The BBC and the Houthi logo

Viewers of the BBC World News programme ‘Impact‘ who recently watched a report by Safa al Ahmed (which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th under the title “Yemen crisis: BBC gets rare access to Houthi rebels“) may have noticed a certain feature which cropped up repeatedly throughout the filmed footage.

Houthis report pics

Seeing as no attempt was made to explain that logo in Safa Al Ahmed’s report, audiences might perhaps have turned to the BBC News website’s profile of the group titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?“. There they would have found that same logo appearing in a picture captioned “Houthi supporters took part in weeks of protests calling for fuel price cuts and a new government”.

Houthi profile art pic

So does that logo have anything to do with fuel prices or demands for political reform in Yemen? Well, no – and its recurrent appearance is not coincidental because that banner is actually the official emblem of the Houthis, as explained by the New York Times:

“It includes the words “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews.” Houthis shout it when they march, wear it on arm patches, paint it on buildings and stick it onto their car windows. When pictured, those words are rendered in red, framed by “God is great” and “Victory to Islam” in green, on a white background.

Sometimes the red words are shown dripping blood.”

One might think that, given the BBC’s remit of building understanding of international issues, the corporation would consider that information worth communicating to its audiences, along with more comprehensive information on the Houthis’ alleged links to the Iranian regime (and Hizballah) than appear in its profile.

“Regional Shia power Iran has also been accused of giving financial and military support to the Houthis – something both have denied.”

“Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, believes that the rebels are backed militarily, financially and politically by its Shia regional arch-rival, Iran – something both have denied.”

Remarkably, the BBC does not appear to have much interest in conducting in-depth investigative reporting on that topic

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Just before 1 p.m. on January 27th incoming missiles from Syria triggered air-raid sirens in the northern Golan Heights.  Local residents took cover in their air-raid shelters and over a thousand visitors to the Mount Hermon ski resort had to be quickly evacuated. At least two projectiles were determined to have landed in Israeli territory and the IDF responded with artillery fire directed at the launch site in Syria and later on in the evening with strikes on Syrian army artillery posts. Both Israeli and foreign sources attributed the missile fire to Hizballah acting from Syrian army positions.

Despite at least one of its journalists in the region being aware of the incident, the BBC News website elected not to report those events at the time.

Aft 27 1 MEHP

A day later – Wednesday, January 28th – an additional incident took place when Hizballah conducted a cross-border attack in the Har Dov area, firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli army vehicles. Mortars were also fired at an IDF position on Mount Hermon and reportedly at the village of Ghajar.  Two soldiers were killed and seven wounded. Israel responded with artillery and air strikes.

In the BBC News website’s report on those events – originally headlined “Israeli soldiers wounded in Lebanon border attack” and later retitled “Israel fires into Lebanon after attack on troops”, followed by “Israel fires shells into Lebanon after attack on troops” and then “UN peacekeeper killed after Hezbollah-Israel clash” – the previous day’s events were described in one sentence.

“The incident came just hours after Israel launched an air strike on Syrian army positions near the Golan Heights in retaliation for rockets that were fired into Israel on Monday.”

In fact, the missiles were fired on Tuesday (January 27th) and readers obviously would not understand from this description that Hizballah was responsible for that attack as well, meaning that their ability to put the attack which is the subject matter of the report into its correct context would be impaired.

Also notable was the change in description of the incident on the BBC News website Middle East homepage. Initial reports portrayed events in the order in which they had happened – albeit without mentioning Hizballah.

Har Dov attacks on HP

As the day went on, that description was altered and became less clear as terms such as “border clashes” and “trade fire” were employed, creating a false and misleading sense of equivalence.

Har Dov attacks on HP later

The BBC report at that URL was later replaced with one titled “Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah trade fire” in which the fact that the incident took place near the ‘Shebaa Farms’ area is noted twice in succession.

“The peacekeeper was killed close to the disputed Shebaa Farms area, where an Israeli convoy was earlier hit by anti-tank missiles, killing two soldiers.”

“Wednesday’s cross-border violence erupted when Israeli military vehicles were hit at about 11:35 (09:35 GMT) near Mt Dov, in the Shebaa Farms area, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.”

The fact that this incident and the one preceding it in the northern Golan Heights have nothing to do with the dispute arising from Lebanese claims to the Shebaa Farms area defined by the UN as not belonging to Lebanon is not made clear to readers. The report also states:

“The flare-up along the Israeli-Lebanon frontier recalls the beginning of the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which was triggered by a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military vehicle that led to the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers.”

