neither seen, read nor heard any coverage of this story to date.

Remembering Professor Robert Wistrich

The news of Professor Robert S. Wistrich’s sudden death was all the more difficult to absorb given that just last Thursday, those of us participating in the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism had the pleasure of hearing him speak – as eloquently and powerfully as ever. There can be no better account of that address than Professor Wistrich’s own – published in the Jerusalem Post as he requested, but not in time for him to see.

Many tributes have already been written in honour of Professor Wistrich’s life and work and as Ben Cohen observes:

“Robert’s death is an incalculable loss on many levels. At just the time that anti-Semitism has again become socially acceptable in Europe and elsewhere, we have been robbed of one of the few individuals whose voice on this topic underlined urgency, but not hysteria. Robert, moreover, was someone who intimately understood the historical provenance of today’s anti-Semitism, particularly in its insidious “anti-Zionist” guise.”

As readers may recall, Professor Wistrich gave the keynote address at CAMERA’s event examining the effects of UK media coverage of Israel on European antisemitism earlier this year.

May his memory be a blessing.

Related Articles:

In memoriam: Professor Robert S. Wistrich  UK Media Watch

Update on the BBC’s handling of the Tim Willcox case

As readers no doubt recall, back in February the BBC’s Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, announced the provisional outcome of the Editorial Complaints Unit’s consideration of the collective points made in the many complaints concerning remarks made by Tim Willcox during BBC coverage of the rally in Paris on January 11th 2015.Presentation Willcox b pic 1

Members of the public have now informed us of the receipt of a further communication from Fraser Steel following the presentation of comments on the provisional finding.

“Having had the opportunity of considering comments on the provisional finding, I’m now finalising it on the basis set out in my previous letter, apart from one modification.

It’s clear from a number of the comments I received that I understood the first of the summarised points of complaint (“That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the Middle East”) in a different sense from some who complained.

What I had in mind was a direct causal relationship between particular recent events in the Middle East and the Paris killings, and it was on that basis that I wrote “Nothing in the day’s coverage of events in Paris suggested a direct link between events in the Middle East and those killings, and I can’t see that such a suggestion can readily be derived from what Mr Willcox said”.

It has been put to me, and I have accepted, that Mr Willcox’s words suggested a broader link between perceptions of Palestinian suffering and the incidence of anti-Semitic incidents.

However, that doesn’t alter the outcome because I don’t think suggesting a link of that kind can be viewed as a breach of editorial standards (or even as particularly controversial, considering the correlation between anti-Semitic incidents and Israeli actions with an adverse impact on Palestinians which has been noted by organisations such as the Community Security Trust).”

As was noted here at the time, Steel’s misunderstanding of the essence of the complaints on that topic was plain to see. Unfortunately, he obviously still does not (or will not) comprehend the issue properly.

Willcox was not making some academic comment on the ‘epidemiology’ of antisemitic incidents. What he did – whilst interrupting a woman talking about the need for recognition of the targeting of European Jews – was to insert a false equivalence (evident in his use of the words “as well”) in the form of ‘Palestinian suffering’ which he attributed to “Jewish hands”. In other words, Willcox falsely implied that – like Jews in France – Palestinians are targets because of their religion and/or ethnicity and that European Jews can be held collectively responsible for the perceived actions of Israel.

The bottom line of this latest communication from Fraser Steel is that he stands by his earlier proposal to reject en masse the large number of complaints received about Willcox’s remarks. Complainants still have the possibility of appeal to the BBC Trust at their disposal for a limited period of time, but as Steel points out in this letter, “the Trust does not consider every appeal brought to it”.

Four months (and goodness knows how many publicly funded man-hours) on, the BBC has not budged an inch from its original classification of Willcox’s remarks as “poorly phrased”. As Steel wrote in his provisional findings which have now been deemed ‘finalised':

“I share Mr Willcox’s view that his comments were poorly phrased, but I think they were no worse than that.”

One cannot but recall the words of Nick Cohen at the time:

“…Willcox is not some isolated and aberrant racist; his views are the standard opinions of the European left middle class. I meet them every day in my political neighbourhood. They are the result of ignorance rather than malice. (Although I find that in time a dark alchemy can transform ignorance into malice.)

Willcox like so many others does not understand that anti-Semitism is not a rational, if regrettably bloody, critique of Israeli foreign policy but an insane conspiracy theory that has captured the minds of millions of fanatics, moved whole nations and led to uncountable deaths.

I wonder how many more bombs it will take to blow these people out of their folly. In my bleaker moments, I suspect they will take it to their graves.”

