BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

“…there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood’s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity…”

Source: ‘A BBC Trust report on the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of the events known as the “Arab Spring”’ – June 2012

One might have perhaps thought that in the four years which have passed since the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in Egypt, BBC correspondents would have had the opportunity to garner enough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood to prevent them from repeating the same face value acceptance – and amplification – of its messaging as was seen in BBC coverage of the events at the time.Knell MB art

However, if the article titled “Muslim Brotherhood: From rapid rise to sharp decline” produced by Yolande Knell on April 13th is anything to go by, not only is that is definitely not the case, but Edward Mortimer’s description of Muslim Brotherhood statements being naively “accepted … at face value” by BBC “expert commentators” may be in need of review.

Knell has no comment to add on the use of the phrase “democratic process” by a supporter of an organization which states that its intention is to create a state ruled by religious law which discriminates against women, non-Muslim minorities and others.

“On Saturday, a court confirmed death sentences on the group’s General Guide, Mohammed Badie, and others for planning attacks against the state.

But another man, Ahmed, insists they have done nothing wrong.

“God willing, we’ll see the democratic process get back on track soon,” he says.”

Neither does Knell make any effort to explain the reasoning behind her promotion of the notion that the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole is ‘relatively moderate’.

“Yet many in Egypt accept the clampdown on the Brotherhood, believing it failed its test in power, and across the entire region the fate of this relatively moderate Islamist organisation has undergone a dramatic turnaround.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines the political sense of moderate as “not radical or excessively right- or left-wing”. The aim of running a state ruled by Sharia law cannot accurately be described as anything other than radical and right-wing and of course there is little evidence of ‘moderation’ on the part of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or the movement’s Qatar-based  ‘spiritual guide’ Yusuf al Qaradawi.

‘Moderate’ political organisations obviously do not support terrorism or cultivate links with its perpetrators – but a journalist who uses the makeover term “political faction” to describe a terrorist group which just months ago launched thousands of missiles at civilians will obviously be oblivious to that nuance.

“Not far away, in the Palestinian territories, Hamas – which is aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood – is also suffering from the organisation’s demise.

Its leaders were treated like VIPs in Egypt during the Brotherhood’s brief reign.

But in February, a court in Cairo joined Israel, the United States, the European Union and others in pronouncing Hamas a terrorist organisation.

In Gaza, which is controlled by the political faction, ordinary people feel more isolated than ever. […]

Across Gaza, the green flags of Hamas still flutter defiantly above the mangled metal and rubble of homes destroyed in last summer’s war with Israel.” [emphasis added]

Knell’s take-away message to readers comes right at the end of her article:

“But throughout much of the Middle East, there is a sense that times are changing.

And what worries many is that just as the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of Islamist groups in the region, is in decline, so fanatical ones – like Islamic State – are gaining momentum.

The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Yolande Knell does not reveal to her readers the identities of the worried “many” who apparently believe that the political aspirations of young Middle Eastern Muslims are to be found exclusively on a scale lying between ‘moderate’ Islamists and ‘fanatical’ ones and hence promote the highly debatable claim-cum-threat that the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood could “swell the ranks of the extremists”.

However, a clue to the potential source – and background motivations – of that claim promoted and amplified by Knell comes in the form of a report published by Associated Press about the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan which appeared almost a month before Knell’s article saw the light of day. Interestingly, the two pieces show some curious similarities.

In a section of her article about the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Yolande Knell writes:

“A new, officially licensed branch defines itself as strictly Jordanian, saying it has cut ties to the regional movement, so it is not identified as militant.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The new, officially licensed Brotherhood offshoot defines itself as a strictly Jordanian group, saying it cut ties with the regional movement to avoid being branded as militant.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The legal status of the other, larger faction is less clear, but it is keeping its links to the wider Brotherhood.”

The earlier AP article states:

“The larger Brotherhood faction, still loyal to the regional movement, alleged the government engineered the division to weaken the group.[…] The status of the second faction now remains unclear.”

Yolande Knell writes:

“The danger is that efforts to suppress the Brotherhood could radicalise its younger supporters and help swell the ranks of the extremists.”

Readers of the AP report were informed that:

“In Jordan, some warned that the government’s apparent divide-and-control policy could backfire by pushing more Brotherhood supporters into the ranks of extremists like the Islamic State group, seen as the main threat to the country’s stability.”

And:

“Some warn the government crackdown could radicalize Brotherhood supporters and help swell the ranks of the Islamic State group.”

In other words, Yolande Knell’s supposedly impartial take-away message to Western audiences on the topic of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have come straight (or perhaps via AP) from the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood horse’s mouth.

So much for ‘standard-setting’ journalism.