Significantly, the BBC refrains from informing readers of the crucially relevant point that according to UN SC resolution 1701 which brought the 2006 conflict to an end, Hizballah should have been disarmed and neither that terrorist organization nor any others should be operating in southern Lebanon.  

Related Articles:

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

BBC amends ICC Q&A following reader complaint

h/t D

Readers may recall that on January 14th the BBC News website published a Q&A feature concerning the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the International Criminal Court. As was noted here at the time:ICC Q&A

“Under the sub-heading “When will they become ICC members and what does it mean?” the article states:

“The Palestinians have asked it to exercise jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza from 13 June 2014. This covers events prior to and during last summer’s conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza.”

That, of course, is correct but notably the BBC refrains from pointing out to audiences that – as is also the case with the UN HRC’s Schabas commission – the ‘start date’ selected by the PA deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers by a Hebron-based Hamas cell on June 12th 2014.”

A member of the public who took note of the same point submitted a complaint to the BBC and recently received a response which includes the following:

“We have reviewed the article in question and agree the date chosen by the Palestinians as the starting point for the ICC to investigate requires explanation as it is clearly not arbitrary. We have therefore updated the article with the following lines, which we hope you will find satisfactory: […]”

Although no footnote has been added to the article to inform audiences that it has been amended, the relevant passage now reads:

ICC art amendment

The wording of that amendment still does not adequately clarify the point that the ‘start date’ selected by the PA for the investigation it wants the ICC to pursue deliberately excludes the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach – or why.

Additionally, the statement “Israeli forces began a mass round-up of Palestinians” misleadingly suggests that people were arrested randomly simply because they were Palestinians and does not make it clear that arrests were based on intelligence linking those arrested to the suspects and/or to terrorist organisations. As Ynet reported at the later stages of the search operation:

“Since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keepers, a total of 419 Palestinians have been arrested, among them 59 were released in the Shalit deal, and 279 are Hamas operatives. The IDF has searched 2,200 sites.”

As the BBC’s reply to this complaint shows, it is fully aware of the fact that the Palestinian request for an investigation of events after June 13th 2014 is “clearly not arbitrary” and of the significance of that selected ‘start date’. And yet, despite acknowledgement that the issue “requires explanation”, the wording of this amendment still does not sufficiently clarify a point vital to audience understanding of the political motives behind the Palestinian ICC bid.  

 

BBC double standards on terrorism surface yet again

Regular readers of these pages who happened to visit the Europe page of the BBC News website on January 23rd would not have been overly surprised to find the perpetrator of the January 9th terror attack on the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris, in which four people were murdered and fifteen others held hostage for hours, described as “[a]n Islamist militant”.Paris attacks art

Via an article appearing two days later in The Independent, we learn that the BBC has decided that he and the perpetrators of the attack at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo two days beforehand will not be described by the corporation as terrorists.

“The Islamists who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris should be not be described as “terrorists” by the BBC, a senior executive at the corporation has said.

Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, the largest of the BBC’s non-English language news services, said the term “terrorist” was too “loaded” to describe the actions of the men who killed 12 people in the attack on the French satirical magazine. […]

We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist. What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.” ” [emphasis added]

As longtime readers will know, the claim appearing in bold above is simply not true. The BBC does indeed use the word terror and its derivatives in certain cases – particularly in reports on Northern Ireland. The term has also been used to describe incidents in Great Britain, Norway and Spain, among others. A report appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘London’ page just one day before the Independent article was published informed audiences – albeit in confusing grammatical style – that:

Al Muhajiroun art

In the ‘through the looking glass’ world of the BBC, a UK-based organization which was proscribed by the British government on the basis of its engagement in the glorification of terrorism can be described as a “Terrorist organization” (with a capital T, no less) whilst other groups appearing on the same list of proscribed organisations but operating elsewhere are regularly described in BBC content in euphemistic terms such as “the Lebanese militant movement” or “the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas“.

The Charlie Hebdo terrorists carried out an attack not only directed at the staff of that particular publication but also with the intent of sowing fear and self-censorship in the wider Western media.  They sought to terrorise journalists – and Western society in general – into complying with their particular politico-religious demands just as terrorists of all stripes do the world over. Tarik Kafala’s claim that the correct terminology for those who gunned down seventeen people in cold blood is “loaded” means that the BBC cannot tell this story accurately and impartially to its audiences.

