BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

It is not difficult to discern when the BBC is running a campaign rather than merely reporting a story. One indication is the promotion of an item on multiple platforms and such was the case on February 3rd when listeners to the 6 am news bulletin on BBC Radio 4 were told that:

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. Migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence. Israel says they are a threat to security but strongly denies acting illegally.”

The news bulletin on the same station one hour later – at 7 am – further expanded the topic.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. There are about 45,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in Israel. Kathy Harcombe has more details.

KH: The Israeli government calls them infiltrators who pose a threat to the security and identity of the Jewish state. But the migrants from Eritrea and Sudan say they’re fleeing violence and persecution. Israel doesn’t forcibly deport them but has introduced a policy that gives the choice to leave for a third country in Africa or be jailed indefinitely. Those third countries, the BBC has been told, are Rwanda and Uganda. Lawyers taking the Israeli government to the Supreme Court argue that increasingly tough measures against the migrants amount to a breach of the UN Refugee Convention. Israel however says that it has no doubt that it is acting legally. Rwanda has never confirmed the deal and the Ugandan government has denied that any such agreement exists. It’s also told the BBC it’s now investigating how migrants who claim to have been sent from Israel are entering the country.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast show on the same day also heard similar promotion of that story in the 8 am news bulletin.

“The BBC has found evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law. It’s alleged the migrants are made to choose between going to prison indefinitely and being sent away. Israel’s government says it’s acting legally.”

All that, however, was only the aperitif. Throughout the day, reports from BBC Africa’s Kathy Harcombe were to be found on a variety of BBC platforms.Migrants story Newsday

BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newsday’ broadcast an audio report which was also promoted separately on social media under the inaccurate and misleading title “Israel accused of illegally deporting Africans“. Harcombe’s expertise in her subject matter was demonstrated in her opening sentence:

“Deep in the Negev desert in Israel – hours away from the capital Tel Aviv – is the Holot detention centre.” [emphasis added]

Using very questionable wording with religious associations, the BBC News website promoted a written article by Harcombe headlined “Israel’s unwanted African migrants” on several of its pages including the Magazine, Middle East and Africa pages.

migrants stroy on ME pge

Filmed reports shown on BBC News television programmes were also promoted on the website under the headlines “Israel ‘sending away African migrants’” and “Life in Israel camp is a ‘waste of time’“.migrants story filmed 1

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme heard another audio report  – from 38:59 here – which also included an inaccurate reference to Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital and was introduced by Eddie Mair as follows:

“BBC Africa has gathered evidence that Israel is sending unwanted African migrants to third countries under secretive deals which may be in breach of international law.”

All of the above news bulletins and reports present the story as though it were a BBC scoop, with repeated use of the claim that “the BBC has gathered evidence” or “found evidence”.

In fact, there is nothing new or “secretive” about this story at all: it has been in the public domain for nearly two years and related court cases initiated by a coalition of NGOs (which includes ACRI, Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights)  have been going on since April 2015. Lawyer Anat Ben Dor, who appears in most of Harcombe’s pieces, has provided legal representation for that coalition of NGOs in these court cases but that fact and the name of the organization she represents is not adequately communicated to BBC audiences in some of the reports.

Harcombe steers audiences towards the mistaken belief that the migrants in Israel are without exception refugees with commentary such as this from her audio and filmed reports:

“The people here say that they came to Israel to seek refuge from conflict or persecution. But the Israeli government has granted asylum to fewer than 1%.”

She does not clarify what that percentage actually means (1% of the total number of migrants? 1% of those requesting asylum?) and she does not inform audiences that in fact, whilst almost 50,000 Sudanese and Eritreans have illegally entered Israel, only about 1,800 of them had requested asylum as of January 2014. 67% of the mostly younger male migrants who entered Israel via Egypt come from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan and – as Harcombe should know because the BBC has reported the story – the status of migrants from Eritrea has also come under discussion in Europe – including in the UK.

Harcombe’s headline-grabbing claims of “breach of international law” are based on her assertion that:

“By failing to ensure the safety of its unwanted African migrants, some legal experts say Israel is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.”

A decision from Israel’s Supreme Court in 2015 (paragraph 4) provides information concerning Israeli efforts to ensure the welfare of those leaving Israel for a third country, including the inspection and confirmation of implementation of agreements with that country by envoys of the Israeli government (including meetings with migrants) and the appointment of a personal contact in Israel’s Population and Immigration Bureau for each person moving to a third country in order to facilitate communication if problems arise.migrants story written

BBC audiences are not told how Harcombe managed to locate and contact the “two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane” whose stories form the basis of the allegations in these reports and the backbone for the claim of a scoop.