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A way but no will: BBC coverage of Palestinian affairs in Q1 2015

We have often noted on these pages that the BBC’s coverage of Palestinian affairs is for the most part focused on subjects with some sort of connection to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that the corporation shows considerably less interest in reporting on internal Palestinian topics such as domestic politics, human rights or social issues. Even reports which ostensibly do deal with purely Palestinian stories are frequently used as a hook for political messaging.

Throughout the first quarter of 2015 twenty-nine reports relating to the Palestinian Authority, PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip appeared on the BBC News website, along with an additional three previously discussed reports relating to specific incidents of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian attackers. 

Four of those reports related to the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the ICC:ICC probe art

Palestinians sign up to join International Criminal Court (discussed here)

Palestinians submit ICC membership bid documents

Will ICC membership help or hinder the Palestinians’ cause?  (originally published on January 14th – discussed here)

Israel-Palestinian ‘war crimes’ probed by the ICC (discussed here)

Three reports were about PA tax revenue transfers suspended – and later reinstated – by Israel:

Israel freezes Palestine tax funds over ICC bid

US opposes Israeli tax freeze on Palestinians

Israel to resume tax transfers to Palestinian Authority (discussed here)

One report related to the PLO’s recommendation to halt security cooperation with Israel:

PLO votes to end historic Israeli security agreement (discussed here)

One report concerned Palestinian views of the Israeli election:

Israel election: The view from Ramallah  – Yolande Knell  (discussed here)Knell filmed 17 3

One report marked the ten-year anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat:

Arafat’s widow on husband’s legacy  (discussed here)

Two reports related to water issues connected to the city of Rawabi:

Rawabi: A new Palestinian city in the West Bank and The new Palestinian city that lacks only one thing – Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Three reports concerned terrorism:

Palestinian jailed for murder of Israeli teenagers (discussed here)

The lost sons (discussed here)

Palestinian groups face $218m Israel attacks fine in US (discussed here)

Three reports related to damage to buildings in the Gaza Strip resulting from last summer’s conflict and the slow pace of reconstruction:

Gaza resident: ‘Everyone has forgotten us’ – Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Caught in a wasteland: Gaza six months after the ceasefire  – Lyse Doucet (discussed here)

Banksy artwork appears on the streets and walls of Gaza – Rushdi Abualouf (discussed here)

Two reports concerned Palestinian Islamic Jihad rearmament:

Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rearmed and replenished ranks and Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war – Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

One article was about an Amnesty International report on the subject of Hamas war crimes:

Amnesty: Hamas rocket attacks amounted to war crimes

Examples of reports ostensibly covering Palestinian stories but used as a hook for political messaging include a feature by Yolande Knell on Christmas in Bethlehem, an article by Yolande Knell on Palestinian democracy, a sports article and a report about a protest in Ramallah.Knell Democracy Day art

The town with three Christmas Days – Yolande Knell (discussed here)

How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish – Yolande Knell (discussed here)

Palestine lose 4-0 to Japan in first Asian Cup match (discussed here)

Canada’s foreign minister egged in Ramallah by protesters and Palestinians throw eggs at Canada’s John Baird (discussed here)

Just three of the reports appearing on the BBC News website during the first quarter of 2015 can be said to give audiences some sort of glimpse into Palestinian social issues.  In “Saving Gaza’s only grand piano” Tim Whewell briefly touches on the issue of attitudes towards music:

“but with […] a steady growth of conservatism in local society, such performances became a thing of the past. After the Islamist militant movement, Hamas, took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, live music events became even rarer.”

And:

“The music school has existed for seven years, discreetly hidden away inside the Gaza headquarters of the Palestinian Red Crescent. It operates only in the evenings but provides a rare space for music in a society where some reject it as haram – forbidden by God.”

The BBC Monitoring report titled “Palestinian paper apologises over ‘Muhammad cartoon'” includes a brief description of what it deems to be the prevalent social attitude on that topic and the Palestinian Authority’s reaction.

Whilst Rushdi Abualouf informs readers of his article titled “Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?” that “despite the high prevalence of people with disabilities in the territory, disabled children are still shrouded in social stigma” he refrains from informing readers about the relevant topic of congenital disabilities – instead focusing their attentions on ‘the conflict’ as a cause of disability.

“The tiny territory has been blighted by successive conflicts between Palestinian militants and Israel, which have had serious physical and psychological impacts on the population.

It’s estimated that between 126,000 and 270,000 members of the population in Gaza are disabled, according to a 2012 report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and the 50-day conflict last summer has left many more with a long-term or permanent impairment.”