That fact will come as no surprise to anyone who has been monitoring the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word terror and its habit of hiding behind the smokescreen of “value judgements” it claims are implicit in that word’s use and may “raise doubts about our impartiality”.

But when shooting attacks by a far-right extremist in Norway do get the BBC editorial thumbs-up for description as “terror attacks” and “terrorist activity” is used to describe the actions of members of an armed group in Northern Ireland, it is of course difficult to conceive of any reason for the refusal to accurately name terrorism elsewhere which does not stem from a “value judgement” regarding the perpetrators – or their victims – and impossible to see how the BBC can make any honest claim to cover the subject of terrorism with impartiality.

Related Articles:

Debate widens on BBC avoidance of the word terrorist

Mapping the BBC’s inconsistent use of the word ‘terror’

Confusing BBC audiences with unqualified agenda-based opinion

“The BBC will use the opportunity presented by its long-form documentary and current affairs output to explore a wide range of contemporary issues that can engage a variety of viewers across TV, radio and online. A key priority for the BBC will be to provide explanation and analysis of the complex issues that confront the UK and the world (such as the Middle East, global terrorism and climate change). The BBC will offer in-depth, multi-platform seasons as a means of engaging audiences in relevant big issues and helping them make sense of the world.” [emphasis added] (Source: BBC Public Purposes: Sustaining Citizenship and Civil Society)

The plethora of information available to anyone in our modern world at the click of a mouse is of course both a blessing and a curse with the challenge being to sort the factual wheat from the often agenda motivated chaff. The BBC clearly has an important role to play in helping its audiences distinguish between the fact and the fiction surrounding news and current affairs in order to enable them to reach informed opinions and indeed the BBC Trust states that:

“All BBC journalism will display the core values of independence, truth and accuracy, impartiality, fairness, and diversity of opinion.” 

In that laudable statement of intention, however, lies a pitfall. The diversity of opinion the BBC commits itself to reflecting may not always be compatible with the other core values to which it professes to adhere simply because people hold a wide range of opinions which are obviously not always rooted in fact.

If a BBC report tells audiences that some people are of the opinion that the earth is flat, the corporation’s commitment to truth and accuracy should surely also mean that it is obliged to inform them of the available facts contradicting that opinion. Or should the BBC refrain from amplifying opinions which may indeed be “diverse” but cannot be defended as being based on fact?

It is not difficult to find BBC reports in which non fact-based opinion is promoted without qualification. For example, we not long ago witnessed commentators expressing the ‘opinion’ that a Palestinian bus driver who committed suicide had been murdered by Israelis with little or no challenge from BBC interviewers and on January 8th the BBC News website found it appropriate to amplify the opinion expressed in an Iranian newspaper that the terror attacks in Paris were a joint ISIS-Israel operation.

On January 23rd another example came to light in an article by Owen Bennett-Jones appearing on the BBC News website’s Europe page under the title “Blasphemy, jihad and victimhood“.OBJ art

There, readers were told that:

” […] Blasphemy is the lead story now with political chat show hosts asking: “What is it? How come people take the issue so seriously?

And shouldn’t secular West European countries worry about racist or misogynist speech as much as blasphemy?”

Such discussions almost always develop into a row about power. Political Islamists and Western liberals often argue that Muslim sensitivities about public challenges to their faith and identity are informed by the fact that over time they have been colonised, invaded, tortured and falsely imprisoned by Westerners.

The US and Israel, they argue, are the subject of so much invective and even violence because, for all their talk of human rights, they hypocritically use their own strength to oppress Muslims, whether in Iraq or Gaza. Furthermore, it is argued, Muslims are singled out for abuse.”

There may indeed be people in this world who hold the opinion that they can ‘explain’ anti-Israel campaigning and violence against Israeli citizens by means of the false claim that Israel ‘oppresses’ Muslims in Gaza but that view is not rooted in truth and accuracy.

The trouble is that in his smörgåsbord presentation of the “diversity of opinion” on an issue which he makes no real effort to resolve, Owen Bennett-Jones does not make it clear to readers that there is no factual basis for that particular opinion. He avoids any explanation or analysis of the agendas of the “political Islamists” and “Western liberals” making that fictitious claim and thus – intentionally or not – he contributes to audiences’ further confusion.

