On December 6th the Middle East page of the BBC News website featured an article titled “Israeli soldier cleared over Palestinian’s death” which relates to the results of the investigation into the death of Mustafa Tamimi during a violent riot in Nabi Saleh in December 2011.
The BBC’s 395 word report can be divided into three sections: one representing the views of the family, one representing the views of the foreign-funded NGO B’Tselem and one carrying statements made by the IDF. In addition to that word-count, there are photo captions and a side box containing a quotation.
Statements made by the IDF concerning the results of the investigation amount to a total of seventy-seven words. The report does not include adequate representation of additional background information.
“The independent criminal investigation conducted by the Military Police collected testimonies from soldiers who had participated and witnessed the event. During the investigation, the soldier responsible for shooting the tear gas canister testified that the tear gas was shot in response to heavy stone throwing at the IDF vehicle and the nearby road, and that he did not see any people in the line of fire at the time of the incident.
The investigation was complex and encountered several difficulties. For example, a central witness, who according to pictures apparently participated in the stone hurling at the military vehicle with Mustafa Tamimi, refused to testify on the matter. Additionally, violent riots, which included throwing stones at Military Police investigators, repeatedly impeded the ability to perform a reconstruction at the scene of the incident.”
No context is provided to readers regarding the organised violent riots which take place weekly in Nabi Saleh.
The BBC report’s representation of the views of Tamimi’s family amounts to seventy-four words and a twelve-word photo caption: a total of 86 words.
The report’s representation of the viewpoint of B’Tselem amounts to 159 words in the body of the report and a twenty-one word highlighted bold quote in a side-box: a total of 180 words. In addition, the article contains a link to the B’Tselem press release on the subject dating from December 5th, but fails to clarify to readers that – as is revealed in the last line of that press release – B’Tselem’s statement was made before it had reviewed the evidence gathered by investigators.
“On Sunday [December 8th - ed.], B’Tselem will demand to see all the investigation material in order to continue working to assure justice for the Tamimi family.”
So, as we see, the majority of the BBC report is devoted to the representation of one side of the story – 266 words including quotes and a photo caption – with the bulk being the promotion and amplification of a press release from an NGO described only as an “Israeli Human Rights group”.
As has been noted here on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality make it perfectly clear that the political viewpoints of contributors must be made clear to audiences.
“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
No attempt is made in this article to provide audiences with information regarding the political views, aims and sources of funding which stand behind B’Tselem’s campaigning and hence audiences are once again rendered unable to form their own opinions regarding the reliability and impartiality of claims made by that organisation.
The repeated practice of failing to disclose the political motivations behind NGOs promoted and quoted by the BBC continues to do serious damage to the BBC’s reputation for impartiality in its Middle East reporting.