Palestinian paper apologises over ‘Muhammad cartoon’

Can music help to de-stigmatise disability in Gaza?  – Rushdi Abualouf

Saving Gaza’s only grand piano – Tim Whewell

However, visitors to the BBC News website during the first quarter of 2015 learned nothing substantial about the ongoing animosity between ‘unity government’ partners Hamas and Fatah which continues to deter international donors from contributing to reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. They were also not informed of the resignation of the unity government’s deputy prime minister or of allegations of human rights abuses by Hamas and a PA crackdown on social media users and journalists. The topic of Hamas’ rearming and reorganization was only briefly mentioned in a couple of BBC reports with no serious attempt made to explore that obviously important issue.  And of course the topic of the long overdue elections for both the Palestinian legislative body and president remain a no-go area for BBC journalists – along with subjects such as women’s rights, gay rights and the rights of religious minorities.

As the BBC’s World Editor acknowledged last year, the fact that it has permanent offices in Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem – as well as an entire Arabic-speaking division – means that the BBC is better placed than most if not all Western media organisations to provide its audiences with quality in-depth journalism which goes beyond the usual flat-pack reports on the subject of ‘the conflict’. So whilst there is already a way, what appears to be lacking is a will – and the question the corporation’s funding public must be asking is why. 

What percentage of Q1 2015 terror attacks against Israelis was reported by the BBC?

Throughout the first quarter of 2015 the BBC News website reported on three separate terror attacks in Israel:

January 21st: Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed (discussed here)

February 23rd: Jerusalem mayor overpowers attacker after man stabbed (discussed here)

March 6th: Jerusalem: Israeli police hit in Palestinian car attack and Jerusalem attack: Driver rams car into pedestrians (discussed here)BBC News logo 2

As far as BBC audiences are concerned, therefore, the number of terror attacks (although not specifically named as such) against Israelis during the first three months of 2015 totals three: one in Tel Aviv and two in Jerusalem. But is that an accurate representation of the situation?

The Israel Security Agency publishes a monthly summary of terror attacks and its reports for the first quarter of 2015 provide the following information:

January 2015: total number of attacks – 124. Of those: 105 in Judea & Samaria, 18 in Jerusalem.

February 2015: total number of attacks – 96. Of those: 84 in Judea & Samaria, 12 in Jerusalem.

March 2015: total number of attacks – 89. Of those: 58 in Judea & Samaria, 31 in Jerusalem.

The BBC’s above reports relate to two stabbing incidents and one vehicle attack. Two additional stabbings, nine small arms shootings, forty attacks using IEDs (including pipe bombs and improvised grenades) and 256 incidents of firebombing were not reported. Also noteworthy is the fact that whilst most of the attacks – almost 80% – took place in Judea & Samaria, that was not reflected in BBC coverage.

As we see, the total number of attacks during the first quarter of 2015 is 309, which means that the BBC reported less than 1% of the incidents which took place.

Clearly BBC audiences are still not being provided with the comprehensive picture of this subject necessary in order to meet the corporation’s remit of building “a global understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

A part of the Israeli story consistently ignored by the BBC

Another terror attack on Israelis ignored by BBC News

Knell’s follow up on Cremisan Valley marred by BBC mantras

BBC Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Yolande Knell has invested quite a bit of energy over the past three years into promoting the topic of the court case concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence in the Cremisan Valley.  

Bethlehem nuns in West Bank barrier battle May 3rd 2012

BBC’s Knell promotes political church campaign supported by BBC funder  April 2013

BBC’s Yolande Knell erases Jewish history in campaigning article  January 2014

BBC’s Knell promotes undiluted Palestinian propaganda in coverage of Pope’s visit May 2014

The same topic has also appeared in other BBC content.

On April 3rd 2015 Knell reported on the Supreme Court decision given the previous day (according to which the Israeli authorities will have to find an alternative route for that particular section of the anti-terrorist fence) in an article titled “Israeli court rejects Cremisan Valley West Bank barrier“.Knell Cremisan

Despite Israel’s Supreme Court having accepted a petition presented by a non-Israeli municipality and tens of individuals who are not Israeli citizens in a case concerning the route of a structure described by the court as “one of the ways of dealing with the threats of terror and with the aim of preventing and avoiding the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory”, Yolande Knell chose to downplay that exceptional aspect of the story, instead opting to focus readers’ attentions on the standard BBC mantras relating to the anti-terrorist fence and ‘settlements’.

“Construction of the barrier began in 2002, during the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, following a wave of suicide bombings.

Israel said it was an essential security measure to prevent attacks.

However, Palestinians see it largely as a land grab because much of it was built inside the occupied West Bank.

Jewish settlements and additional land have been left on the Israeli side.

Settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees.”