Likewise, the additional reflection of ‘opinions’ from Bennett-Jones which follows that one does nothing to clarify to BBC audiences either the actual circumstances behind the incident concerned or the deliberate conflation of anti-racism with censorship inherent in that view.

“Thus, while the Charlie Hebdo management sacked a cartoonist for anti-Semitism, it did not hesitate to publish anti-Islamic cartoons.”

The admirable aspiration to provide “explanation and analysis of […] complex issues” and to help its funding public to “make sense of the world” cannot be achievable as long as the BBC promotes and amplifies agenda-based statements without the qualifications made necessary by its commitment to accurate and impartial journalism. The trouble is that many at the BBC obviously first need to clarify the difference between the fact-based and agenda-based to themselves. 

BBC’s Mike Thomson entrenches an inaccurate narrative

The Foreign Affairs correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, Mike Thomson, recently produced a feature on the subject of the kidnappings and murders of Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Eyal Yifrach on June 12th 2014 and Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2nd 2014.

That feature appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The lost sons“.  Additionally, an audio version of Thomson’s report was broadcast by the BBC World Service on January 23rd in the programme ‘The Documentary’ under the title “The Lives And Deaths Of Naftali and Mohammed” and the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme featured segments from the audio version on January 22nd (from 2:40:20 here) and on January 23rd (from 2:50:27 here).Kidnappings on WS

On one level, all versions of this feature present the personal stories of two families – Frenkel and Abu Khdeir – coping with the loss of their sons. The chosen format naturally promotes equivalence between the two murders and Thomson does not adequately clarify the differences between them. Whilst he does inform listeners that a Hamas cell carried out the murders of the three Israeli teenagers, the fact that the operation was financed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip is not adequately explained. Neither the issue of the logistical help that the two murderers obviously received from their community during the three months in which they were on the run nor the widespread support for the kidnappings in Palestinian society (which went completely unreported by the BBC at the time) gets coverage in Thomson’s various reports. Significantly too, no mention is made of the condemnation of the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir at all levels of Israeli society or the fact that he was recognized as a victim of terror by the State of Israel, which entitles his family to monthly financial benefits.

In both the website version and the World Service radio version of the feature, conspiracy theories about the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers are amplified. Whilst one must obviously question the editorial justification for the inclusion of such baseless claims at all, credit is due to Mike Thomson for challenging part of them – although not the one made in the audio version which falsely asserted that the boys were soldiers.

“But Mohammed’s parents insist, despite all the evidence, that Naftali and his two Israeli friends weren’t actually murdered at all – they died in an accident and the Israeli government used the deaths to fuel anger against Palestinians.

His mother says the Israeli government “wanted to bomb Gaza and planned to use this as a justification”.

I ask how widespread is this belief. She replies: “Everyone knows this story, not only us. We didn’t come up with this story.”

But, I point out, senior Hamas figures have admitted that members of the organisation carried out the killings.

Hussein says: “I am not a politician, I am an ordinary man and didn’t hear of this story. The story that we know is that they died in a traffic accident.” “

However, in the World Service audio version Thomson’s conclusion regarding those bizarre conspiracy theories is that they “show the depth of distrust” between Israelis and Palestinians and he makes no attempt to place them within the broader – and highly relevant – context of the baseless rumours and incitement seen in official Palestinian media or heard in sermons in PA mosques on a quotidian basis.

In that same audio version broadcast on the World Service, Thomson adopts the usual BBC practice of failing to meet its own supposed standards of impartiality by refraining from any mention of the existence of legal opinions which do not conform to the spirit of his statement:

“Under international law the West Bank is occupied territory…”

He goes on to say:

“…but many Israelis, like the speaker you are about to hear, still see it as part of Israel and use biblical language to describe it.”

The speaker is an IDF officer who was responsible for the coordination of the search operation for the three teenagers and the “biblical language” Thomson obviously finds worthy of note is the term Judea and Samaria. Of course that term was universally in use  – including by the British mandate administration – until Jordan’s belligerent occupation and later unrecognized annexation of the districts of Judea and Samaria, after which the term ‘West Bank’ was invented in order to cement that occupation in language. In Thomson’s case that rebranding clearly worked.

A particularly significant aspect of this feature is its vigorous promotion of a theme which the BBC has been pushing for months.

Kidnappings Thomson tweet 1

In the introduction to the item in the January 22nd edition of the ‘Today’ programme, listeners were told that:

“The murders further fuelled hatred and bitterness on both sides, sparking riots in the West Bank, rocket attacks by Hamas and the Israeli invasion of Gaza.”