However, it is not unreasonable to assume that contact with those two men may have been facilitated by the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of this story. Last year a representative of one of those organisations – Sigal Rozen who is interviewed in Harcombe’s written article – produced a report that includes remarkably similar stories which were collected by Harcombe’s other interviewee, lawyer Anat Ben Dor. The background to the BBC’s repeated claims that it has “found evidence” or “gathered evidence” therefore requires clarification.  

Clearly, this BBC ‘scoop’ is in fact a self-conscripted contribution to the PR efforts of a campaign being run by a coalition of political NGOs.  That in itself does not come as much of a surprise: the BBC has a record of reporting on the issue of African migrants in Israel which includes the regurgitation of a report from Human Rights Watch, the amplification of allegations of racism from a very dubious anti-Israel campaigner and one-sided reporting which has serially failed to present the viewpoint of the people of the neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where the majority of the migrants live.

However, the BBC’s funding public has the right to know that such an energetically promoted multi-platform ‘scoop’ is in fact part of a political campaign. Audiences also have the right to expect transparency concerning any third-party involvement in locating and recruiting interviewees and BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality dictate that the political agendas of the campaigning NGOs which are obviously the source of these multiple reports should have been made known to viewers, readers and listeners. 

 

The BBC, complaints, corrections and accountability

Readers may recall that a BBC Radio 4 News bulletin from December 20th 2015 misled listeners with regard to the fact that Samir Kuntar’s role in the 1979 terror attack in Nahariya was proven in a court of law.R4 6pm news 20 12

“A leading figure in the Lebanese militant group Hizballah has been killed by a rocket attack in the Syrian capital Damascus. Samir Kuntar had previously spent thirty years in an Israeli prison for his alleged role in the killing of four people. Hizballah said Israel was behind the rocket attack. An Israeli minister welcomed his death but didn’t say whether his country had carried it out.” [emphasis added]

A member of the public who immediately alerted the BBC to the use of that inaccurate and misleading wording received (over two weeks later) one of BBC Complaints’ infamous template responses – which completely failed to address the issue raised.

“Thank you for contacting us about the recent escalation in violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this subject across our television and radio programmes, and the BBC News website. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this response aims to answer the key concerns raised in complaints received by us, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.

We appreciate you believe our coverage of this story has shown bias in favour of the Palestinians and against Israelis and the state of Israel. In this response we hope to explain why we feel this has not been the case.

Across our news bulletins and programmes we have reported on the increasing number of attacks committed by Palestinians on Israeli civilians and security forces. We have broadcast reports where our reporters have spoken to the families of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the recent violence and have heard their respective stories and own specific takes on the conflict.

For example, during BBC One’s News at Ten on 9 October we heard from Odel Bennet. She and her husband were attacked by a Palestinian in the Old City the previous weekend. She was seriously injured; her husband and a rabbi who intervened were both killed. During the report we showed amateur video footage of the attack. We then heard from Mrs Bennet who, from her hospital bed, spoke of her fear and pain, and described how Palestinian passers-by mocked and verbally abused her while she lay wounded on the street.

We have tried to explain how the current situation has come to pass from the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. This has included reporting on the tensions around the holy sites in Jerusalem. We have also reported on criticisms of the Palestinian leadership’s response to the attacks, in particular the Israeli government’s claim that President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are guilty of inciting violence in the West Bank. We believe we have reported clearly on the threat of violence faced by Israelis on an increasingly regular basis and of the difficulties faced by security forces in stopping these attacks from taking place.

BBC News tries to report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an accurate and duly impartial manner. Sometimes this means we can’t always reflect the full extent of the complexities of the conflict during one standalone report or bulletin. We try to tell the story of the conflict as experienced by both sides, across programmes and bulletins and over time. We believe this has been the case during our coverage of this recent spike in violence.

We have raised your concerns with senior editorial staff at BBC News, who consider the range of feedback received from our audience when deciding how they approach reporting on stories.”

The receipt of such an irrelevant response naturally raises the question of whether staff at the BBC Complaints department even bothered to read the complaint to which they were ostensibly replying.

Such template responses have of course long been employed by the BBC Complaints department and their primary purpose is obviously to tick a box and reduce the department’s workload. This particular member of the BBC’s funding public did not however give up in the face of an extraneous response and the complaint was resubmitted at the next stage.

The subsequent reply – received over five weeks after the original broadcast – read as follows:

“Thanks for getting back in touch. Apologies for the delay in replying. We do very much regret that we’ve not been able to get back to you as quickly as we, and you, would have liked.

Apologies also for our previous response not addressing your concerns.