As has been noted here before with regard to that last sentence:

“Though that mantra has been repeated countless times over the years, it is not accompanied by a definitive cited source (because of course there isn’t one) and its claim is erroneously presented as being contested only by the government of Israel. In other words, the BBC’s standard formulation egregiously ignores the existence of legal opinions which contradict its own adopted narrative.”

The standard BBC insert on the topic of the anti-terrorist fence, which inevitably includes the phrase “Israel says” and inaccurate description of the structure as a “land grab”, is no more impartial.

“The systematic failure to present audiences with the readily available factual evidence which proves the anti-terrorist fence’s efficiency – rather than the subjective presentation of “Israel says” – is clearly a failure to distinguish “opinion from fact” and a major “omission of an important perspective”.  The fact that a standard formula has been employed for over a decade also represents a failure to adhere to the demand for “impartiality over time”, presenting the same jaded “land grab” theme over a long period of years in which no such thing has happened.”

Knell’s description of Gilo and Har Gilo is equally political:

“In the Cremisan Valley, Israel’s defence ministry argued it was seeking added protection for the settlements of Har Gilo and Gilo. Israelis view these as Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.”

As was the case in one of her previous articles on the subject, Knell refrains from informing audiences of the status of the land upon which Gilo was built, preferring to promote the standard Palestinian narrative of all Jerusalem neighbourhoods in areas occupied by Jordan during the War of Independence – including those on land owned by Jews before 1948 – as ‘settlements’. She also predictably avoids the topic of the terrorism directed at Gilo from nearby Beit Jala during the second Intifada.

At the beginning of her report Knell inaccurately informs readers that:

“Fifty-eight Christian families would have been cut off from their land.”

Those who bothered to read on discovered that was not the case:

“The Israeli authorities had said there would be access between the sites and for Palestinians trying to reach their land through gates operated by soldiers.”

Like the rest of Knell’s coverage of this story over a period of three years, this article passed up on the opportunity to provide BBC audiences with the comprehensive background necessary for audiences to understand both sides to the story in favour of the promotion of a specific political narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

 

Elections 2015: was the BBC’s coverage impartial?

We are often told that the impartiality of BBC content should be judged “over time” and some guidance as to what that term means can be found in this section of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.

“In achieving due impartiality, a ‘series of programmes’ may be considered as a whole.

The term ‘series of programmes’ applies to the following:

Content that deals with the same or related issues, within an appropriate period, and are clearly linked.

This may include a strand with a common title; different types of linked programmes (such as a drama with a following debate); a clearly identified season of programmes or items on the same or similar subjects; or a set of interlinked web pages.  Such programmes, items or web pages need to achieve due impartiality across the series, and online content should include links or signposts to the other online elements.

The intention to achieve due impartiality in this way should be planned in advance.”

With BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election now having come to a close, we can examine the question of whether due impartiality was achieved in the ‘series of programmes’ relating to that topic.Knell filmed 17 3

All the relevant BBC content – written, audio and filmed – already discussed on these pages is available in chronological order under ‘related articles’ below.

The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.

The BBC’s disproportionate focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’ can be illustrated by taking a look at the number of Palestinian commentators interviewed and quoted by the BBC in just three days of coverage, beginning with the day of the election itself.

17/3/15: Husam Zomlot – filmed report by Yolande Knell – BBC television news & website

                Husam Zomlot – audio report by Yoande Knell – ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Raja Shehadeh – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

                Sabri Saydan – interview ‘Newshour’, World Service radio

18/3/15: Mohammed Shtayyeh – filmed report by Lyse Doucet – BBC television news & website

                 Saeb Erekat & Mahmoud Abbas – quoted in written report on BBC News website

                 Hanan Ashrawi – audio report by Kevin Connolly – Radio 4 ‘PM’ (here from 41:50)

19/3/15: Yousef Munnayer & Mustafa Barghouti – interviews ‘Newshour’, World Service radioNewshour 19 3

Despite extensive use of the ‘peace process’ theme and the generous airtime given to Palestinian interviewees, not one BBC report raised the topic of Palestinian responsibility for the lack of progress in negotiations and the related topic of long overdue elections for both the Palestinian Legislative Council and the PA president was likewise not even briefly mentioned.

Israeli politicians interviewed in the same three-day period included Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab List (17/3 – filmed report by Jeremy Bowen), Yitzhak Herzog (17/3 ‘Newshour’) and Nahman Shai (17/3 ‘Newshour’) of the Zionist Union, first-time Likud candidate Sharren Haskel (17/3, ‘Newshour’), Rachel Azaria of Kulanu (18/3, ‘Newshour’ – here from 34:55) and Moshe Ya’alon of Likud (19/3).