The next day listeners to the same programme were told that:

“After a summer war in Gaza and bloody clashes on the West Bank, Israel has suffered a winter wave of attacks, the latest wounding a dozen bus passengers in Tel Aviv. The catalyst for much of this was the abduction and murder of four teenagers – three Jewish and one Palestinian – in June and July.”

In the written version appearing on the BBC News website, audiences are told that:Kidnappings Thomson tweet 2

“These brutal killings, and those of two other innocent boys, have had far-reaching consequences. Riots in the West Bank, a war in Gaza and a deepened divide between Israelis and Palestinians.”

In the audio version broadcast on the BBC World Service, listeners heard Mike Thomson say:

“There is little doubt that the slaughter of these four innocent and like-minded boys proved a catalyst for the deaths and injuries of thousands more people last summer.”

Since the hostilities ended six months ago, it has become standard BBC practice to promote the narrative of the conflict of summer 2014 as having taken place exclusively “in Gaza”, erasing any mention of the fact that in Israel thousands of southern residents had to leave their homes and millions ran for cover in air-raid shelters from over four thousand missile attacks launched at civilian targets throughout the seven weeks of hostilities.

It is also apparently BBC policy to mislead audiences by downplaying or erasing from audience view the hundreds of missiles launched at civilian targets in Israel between the date of the kidnappings – June 12th – and the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th. It was of course that surge in missile fire which was the reason for Israel’s military action rather than the kidnappings and murders of the three teenagers, with the later discovery of dozens of cross-border tunnels prompting the subsequent ground operation. The military operation could have been avoided had Hamas elected to take advantage of the ample opportunities it was given to stop the missile fire before July 8th but the terrorist organisation chose not to do so – for reasons by no means exclusively connected to Israel such as the PA’s refusal to pay Hamas employees after the formation of the unity government. 

Over the last six months this same distortion of the background to Operation Protective Edge has been seen time and time again in BBC content. Accurate and impartial representation of Hamas’ motives for instigating that conflict has been usurped by a simplistic narrative promoting the notion of a ‘cycle of violence’ which actively prevents BBC audiences from forming a realistic understanding of events. Mike Thomson obviously put a lot of work into this feature and hence it is all the more unfortunate that one of its main themes is based on an inaccurate narrative which it in turn goes on to further entrench. 

 

BBC News misrepresents Israeli PM’s stance on P5+1 deal with Iran

On January 21st the BBC News website published an article titled “John Boehner invites Netanyahu to Congress on Iran” on both its Middle East and US & Canada pages.Congress invite

Relating to an invitation from the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to the Israeli prime minister to address Congress, the BBC article states, inter alia, that:

“Six world powers want Iran to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

An interim deal was struck in November 2013 but deadlines for a comprehensive deal have since been missed.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly warned a deal with Iran could threaten Israel’s security. The Israeli Prime Minister has not officially responded to the invitation.” [emphasis added]

That representation of the Israeli prime minister’s position is inaccurate and misleading. In fact, what PM Netanyahu has said on repeated occasions is that a bad deal with Iran on the part of the P5+1 would threaten Israel’s security. He has not expressed opposition to a deal in general as is implied in this report.

For example, in November 2013 the Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu said:

“If you do a bad deal, you may get to the point where your only option is a military option. So a bad deal actually can lead you to exactly the place you don’t want to be”

In May 2014 Ha’aretz reported that:

“The [Prime Minister’s] bureau’s statement, released in Hebrew, quotes emphasizing to the audience Israel’s stance that Iran must not be allowed to create an atomic weapon. The Islamic Republic currently has thousands of centrifuges and thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium, with which a bomb could be created.

“A bad deal will enable them to preserve this capability,” Netanyahu said, according to the Hebrew statement. “It would be better not to reach an agreement at all than to reach a bad agreement,” the bureau quoted him as saying.”

The Times of Israel reported in July 2014 that:

“Netanyahu warned that “a bad deal is actually worse than no deal,” defining that as one in which Iran would keep enriched nuclear material and the capability to further enrich uranium in return for monitoring by international inspectors.”

And as recently as November 2014, the BBC’s own Kevin Connolly conducted an interview with PM Netanyahu in which he said:

“No deal is better than a bad deal. The deal that Iran was pushing for was terrible. The deal would have left Iran with the ability to enrich uranium for an atom bomb while removing the sanctions. The right deal that is needed is to dismantle Iran’s capacity to make atomic bombs and only then dismantle the sanctions….”