The BBC’s handling of this case has from the very beginning been characterized by a complete disregard for its social responsibilities as the publicly funded national broadcaster of a country in which less than a year ago antisemitic hate incidents reached record levels. As we noted here in January:

“Precisely because of the fact there are people in the UK who make threats to British ten year-olds whilst invoking a fabricated connection between them and a conflict thousands of miles away, the BBC still needs to issue a prominent on-air statement clarifying that Willcox’s statement was not merely “poorly phrased”, but that the linkage he promoted based on the premise that Jews anywhere in the world hold collective responsibility for the perceived actions of the State of Israel is both false and antisemitic.”

Unfortunately for both the credibility of the BBC complaints system and the broader reputation of the corporation as a whole – those words still stand. 

 

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

As noted previously, last week we attended the biennial Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in Jerusalem and participated in the working group on the issue of Antisemitism on the Internet and in the Media.GFCA logo

Once again the conference presented an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand from delegates from many countries around the world in both the panel discussions and informal conversations. As was to be expected, the attacks in Paris and in Copenhagen earlier this year were at the forefront of discussion.

Readers can view videos of the four panel sessions held on May 13th here and shorter videos of individual speakers can be found on Youtube. Of particular relevance to the working group in which BBC Watch took part was Panel 2 which included representatives from Google and Facebook who were presented with questions from the audience regarding their policies concerning the spread of hate speech and racism via social media.

Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism 2015

Later this week BBC Watch will be attending in the 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem.GFCA logo

“The Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism (GFCA) is the premier biennial gathering for assessing the state of Antisemitism globally, and formulating effective forms of societal and governmental response. The GFCA is an active coalition of public figures, political leaders, heads of civil society, clergy, journalists, diplomats, educators and concerned citizens dedicated to the advance of tolerance towards the other in public life and the defeat of Antisemitism and other forms of racial and ethnic hatred. The Forum serves as an important meeting place for exchange of knowledge and for formulating the global work plan for combating Antisemitism.

The 5th Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism will focus on two main themes:

The Oldest Hatred in the Newest Vessels: Confronting Antisemitism and Hate Speech on the Internet and in Social Media 

The information highway has proven an unprecedented tool for accessibility to knowledge, and the advance of free expression and global interconnectedness; but it also presents unique challenges to human dignity – in the form of unfiltered cyberhate, both antisemitic and other forms of severe hate speech, delivered ubiquitously to every multimedia device. How can we increase the decency of the web without harming its essential freedom?

The Rise of Antisemtism in Europe’s Cities Today: Means of Response

The summer of 2014 saw an eruption of mass anti-Jewish protests and attacks in major European capitals not seen in decades. Many Jews today feel limited in their freedom to identify openly as Jews in their manner of dress or political expression. In parts of Europe, Jewish religious practice is under legislative attack, and the return of Jihadi fighters with EU citizenship marks a security crisis, for Jewish communities first and foremost.  Why is this happening today in Europe? Is there a structural threat to Jewish life? What steps can be taken by European leadership to defeat the new wave of Antisemitism in Europe?”

BBC Watch will be participating in the working group dealing with Antisemitism on the Internet and in the Media.

We look forward to bringing readers our impressions of the conference, as we did after the previous session in 2013.

BBC amends online profile of Manchester constituency after complaints

Via the Jewish Chronicle we learn that:

“The BBC has been accused of racism after an article on the Blackley and Broughton constituency in Greater Manchester referred to its “wealthy” Jewish community.”

The Manchester Evening News (which has a screenshot of the original profile) reports that:complaint

“In its summary of the Blackley and Broughton constituency ahead of May 7, the broadcaster describes a multi-cultural area containing a ‘Jewish community concentrated in a wealthy pocket of large detached houses’.

Labour candidate Graham Stringer, who is defending the seat, says the words have prompted a flood of complaints from Jewish people.

He said parts of the area’s Orthodox community suffer from some of the highest poverty levels in the country and compared the description to the Victorian caricature of Fagin in Oliver Twist.

In a complaint to the BBC, he says the description is a ‘racist distortion’.

The profile refers to Blackley and Broughton’s Muslim, Irish, West Indian, Sikh and Polish populations and points out that a third of people in the constituency live in social housing.

But the only ethnicity it describes in terms of its wealth is the Jewish community.”

By way of comparison, the constituency which the BBC defines as “the richest place in Britain” – Kensington – is described as “well-to-do” and no mention is made of its ethnic or religious make-up.

The BBC has now amended the profile of Blackley & Broughton.

“A BBC spokesperson said: “These profiles aim to portray every constituency in a few sentences. We regret part of our description of Blackley and Broughton did not accurately reflect the area and we have now changed the wording accordingly.””

Once again the BBC chooses to miss the point.

Related articles:

BBC doubles down on presenter’s ‘mansion tax’ comment