In other words, BBC audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than from Israeli politicians standing for election.

Little attempt was made to introduce BBC audiences to most of the 26 parties competing in the election or to explain the differences between their positions. Background information on the topic of the Israeli electoral system was mostly confined to references to the fact that the system makes a coalition government almost inevitable.

The topic of the foreign-funded campaign to influence the outcome of the election was completely ignored in all BBC coverage even though that factor played a role in influencing the election’s result and foreign intervention in elections in a democratic country should obviously have been a big story.Connolly filmed 16 3

Whilst the BBC put considerable focus on the statement made by the Israeli prime minister on March 17th concerning the related issue of busing of Joint Arab List voters to the polling stations, it did not report at all on the comments (or later fall-out) made at the Left-wing rally in Tel Aviv on March 7th – even though a BBC team was present at the event.  Despite the fact that Zionist Union leader Herzog later cited that incident as having affected his party’s performance “without a shadow of a doubt“, BBC audiences remain completely unaware of it ever having happened, just as they were not informed of assorted statements made by members of the Joint Arab List.

When answering criticism of his organisation’s coverage of Israel, the BBC’s director general recently claimed:

 “It is hard… tough. We do aim to give as impartial coverage as we can across the period.”

In this case it is not difficult to see that the BBC came nowhere near to achieving “due impartiality over time” – primarily because its journalists chose to cover the Israeli election almost exclusively from an angle which, whilst of only minor relevance to the issue itself, coalesced more with their own pre-existing views and agenda. And whilst audiences were fed reams of material on “the Palestinian view”, their understanding of what should have been the story’s actual subject matter – the factors influencing the election’s result – was hampered by selective omission of information and a distinct lack of interest in anything which got in the way of the story’s chosen framing.  

Lord Hall might care to ponder the fact that it would be much less “hard” and “tough” to cover Israel-related news accurately and impartially were the journalists working for his organisation to stick to reporting the stories that exist rather than instead promoting the stories they want to tell.

Related Articles:

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Elections 2015: more BBC confusion on 1949 Armistice Lines

Elections 2015: the BBC’s obsessive compulsive ‘peace process’ disorder

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day WS radio reports

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day website reports

Elections 2015: the morning after – Doucet on BBC television news

Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

One-staters get BBC WS platform for promotion of BDS, ‘resistance’ and ‘apartheid’ trope

Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

In which a BBC Radio 4 guest compares Israel to a drug addict

 

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

By far the strangest choice of location for a filmed BBC report on the topic of the Israeli elections was Ramallah, from where Yolande Knell reported for BBC television news on March 17th in an item titled “Israel election: The view from Ramallah“. Knell opened that report as follows:Knell filmed 17 3

“I’ve just crossed into the occupied West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint which is manned by Israeli soldiers and this is part of Israel’s separation barrier. For Palestinians living here these have become symbols of the decades-old conflict with Israel. And while those in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip don’t get to vote in the Israeli elections, they are watching them closely.”

Knell’s claim that “those…in East Jerusalem…don’t get to vote” is of course inaccurate. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and those who do so successfully have the right to vote just like any other Israeli. Those who chose not to exercise their right to apply for citizenship obviously voluntarily forgo the right to vote in national elections, although they are still eligible to vote in municipal elections. This is not the first time that the BBC has promoted this inaccurate portrayal of the voting rights of East Jerusalemites.

Knell also fails to inform viewers that residents of PA controlled areas A and B and residents of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip do of course have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. That perhaps not accidental omission sets the stage for the next part of her report, in which BBC audiences are encouraged to believe that relevant commentary on the topic of the Israeli election is to be had from someone who not only does not participate in them, but represents the largest faction in a body which has not held democratic elections for seats in its own parliament for over nine years and which is governed by a president whose term of office expired years ago.

Knell: “Palestinian officials say the peace process is being ignored by the [Israeli] political campaigners – and it shouldn’t be.”

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

“You decide, the Israelis, what is it exactly. Are you occupying us? Then it’s too long an occupation – you have to end it. Or do you consider the West Bank and Gaza your territory? Then you want us either citizens or you want us actually being discriminated against. But in all scenarios, it’s your moment of choice and unfortunately I don’t see the Israeli society now debating this.”

This is of course blatant exploitation of the occasion of the Israeli elections for the propagation of unrelated political propaganda and whilst that comes as no surprise, nevertheless it misleads BBC audiences.

Israelis debated these issues over two decades ago and that debate culminated in the Oslo Accords which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the relinquishment of Areas A & B (and the Gaza Strip in 2005) to its control and the framework of final status negotiations to determine the future of Area C. The PA’s decision to scupper those final status negotiations by means of terrorism, its refusal to accept any of the subsequent offers made to resolve the situation and its newer policy of avoidance of face to face negotiations in favour of activity in the international arena do not of course get any mention in Knell’s own little campaigning video.