How unfortunate it is that BBC journalists do not even follow their own colleague’s work sufficiently closely as to prevent them from publishing inaccuracies. 

‘Special edition’ of BBC’s Hardtalk to commemorate a terrorist

At some point in the not too distant past, the producers of the flagship BBC interview programme Hardtalk obviously decided that the tenth anniversary of the death of a notorious terrorist responsible for the killing of thousands of people and the maiming of many thousands more warranted commemoration.

Hence, on January 19th they broadcast what was described as a “special edition” of the programme in order to “mark the anniversary” of the death of Yasser Arafat – according to Hardtalk host Zeinab Badawi who was sent specially to Malta to interview Suha Arafat.

That programme can be viewed in the UK on BBC iPlayer here or as a Youtube video here. An audio version was also produced for the BBC World Service and clips from the interview were promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the Hardtalk webpage.Hardtalk Suha Arafat

Despite the fact that Hardtalk bills itself as conducting “[i]n-depth interviews with hard-hitting questions and sensitive topics being covered”, Zeinab Badawi allows Suha Arafat to avoid providing any real answers to questions on the topic of Arafat’s notorious embezzlement of donor funding and to dismiss the topic as “character assassination against my husband”.

Badawi does however provide Suha Arafat with an ample platform from which to once again advance her unproven theories regarding the cause of her husband’s death. She also fails to correct the inaccurate impressions given to audiences by Suha Arafat via statements such as:

“When there’s a rocket on Israel we have 1,000 people who are killed in the same day.”

“Gaza…the most crowded city in the world…”

“…more than 1,000 people who are still in the coma…” [after the conflict last summer]

“….nothing happen [with the peace process] because Israel continue to do settlements, Israel continue to build the wall….”

Badawi herself fails to distinguish between civilian casualties and terrorists when she says that “two thousand people died in Gaza in July and August last year” and her description of Mahmoud Abbas’ signing of the Rome Statute in order to join the ICC as “some progress being made on the diplomatic scene” is of course both creative and revealing.

Far from having even a whiff of “in-depth” or “hard-hitting” about it, this puff piece interview not only does nothing to provide audiences with a realistic view of the man who is the only reason for this woman being interviewed (the word terrorism, for example, is not mentioned once), but audiences are treated to hefty doses of clichés such as “iconic leader”, “great leader”, Arafat’s “legacy” and “hero of the Palestinian cause” from both interviewer and interviewee.

That, together with the fact that this programme was made for the reasons stated by the BBC itself, says it all. 

Yolande Knell exploits BBC’s Democracy Day for political messaging

On January 20th the BBC ran a special cross-platform project titled ‘Democracy Day’ to mark the 750th anniversary of the establishment of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The contribution to that project appearing on the BBC News website’s Middle East page came in the form of an article by Yolande Knell which was promoted under the heading “Democracy in doldrums” and carried the sub-heading “What’s to blame for Palestinians’ failure to hold fresh polls?”.Knell DD on HP

The answers supplied to that question in Knell’s article – titled “How Palestinian democracy has failed to flourish” – were as predictable as both the topics she chose to avoid and the messaging unrelated to the article’s subject matter which she elected to promote.

The two descriptions of Hamas in Knell’s article are as follows:

“In 2005, after the Palestinian Islamist militant group, Hamas, participated in elections for the first time, it took over several local councils, including Qalqilya.”

And:

“In 2006 Israel banned Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organisation, from campaigning in East Jerusalem and blocked its inclusion on ballot papers in the sector.” [all emphasis added]

Of course Israel is far from the only country to classify Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organization; so do the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan. In addition, Jordan and Egypt have banned Hamas and Australia designates Hamas’ Izz al Din Al Qassam Brigades as a terrorist organization, as do New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Had readers been informed of those facts, they would have been in a better position to understand the background to the following part of Knell’s article:

“…Hamas went on to win a decisive victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 – winning 74 of the 132 seats.

Turnout was high at 78% and international monitors said the vote was largely free and fair.

But the result was met with dismay by Israel and Western donors – which prop up the Palestinian Authority (PA).

They refused to deal with Hamas politically unless the group renounced violence and its commitment to the destruction of Israel. Funds to pay for vital services were stopped or diverted.”

