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:

Tim Franks on BBC WS Newshour: ‘you make Israel sound like a normal country’

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?

 

 

 

BBC’s Sommerville showcases PIJ rearmament but refrains from asking who supplied the weapons

On February 26th the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau’s Quentin Sommerville produced two reports – one written and one filmed – about the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

The filmed report – first shown on the BBC News television programme ‘Impact’ – appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rearmed and replenished ranks“. Sommerville opens the report with the same message as that appearing in the title:Sommerville tunnels filmed

“The threat of war is looming again in Gaza. These are the men of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Six months since their last battle, they’ve rearmed and replenished their ranks in expectation of their next confrontation with Israel.”

Notably, BBC audiences are not informed at this juncture or at any other point in this report (or in the written article) how the PIJ has been able to rearm or who has supplied those weapons.

Of course the likelihood of any future confrontation between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel depends entirely upon the policies chosen by the former: for as long as they elect to refrain from attacking Israeli civilians, there will be no “next confrontation”. Sommerville, however, allows one of his masked interviewees to mislead viewers with the inference that Israel is the party initiating the recurrent bouts of conflict.

“We are prepared for any aggression on the Gaza Strip.”

 A short way into the report Sommerville tells audiences:

“….right by its [Israel’s] border…120 mm mortars. There’s an ample supply and there’s more inside.”

However, he refrains from commenting on the fact that the mortar marked ‘M48′ displayed by the PIJ terrorist he and his crew filmed bears a remarkable resemblance to the Iranian-made 120mm mortars intercepted by the IDF in 2009 aboard the ‘Francop and of course he makes no effort to inquire where and how his hosts obtained their “ample supply”.

Sommerville tunnels filmed M48

M48 Francop

Iranian-made 120 mm M48 mortar found on the Francop. Photo: MFA

Later on in the report viewers are shown an image of what Sommerville describes as:

“The aftermath of an explosion on Gaza’s western border …”

The Gaza Strip’s western border is of course the Mediterranean coastline. Apparently just as geographically challenged as his colleague who recently described the Golan Heights as being west of Haifa, Sommerville is actually referring to the southern border of the Gaza Strip – as can be determined from the commentary which follows.

“Egyptian soldiers are piling on the pressure. They’re tightening the border and wiping out smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza. Egypt blames militants from here for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

No effort is made to explain to viewers why Egypt makes such statements.

Throughout this report the PIJ are predictably referred to as “militants” and Sommerville informs viewers that:

“They [the PIJ] and Hamas are regarded by the West as terrorists.”

Of course there are also non-Western countries which take the same approach – now including Egypt.

In the closing interview with a masked terrorist, viewers are told that the ‘achievement’ of the PIJ during last summer’s conflict was:

“…we challenged the occupier […] we are still able to say no to the occupation.”

Sommerville fails to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the Gaza Strip has not been occupied by Israel since August 2005.

In the written version of his report  – appearing in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Inside Gaza’s tunnels, militants get ready for the next war” – Sommerville promotes some of the same themes.Sommerville tunnels written

“Viewed as a terrorist group in the West, Islamic Jihad is committed to Israel’s destruction.”

And:

“Egypt’s soldiers move around in armoured vehicles. Border controls have been tightened and they are using explosives to destroy homes and smuggling tunnels that have been a lifeline to Gaza.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi blames Hamas and others for aiding attacks in the Sinai.”

He again makes no effort to correct the inaccurate impressions received by readers from statements made by his interviewees.

“Standing inside, his face hidden, is a fighter, with the nom de guerre, Abu Hamza.

“In the last war we noticed that every moving thing on the surface of the earth was bombed, whether it was ambulances, civilians or fighters walking on the street,” he said. [emphasis added]

And:

“Our biggest achievement is that we stood our ground, and we challenged the occupier,” said Abu Ibrahim, a commander of their Saraya al-Quds brigade.