After having found two people on the streets of Ramallah to endorse her claim that “many believe it doesn’t even matter if the next Israeli prime minister is Left or Right wing”, she closes by promoting the debatable notion that “the Palestinian president says he’ll work to revive peace talks with Israel”.

In less than two months’ time, the British public will also be going to the polls. It is highly unlikely that the BBC’s election coverage will include “UK election: The view from Buenos Aires”, reports in which Spanish officials bemoan the fact that the issue of Gibraltar is not on the British voters’ agenda or interviews with IRA officials claiming that the ‘occupation’ of Northern Ireland has gone on “too long”. Were the BBC to indeed produce such reports, British voters would no doubt question its editorial priorities – and perhaps its collective sanity.

The decision to allow the broadcast of this piece of blatant political propaganda from Yolande Knell, which actively detracts from accurate audience understanding of the topic she is supposed to be covering (as well the broader subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general), should likewise be questioned. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Elections 2015: more BBC confusion on 1949 Armistice Lines

After the last election in Israel in 2013 we discussed “why did the BBC get it so wrong?” on these pages.

“Collective perceptions of Israel and Israelis – perhaps coupled with over-confidence in their own expertise – meant that BBC reporters did not even try to find out which issues were important to the Israeli electorate: instead they produced material which supported their own preconceived ideas […]. In addition, a marked lack of understanding of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right or “nationalist” to the Israeli political scene was very evident – especially in relation to the subject of traditional support from specific socio-economic groups for certain parties. […]

Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.” 

To date – less than a week before the March 17th elections are to be held – BBC coverage of the topic has been relatively thin on the ground, although early reporting on the subject stuck to the old BBC format of ‘a swing to the right’ and inaccurate portrayal of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main topic of this election.  

Perhaps in an attempt to avoid recycling the mistakes of its disastrous 2013 coverage, the BBC News website’s Middle East page put out an appeal to Israeli voters on March 6th.

elections call

Six days later an article apparently based on the response to that appeal appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel election: Views from the voting booth“.

Whilst Israelis will have no problem understanding the various views put forward by the five voters profiled in that feature, given that the BBC has not provided its audiences with any information on how the Israeli electoral system works or which parties are contesting this election and what political stance each of the 26 competing lists represents, it is highly unlikely that audiences outside Israel will find much value in the article.

No less confusing is the BBC-added insert to the words of one of the contributors:

elections art 12 3

Once again we see that despite the very clear advice given in the corporation’s ‘style guide‘ – “It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949″ – BBC journalists (in this case Richard Irvine-Brown) continue to have difficulty when it comes to providing its audiences with accurate representation of that very simple subject.  

The BBC, ‘settlements’ and cognitive dissonance

On March 10th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Islamic State video claims killing of ‘Israeli Arab spy’“. Since its initial appearance that article about the murder of Muhammad Musallam has been amended several times and whilst in general the report is reasonably accurate, it included a couple of noteworthy points.ISIS art

The third and fourth versions of the report stated:

“The video shows a boy aged about 12 accompanied by an older, French-speaking militant. He issued threats against Jews in France before the boy shot an orange-suited figure dead.”

That wording was slightly changed in the fifth and sixth versions:

“The video shows a boy aged about 12 accompanied by an older, French-speaking militant who voices threats against Jews in France. The boy is then shown shooting an orange-suited figure in the head before firing more shots as the man lies on the ground.”

In the seventh version of the article those words were replaced by the following:

“He [Musallam] is later shown kneeling in an empty field, facing the camera. Behind him stand two figures in camouflage fatigues, one of whom appears to be a boy.

The boy appears to shoot the kneeling figure in the head with a handgun and then to fire further shots into the body.

The video then carries a warning from an older, French-speaking militant aimed at the Jewish people.”

Photo credit: MEMRI

Photo credit: MEMRI

Screenshots from the video publicized by numerous media outlets support the BBC’s original statement that “[t]he video shows a boy aged about 12″ and so it is unclear why it was found necessary to change that to “two figures in camouflage fatigues, one of whom appears to be a boy” [emphasis added].

Whilst the original description of “threats against Jews in France” was indeed less than accurate, it is not clear why the ISIS terrorist’s words were later reclassified as “a warning […] aimed at the Jewish people”. In fact, as noted by MEMRI, the terrorist’s words are indeed threats – mainly against Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis:

“… he praises attacks on Jews in France, […] He threatens that ISIS will soon be attacking the Jews’ “lands and fortresses” and will “liberate Jerusalem” from the Jewish “filth.” He calls upon Muslim ISIS supporters to target several other alleged Mossad agents [including Arab Israelis – Ed] in Jerusalem whose names and addresses appear at the end of the video.”