Indeed, the international community in the form of the Quartet (composed of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia) refused to deal with a government run by a terrorist organisation which, in addition to refusing to renounce violence and recognize Israel as its predecessor had done, also refused to honour the existing agreements signed between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel (and witnessed and guaranteed by some Quartet members) which had created the former institution.Knell Democracy Day art 

However, the simplistic take-away messaging which Yolande Knell chose to promote to BBC audiences is as follows:

“We’re only allowed democracy if the West likes our choices,” comments one Qalqilya shopper as he reflects on this troubled political history. “They supported us when we went to the ballot boxes but did a u-turn when Islamists won.”

The issue of the refusal of Hamas and other groups to renounce terror as an obstacle to democracy does not come under discussion in Knell’s report and neither does the fact that Hamas cannot be accurately described as a democratic body in itself. Its violent military coup against the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip is described by Knell in the following euphemistic terms:

“While a new unity government was briefly set up a year later, it was soon dismissed amid bitter infighting between Fatah and Hamas.

This led to the political bifurcation of the West Bank – where Fatah reasserted its authority – and the Gaza Strip – where Hamas ran a rival administration.”

Her so-called discussion of Palestinian democracy also fails to make any mention of the Hamas practice of carrying out extra-judicial executions and its institutional persecution of religious minorities, women, gays and political rivals.

Knell bases her article around the town of Qalqilya and that provides the opportunity for some of her inevitable politically motivated messaging, despite the fact that it is irrelevant to the supposed topic of her report.

“The mayor points to a large map on the wall that shows Qalqilya virtually encircled by concrete sections of the separation barrier that Israel has built in and around the West Bank. The barrier is made up mainly of chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, but in some areas consists of 8m- (25ft-) high walls.

Israel says the barrier is needed to protect it from Palestinian attackers but it also restricts the movements of ordinary Palestinians and cuts them off from profitable agricultural land.”

No effort is made to provide audiences with the all-important context of the terrorist infrastructure in that town which made it the source of many terror attacks during the second Intifada, including the Dolphinarium attack. In line with the usual BBC practice, Knell fails to inform readers of the proven effectiveness of the anti-terrorist fence and employs the standard ‘Israel says’ nod to impartiality.

Knell also fails to inform her readers that Qalqilya is in Area A and that, like the vast majority of the Palestinians, its residents have lived under the control of the Palestinian Authority for two decades. Of course had she included that vital context, her article’s money quote would have been considerably less effective because readers would have realized that most of the Palestinians do not live “under Israeli occupation” at all.

“We’re a democratic society. It’s in our blood,” Mr Dawood says. “We have long had different political factions and ideologies. There are public consultations. But in the end we cannot have a real democracy under Israeli occupation.” [emphasis added]

Knell makes no effort to point out to readers that issues such as freedom of the press, freedom of association and rights for women and minorities are entirely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. She also fails to clarify the important point that Palestinian basic law stipulates that “the principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation” – a fact which obviously has considerable influence on the degree of democracy in Palestinian society.

With regard to the issue of the absence of presidential and PLC elections, Knell writes:

“Although a new unity deal was struck between Hamas and Fatah last April, so far their technocratic government has failed to pave the way for promised elections across Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the latter annexed by Israel in a move not recognised internationally.”

Her tepid portrayal fails to adequately clarify that the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement stipulated that elections would be held six months after its implementation – i.e. in January 2015 – and she makes no attempt to discuss the political background to the Palestinian unity government’s failure to call elections or to enhance readers’ understanding of why the Fatah-dominated PA might not be too keen to gamble on the current status quo.

With the BBC generally avoiding any meaningful coverage of internal Palestinian affairs, this article could have gone some way towards rectifying that had Yolande Knell been more interested in her mission to inform BBC audiences on international issues than in promoting her standard political messaging.

As it is, BBC audiences remain little the wiser as to why Palestinian democracy is in “the doldrums” or what is the state of affairs regarding basic tenets of democracy such as human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in the areas under PA or Hamas control. Instead, readers once again herded towards a view of passive Palestinians lacking agency to change anything in their society because whatever ills there are – it’s always Israel’s fault. 

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BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC News website reporting of Tel Aviv terror attack

As news broke of the terror attack on the number 40 Dan bus in Tel Aviv early on the morning of January 21st, the BBC News website grabbed its scare quotes and got to work.

All versions of the report titled “Israel bus attack: Tel Aviv passengers stabbed” opened in typical ‘last-first’ reporting style by informing audiences that a man had been shot by the police before informing them why and the same policy was seen on BBC social media. Inverted commas placed around the words terror attack in earlier versions of the report were removed from later editions.