“Unlike the whole world, we are still able to say ‘no’ to them, ‘no’ to the occupation. We are still able to resist.” [emphasis added]

Sommerville continues the practice of promoting casualty figures which have not been independently verified by the BBC.  

“The 50-day conflict in Gaza left at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN, and 11,000 injured.”

His emotive descriptions of the Gaza Strip lack context and no effort is made to clarify to readers that the factor most hindering reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is infighting between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

“Large parts of neighbourhoods in Gaza are in ruins, and the Strip is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis which has left many thousands of families homeless.

Six months on, the rubble from the war lies mostly uncleared and there has been little rebuilding.” […]

“Gaza is being cornered, more isolated than ever before…”

Sommerville’s take-away message in both these reports is that the “next confrontation” between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip is just a matter of time. Whilst that supposition is entirely reasonable, he fails to present BBC audiences with the information they need in order to be able to properly understand why that is the case.

The fact that he refrains from accurately defining the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terrorist organisations, along with his overall failure to clarify to BBC audiences that any future hostilities depend entirely upon the choices made by those groups and his concurrent promotion of myths such as the non-existent “occupation”, means that readers and viewers remain none the wiser about the real causes of the war around the corner.

In addition, Sommerville’s avoidance of the issue of the PIJ’s Iranian backing and the sources of its rearmament mean that a crucial piece of the overall picture is concealed from BBC audiences and hence, what could have been informative journalism is instead disappointingly predictable and superficial, tapping into the same themes recycled by the BBC so many times before. 

 

A Palestinian voice you won’t hear on the BBC

As has often been noted on these pages, the BBC’s reporting on Palestinian issues is by and large a very one-dimensional affair, with stories generally making the news only when there is some sort of connection to Israel. Audiences are very rarely informed about domestic Palestinian issues – either political or social – and topics such as freedom of the press or persecution of religious minorities are no-go areas for BBC reporters. Whilst audiences have plenty of opportunity to hear messaging from officials such as Saeb Erekat, Husam Zomlot and Mustafa Barghouti, the ordinary person in the street is rarely given a platform, except in cases when selected quotes are employed to provide backing for a particular narrative.

Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid recently published an opinion piece at the Times of Israel and it is well worth the read, not least because it highlights a viewpoint which BBC audiences never get to hear.

“Let’s be realistic. We Palestinians are not doing well.

In Gaza, our schools are controlled by Muslim fanatics who indoctrinate our children, and Hamas uses our civilians as human shields in a losing battle against Israel. Hamas maintains power through violence, and it ensures that money is spent on its arsenal rather than on making the Palestinians’ lives better. While President Abbas is quick to denounce Israel whenever it attacks Hamas, he has absolutely no ability to stop Hamas from provoking Israel.

In the West Bank, while Abbas has been incapable of stopping the construction of Israeli settlements, the only good jobs are with Israeli companies, and the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement is doing its best to take those jobs away from us. Abbas runs a corrupt dictatorship that uses international funds to consolidate its own administration rather than to develop the Palestinian economy.

In East Jerusalem, the PA is so mistrusted that most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli rule than under PA rule, and yet some of us seem unable to live in peace with the Jews.

In Palestinian camps in Arab countries, our human rights are constantly being violated, and we are simply used by our Arab hosts to further their own goals.”

Read the whole article here.

 

 

What is missing from the BBC’s post-conflict reporting from Gaza Strip?

Since the implementation of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas towards the end of August last year, the BBC’s reporting from the Gaza Strip has focused on very specific topics.BBC building

The vast majority of reports have related to the topic of damage to buildings in the Gaza Strip, with a prominent theme in that reporting being promotion of the inaccurate notion that efforts to repair and rebuild housing are hampered solely by Israeli restrictions on imports of construction materials to the Gaza Strip. Examples can be seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

Another trend seen in BBC reporting since the end of the conflict has been the amplification of reports by politically motivated NGOs involved in lawfare: see examples here, here, here and here. Audiences have also seen and heard reports on what can be loosely termed medical issues in the Gaza Strip: see examples here and here.