In the latest version of the article readers find an insert titled “At the scene: Yolande Knell, BBC News, East Jerusalem”. The report also states:

“The 19-year-old left his home in East Jerusalem for Turkey last year, apparently intending to fight in Syria.” [emphasis added]

The Musallam actually family lives in Neve Ya’akov: a neighbourhood of Jerusalem usually described by the BBC as a ‘Jewish settlement’ despite the fact that it was established in 1924 on land purchased by Jews, evacuated during the War of Independence and reconstructed after the Six Day War.

But the prospect of explaining to audiences why an Israeli Arab Muslim family lives in a ‘Jewish settlement’ obviously generated too much cognitive dissonance and so Neve Ya’akov became “East Jerusalem” and thus the standard insert to the effect that “settlements are illegal under international law” could be omitted from this report. 

Superficial ‘analysis’ of PLO’s call to end security cooperation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly

March 5th saw the appearance of a report on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the dramatic title “PLO to end historic Israeli security agreement” which opened by informing readers that:PLO security coordination

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has decided to end a security co-operation agreement with Israel which dates back to the Oslo Accords of 1993.”

The report further stated:

“The PLO is the representative body for Palestinians and its decisions are binding for the Palestinian Authority. [….]

On Thursday the PLO said its executive committee would meet to implement the decision taken at the central council’s meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah.[…]

Palestinian sources say that the decision is final […]”

However, the ‘done deal’ picture presented by the BBC would appear to be premature and misleading. The Times of Israel notes that:

“A source close to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel Radio that the council’s decision was a recommendation only. Another Palestinian official said that Abbas must issue a presidential order ending the security cooperation with Israel.”

And in addition to the fact that in the meantime security coordination apparently continues as normal, PA officials have reportedly stated that:

“…President Mahmoud Abbas will not cut off security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank until after Israeli national elections on March 17 and only if another Netanyahu-led government refuses to transfer tax funds to the PA…”

Of course this is far from the first time that such a move has been threatened by various Palestinian officials: the same thing happened last month, last year and on numerous other occasions in the past. And that is all the more reason why the BBC should be able to provide its audiences with informative and relevant analysis on the topic of what such a move would mean for the Palestinian Authority and for the ordinary people living under its control.

Instead, readers of this article got the following analysis from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

PLO security art analysis

Whilst parroting the Hamas line and claiming that an end to security cooperation would “be a blow to Israeli security”, Connolly notably avoids all discussion of the potential effects of such a decision on day-to-day issues such as the number of security checkpoints (which have been dramatically reduced in recent years) and on the wider subject of the chances of the Palestinian Authority’s survival without Israeli security cooperation. As Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in January of this year:

“Abbas is lucky that the Israeli security forces are still operating in the West Bank, including inside cities and towns controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for the IDF and various branches of the Israeli security establishment, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Islamic State would have toppled the Palestinian Authority and beheaded Abbas and his officials a long time ago.”

And as the same writer noted last September:

“Abbas will be able to rein in Hamas in the West Bank only if he pursues security coordination with Israel. […]

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority would not be able to survive for one day in the West Bank without the presence of the IDF, especially given Hamas’s rising popularity among Palestinians in the aftermath of the war.”

Whether or not the Palestinian president (who of course also heads the PLO and its largest faction Fatah – although the BBC neglects to mention that in its report) will eventually issue that presidential order to end security cooperation with Israel remains to be seen but if he does not, BBC audiences will remain unaware of the factors lying behind that decision and if he does, they will be ill-informed with regard to that choice’s effects on future regional developments.  

BBC’s big Bibi binge lacks substance on P5+1 deal and Congress speech

Those following Jeremy Bowen on Twitter learned on March 2nd that he was in Washington.

AIPAC Bowen Tweet

What is particularly remarkable about the BBC Middle East editor’s second statement is that in previous years, he has not found that “not to be missed” annual event unmissable.

But of course Bowen’s real interest in this year’s AIPAC conference (and readers can find his at times snide observations of that event on his Twitter feed) actually stems from the proximity of the Israeli prime minister’s appearance there to his speech in Congress the following day and the BBC has been building up to that story for some time.

In January the BBC News website’s reporting on the invitation from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress was notable for its misrepresentation of Netanyahu’s stance on the issue of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran supposedly aimed at preventing that country’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

On February 19th the BBC News website carried a report titled “Iran nuclear talks: US accuses Israel of ‘leaks’” which for the most part was devoted to amplification of allegations made by a White House official but – in common with much of the corporation’s previous reporting on the topic – failed to comprehensively inform audiences of the concerns raised by many observers with regard to the emerging end results of the P5+1 negotiations.