Bus attack 21 1 a

Bus attack 21 1 b

Bus attack 21 1 c

The use of unnecessary punctuation continued, however, on the BBC News website’s Middle East homepage in a link to a filmed report on the same topic.

Bus attack 21 1 on HP 2

The first two versions of the report informed readers that “In November, an Israeli soldier was killed in a knife attack in Tel Aviv, while an Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the West Bank in a separate attack” without clarifying that those two incidents were both terror attacks.

Subsequent versions of the article noted that the terrorist came from Tulkarem, stating that “Tulkarem is a town in the occupied West Bank” whilst in fact it is located in Area A and, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, has been under PA control for two decades.

Later editions of the report also included contributions from the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly.

“Israeli police say there has been a pattern established in recent months where individual Palestinians, without sophisticated weapons, have attacked civilians at random, the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem reports.

Late last year, a number of Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians using weapons including knives and even vehicles to run down pedestrians.

Four Israelis were killed in November after two Palestinians armed with a pistol and meat cleavers attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem.”

In addition to the fact that it would have been more accurate and informative to cite the exact number of people murdered in October and November 2014 instead of “a number of Israelis”, the article originally inaccurately stated that four people were killed in the Har Nof Synagogue attack rather than five as was actually the case. That error was subsequently corrected. Notably, no mention is made of the affiliations of many of those “individual Palestinians” with assorted terrorist organisations.

The report then goes on to state:

“Our correspondent says the latest round of tensions began to increase last year, after the summer conflict in Gaza and disputes over access to religious sites in the old city of Jerusalem.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the majority of them civilians according to the UN.

Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers, and six civilians in Israel, were also killed.”

As we see, readers are not informed that “the summer conflict” took place in Israel as well as the Gaza Strip or that it began because terrorist organisations based there fired hundreds of missiles at Israeli civilians and constructed cross-border attack tunnels. In addition, the article continues the now well-established practice of quoting out of date civilian/combatant casualty ratios which the BBC has not independently verified. The BBC News website found it appropriate to illustrate this report about a terror attack in Tel Aviv with the image below.

Bus attack 21 1 pic Gaza

The BBC’s consistent practice of downplaying or ignoring Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism makes the phrasing of the following segment of this report particularly notable:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the attack.

The attack was “the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state”, he said.

The Israeli government frequently accuses Palestinian groups of inciting violence.

The government has been angered by Mr Abbas’ efforts to secure Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and agreement to a unity government with militant group Hamas.

The Palestinians blame Israeli government policies, particularly the expansion of settlements, for the increase in violence, correspondents say.”

Audiences are not told who those anonymous “correspondents” are, but it is probably not too much of a gamble to assume that they include the same BBC employees who repeatedly promoted the notion that ‘settlements’ were the main reason for the terror attacks during October and November 2014. In fact, whilst this particular terrorist did not mention ‘settlements’ as a motivating factor for his actions, he did cite other factors, including “extremist Islamist television programs”.

Apparently refusing to connect the dots between “a unity government with militant group Hamas” and glorification of terrorism from “a senior Hamas official”, the writer of this report went on to inform audiences that:

“Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, praised the stabbing attack.

Speaking from Qatar, he described it as “a natural response to the crimes of the occupation and terrorism against the Palestinian people”.”

Risheq was not the only Hamas official to condone the attack:

“The event was deemed a “natural response to Israeli terrorism,” by Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who issued an official statement as events unfolded in Tel Aviv. 

The incident, the statement said, was a response to ongoing “Israeli crimes” against the Palestinian people. “

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted this status on Facebook, the Fatah Facebook account lauded the stabbings and some Palestinian media outlets also praised and celebrated the attack with a series of cartoons.

Throughout this report the language used by the BBC to describe the terrorist includes “suspect” (three times), “perpetrator” and “attacker”. The word terrorist is only used in quotes from Israeli sources. The continuing refusal to use accurate language to portray terror attacks in Israel must be assessed together with the BBC’s consistent avoidance of any serious reporting on Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, its concurrent repeated promotion of subjectively selected factors (such as “expansion of settlements”) as ‘context’ for terror attacks against Israelis, and its transparent attempts to separate the ‘moderate’ Palestinian Authority from “militant” Hamas despite the existence of a unity government. Together, all those factors continue to obstruct audience understanding of this issue.