We raised your complaint with senior editorial staff at radio newsroom. They appreciate your point and accept the script should have been written more clearly. It would have been better, for example, if this bulletin mirrored Radio 4’s 0900 bulletin’s on the same date (20 December), to remove any possible ambiguity about the nature of the conviction against Samir Qantar:

“The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah say a leader of the group has been killed by an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Samir Qantar was sentenced to life in prison in Israel in 1979 for an attack in Israel that killed four people but was released seven years ago as part of a prisoner swap. An Israeli minister welcomed his death but did not comment on who was responsible.”

Thanks for taking the time to contact us, we hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns.”

So, whilst BBC staff “accept the script should have been written more clearly” they apparently have no intention of actually doing anything to correct the misleading and inaccurate impression given to Radio 4’s listeners. 

Once again, this case raises questions concerning the BBC’s accountability and its commitment to correcting its own mistakes in a consistent manner which serves the public interest. All the BBC had to do was to read this complaint properly and broadcast a correction in the next edition of that news programme. Instead, it wasted publicly provided resources by unnecessarily dragging out a very simple issue over a period of nearly a month and a half.

It is interesting to compare the BBC’s decidedly complacent approach to complaints and corrections to that of the US broadcaster NPR – as recently laid out in a CNN interview with NPR’s Head of News, Michael Oreskes.

“We don’t make silent corrections to our stories. We make corrections to help keep the public accurately informed – not to absolve ourselves of our mistakes.” 

 “So when you make an error of fact you have to correct it right away and you have to say you’ve corrected it.”

Keeping the public accurately informed is supposedly the mission of the BBC too but when members of the public alerting the corporation to inaccuracies and errors are shrugged off with tardy, irrelevant replies and forced to spend weeks navigating the labyrinthine complaints system in order to squeeze out a response which does nothing to repair the damage done by the error, it is very difficult to believe that mission is really at the peak of the BBC’s priorities.

Related Articles:

BBC defends its use of template replies to complaints

BBC editorial policy hampers audiences understanding of Wallström remarks report

On January 15th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu: Swedish FM’s remarks ‘outrageous’“. Readers are told that:Wallstrom art

“Israel’s prime minister has denounced a call by Sweden’s foreign minister to investigate whether recent killings of Palestinians were “extrajudicial”.

Benjamin Netanyahu said Margot Wallstrom’s remarks were “outrageous… immoral and… stupid”.

Ms Wallstrom had called for “thorough and credible investigations” into the deaths.

Some 155 Palestinians – mostly attackers, Israel says – have been killed in unrest since October. […]

On Tuesday, Ms Wallstrom said it was “vital that there is a thorough, credible investigation into these deaths in order to clarify and bring about possible accountability”, according to Swedish media reports.” [emphasis added]

Leaving aside the embarrassingly uninformed nature of Margot Wallström’s latest insinuations about Israel, the remarkable thing about this BBC report is that those reading it have no way of knowing which of the two people quoted – Netanyahu or Wallström – is talking facts.

The reason for that is because – as has been noted here previously on numerous occasions – for more than three months the BBC has consistently avoided telling its audiences in its own words that the vast majority of Palestinian casualties during that time were killed whilst carrying out terror attacks or engaged in violent rioting. Instead, BBC reports have invariably used qualifying terms such as “Israel says” or “were said by Israel to be attackers”.

The question that therefore arises is does the BBC employ similar qualifying language when covering the shooting of attackers in other countries or is that editorial policy reserved for use when reporting about Israel?

In October of 2015 the BBC reported a story from Margot Wallström’s native Sweden.

“A masked man armed with a sword has killed a pupil and a teacher at a school in Sweden.

The suspect, clad in black, apparently posed for photos with students ahead of the attack, in the western town of Trollhattan.

Two further victims, a pupil and a teacher, are seriously injured. The attacker was shot by police and has died of his injuries. He was 21 and resident in Trollhattan, police said.”

No qualifying “Sweden says” there.World at One

On January 7th the BBC covered an attack on a police station in Paris. BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World at One’ carried a report by Hugh Schofield (from 21:53 here, h/t HG) which includes the following statements: [emphasis added]

“He ran at the police station shouting Allahu Akbar and was not surprisingly stopped in his tracks by the guards – who now have semi-automatic weapons. They shot him and he fell and died subsequently. […]

There was this report that he was carrying some kind of suicide belt or something that looked like a suicide belt. […] I think it’ll be interesting to see whether there was a deliberate attempt to make it look as if he had one or not. It doesn’t really alter the essence of the affair which is that a man with a meat cleaver attacked a police station and was – not surprisingly, given these times – shot dead.”