On February 23rd the BBC News website promoted the Guardian/Al Jazeera story which wrongly alleged that differing appraisals of Iran’s nuclear programme by the Mossad indicated that Israel’s prime minister had deliberately misled the UN on that issue in 2012.AIPAC 1

February 26th saw the appearance on the BBC News website of an article titled “Netanyahu row with Obama administration deepens” which once again was largely devoted to the amplification of US administration statements on the issue but only briefly and superficially addressed the underlying issue of concerns regarding the details of the P5+1 agreement, whilst at the same time misleadingly framing them as being confined to the Israeli prime minister alone.

On the same day, an article titled “Netanyahu ‘not correct’ on Iran nuclear talks – Kerry” also appeared on the BBC News website which further promoted the theme that concerns over the essence of the P5+1 deal with Iran are limited to Israel’s prime minister and that his presentation of the issue is based on faulty judgement.

Also on February 26th an article by Kevin Connolly appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel US: Republican invite to Netanyahu riles Obama“. Yet again concerns over what kind of deal the P5+1 is about to make with Iran were presented to readers as an ‘all-Bibi affair’.AIPAC 2

“That issue – Iran and the Bomb – is one of the defining themes of Mr Netanyahu’s career and he is alarmed that the P5+1 powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia, China, UK and France – plus Germany) negotiating with Tehran may be preparing to agree a deal towards the end of March which would be acceptable to the world powers but unacceptable to Israel.”

All of the above, however, was merely the aperitif before the BBC really got down to business.

On March 2nd visitors to the BBC News website found another article by Kevin Connolly titled “Netanyahu Congress speech a moment of high stakes“. They could also read “Netanyahu arrives in US for contested Congress Iran speech” and “Netanyahu: Speech ‘not intended to disrespect’ Obama” or watch “Netanyahu in US on controversial visit” in which BBC audiences were , as ever, told that “Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons technology”.AIPAC 3 Ghattas

March 3rd saw the appearance on the BBC News website of an article by Jonathan Marcus titled “Netanyahu’s speech ‘win-win’ for Iran” and a filmed report (also shown on BBC television news) by upcoming J Street conference speaker  Kim Ghattas titled Tensions as Israeli PM Netanyahu visits US“. In her report Ghattas told BBC audiences that:

“He [Netanyahu] hasn’t said very much yet about the case he plans to make against a nuclear deal with Iran but this is all very much part of his strategy to try to undermine progress towards an agreement.”

That false information was similarly promoted by the BBC on Twitter

AIPAC BBC News US tweet

The main course of the BBC’s Bibi binge will obviously be served up with Netanyahu’s actual speech to Congress, but as is already apparent, the information being provided to BBC audiences on this topic is both voluminous and yet at the same time misleading and lacking in crucial context.

The BBC’s framing of the story as though Netanyahu were the only party concerned about the details of the P5+1 deal is plainly both wrong and politically motivated. Plenty of other parties both in the Middle East and beyond share the same concerns and yet the BBC has refrained from reporting on that issue and on the topic of the interest shown in the upcoming Congress speech.

The claim that Netanyahu is trying to “undermine progress towards an agreement” is patently false and – as noted above – this is far from the first time that the BBC has misrepresented that issue.

Likewise, there is nothing novel about the BBC’s promotion of trite slogans such as “Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons technology” with the concurrent avoidance of provision of a coherent picture of professional opinions on the issue, such as that given by the head of the IAEA on March 2nd:

“International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said Monday that Iran still needed to hand over key information to the UN body necessary for its investigation of the country’s nuclear program.

The two missing pieces of the puzzle relate to alleged explosive tests and other issues related to research that may also be useful for military uses of atomic energy. According to Amano the missing pieces of data should have been addressed by Iran by last August.

“The agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” Amano was quoted by Reuters as saying.”

Unfortunately for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to understand why the Israeli Prime Minister is currently in Washington and what exactly is the basis for his (and others’) concerns about the P5+1 deal, the corporation’s correspondents are too heavily invested in both their own animosity towards the Israeli leader and their cheer-leading for the current US administration to get around to any real ‘standard-setting journalism’ on this topic.

Related Articles:

BBC misrepresents Israel’s stance on P5+1 talks yet again

BBC misrepresentation of Israel’s stance on Iran talks continues in Kim Ghattas report

What have BBC audiences been told about the P5+1 deal with Iran?

Does BBC coverage of the P5+1 deal with Iran adequately promote audience understanding of the issue?