BBC reporting on breaches of the ceasefire has been patchy. A mortar fired from the Gaza Strip at the Eshkol district on September 16th was not reported at the time but given a brief mention in a later report. A missile fired on October 31st was ignored and a missile attack on December 19th was only reported when Israel responded. A sniper attack on December 24th was reported in Arabic alone.Kissufim attack BBC Arabic report

Notably, the BBC’s post-conflict reporting on the Israeli side of the story has been limited to one article

Audiences have not been provided with any information whatsoever on the issue of the Gaza Strip based terrorist organisations’ rehabilitation of their military capabilities, including Hamas’ missile testing which has been taking place very frequently in recent months.  

“Hamas’ military wing launched three rockets aimed at the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip reported, as part of experiments designed to restore Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades’ firepower to what it was before Operation Protective Edge. This marks the third day in a row that test rockets were launched. […]

The rockets testing joins a long list of recent experiments made by Hamas in the past few weeks. It is estimated that since the end of Operation Protective Edge, dozens of rockets have been launched towards the Mediterranean Sea from within Gaza for experimental purposes.

Hamas official in Cairo Moussa Abu Marzouk confirmed that Hamas has conducted experimental rocket launches and said that they do not constitute a violation of the ceasefire agreement between Gaza and Israel because the agreement did not mention and was not agreed upon that Hamas was prevented from carrying out experiments with rockets.”

Similarly, publication of the news that the Israeli navy prevented the smuggling of materials for missile manufacture by sea on January 19th has been totally ignored by BBC correspondents.

“The incident occurred in the early morning hours of January 19th, when naval forces identified the suspicious boat making its way from the shores of Sinai to the Strip’s shores. Before it arrives at the Gazan beach, the navy soldiers called on three Palestinians aboard the ship to stop.

A search by the soldiers discovered liquid fiberglass on the vessel. The three Palestinians were taken in for investigation by the Shin Bet, where they admitted the materials were meant for rocket and mortar manufacture in Gaza.

They said they were sent to collect the materials from Sinai and deliver it to Hamas’ military wing in a timely manner. An indictment was filed against the three at a courthouse in Be’er Sheva.”

The issue of the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip is invariably presented to BBC audiences in terms of ‘Israel says it is a necessary security measure’. Obviously the BBC can only continue to employ such partisan terminology as long as it continues to refrain from informing its funding public of attempts to smuggle arms and weapons manufacturing materials into the Gaza Strip.

The BBC’s framing of post-conflict issues keeps audience attention focused on the topic of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip but fails to make them aware of no less important issues vital for their understanding of current and future regional developments. If – or when – Israel is once again obliged to respond to situations created by Hamas policies, BBC audiences will once again be lacking the essential context behind the story. 

  

Recommended viewing from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau chief

Following publication of the news that veteran CBS ’60 Minutes’ correspondent Bob Simon had died in a car accident in New York, the head of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau sent this tweet:

Colebourn tweet Simon

The report recommended by Richard Colebourn to his Twitter followers is titled Christians of the Holy Land and it dates from 2012. Rather than being “unusually nuanced and robust”, it in fact includes basic inaccuracies such as this:

“Israel built the wall over the last 10 years, which completely separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. The wall was built to stop Palestinian terrorists from getting into Israel. And it’s worked. Terrorism has gone down 90 percent.

At the same time, the wall completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the “little town” where Christ was born into what its residents call “an open air prison.” ” [emphasis added]

A critique of Simon’s report by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile can be seen here.

If it seems odd that Richard Colebourn’s tribute should highlight that particular piece of reporting out of all Bob Simon’s work, it is worth remembering that the BBC has produced its own similarly distorted reporting on the same topic. Perhaps that is why the corporation’s Jerusalem Bureau chief seems to have difficulty differentiating between “robust” and inaccurate, “nuanced” and partial.