No qualifying “said by France to be an attacker” there – and in the BBC’s written report on the incident, Schofield clearly signposted the attack for BBC audiences.

Schofield insert report Paris 7 1

So apparently – in contrast to Israel, where the BBC selectively avoids the use of the word ‘terror’, there are no issues surrounding the use of the word when reporting from France. Apparently too, the BBC does not feel the need to portray information supplied by the Swedish and French authorities in qualifying terms which signal to audiences that there is room for doubt as to whether the person shot was actually carrying out an attack.

And whilst the BBC obviously finds it appropriate to amplify Margot Wallström’s insinuation that the shooting of terrorists in the act in Israel might be considered “extrajudicial”, in Paris terrorists are “not surprisingly” shot whilst carrying out attacks.

Related Articles:

Are BBC News reports on Palestinian deaths accurate and impartial?

A job well done: local BBC radio and TV coverage of Israeli help for UK flood victims

When a delegation from the Israeli humanitarian aid organization IsraAID arrived recently in flood-stricken West Yorkshire to help locals with the massive clean-up operation, BBC Radio Leeds reporter Daragh Corcoran went along to interview one of the team members.

The local TV news programme BBC Look North also reported on the story.

“It’s a job well done” says Cathy Booth at the end of her report, referring to the clean-up efforts. The same description applies to the typically Yorkshire matter-of-fact reporting of this Israel-related story by both Cathy Booth and her colleague from BBC Radio Leeds.  

The same can be said of a report aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme at the end of December. With guest editor Rohan Silva at the helm, Kevin Connolly produced a report described as follows:

“Israel likes to think of itself as the ‘start-up’ nation and there is evidence that it’s better than most other countries at getting small high-tech businesses off the ground and on to the stock exchanges of the world.
Our guest business editor for the week Rohan Silva wondered if that success might be down to the Israeli government’s creation of a post called chief scientist.”

That untypically business-like report can be found here.  

The NGO story the BBC avoided

Over the last few days, a report broadcast on Channel 2’s investigative journalism programme ‘Uvda’ has attracted a lot of attention in Israel. David Collier has written a concise summary of the story:

“A few days ago, an Israeli investigative TV show (UVDA – ‘fact’) ran an expose that involved an Israeli infiltrating Ta’ayush, a NGO that promotes itself as ‘a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation.’ The Israeli also encountered Nasser Nawajah, a member of B’tselem. These two NGO’s are cited as leading ‘human rights organisations’ whose self-stated purpose is highlighting alleged human rights abuse. Very few, if any, of the organised tours that set out to sell ‘the brutal Israel’ narrative do not involve engaging one or both of these movements.

The operation itself was simple, and involved riding with Ezra Nawi, an Israeli Jew and well known ‘peace activist’ from Ta’ayush, as he went about his daily business. The Israeli, using the pseudonym ‘Arik’, went on to capture on camera that these activists, senior members of B’tselem and Ta’ayush, have been informing on Arabs who wish to sell land to Jews. Nawi was recorded boasting that the Palestinian security forces would torture and execute those Palestinian land brokers and ‘take care’ of the Palestinian families willing to sell their land.”

A clip from the programme with English language sub-titles can be found here.

Given the BBC’s penchant for promoting domestic Israeli stories it may at first glance seem rather curious to see that it has avoided reporting this one.  However, this story is not about a supermodel, a corrupt Rabbi or a ‘right-wing’ politician embroiled in scandal: it is one which is much closer to home for the corporation which regularly produces content based on material provided by inadequately presented Israeli NGOs from one particular side of the political spectrum.Nawi Today 2009

Both the main actors in this story have appeared in BBC reports. In September 2009 Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme promoted (and still does in an item which remains accessible on the internet) assorted allegations from Ezra Nawi – described by the BBC’s Tim Franks as a “peace activist” – including the headlined claim that “Non-Jews [are] ‘treated worse than fifth class'”.

In July 2015 audio and written reports produced by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell relied heavily on input from Nasser Nawajah whilst failing to inform audiences of his day job with B’tselem (the Israeli NGO most promoted by the BBC in 2014 and 2015) and that NGO’s connection to the subject matter of her story.Knell Susiya

BBC Watch has frequently documented the BBC’s failure to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying to audiences the agendas of the NGOs it quotes and promotes. As this story shows, that failure is not only important from the point of view of the failure to supply relevant information which would enable audiences to put the contributions to BBC content made by NGOs and their representatives into its correct context.

Were it standard BBC practice to comply with those editorial guidelines, its staff would have to engage in close examination of the political agendas of NGOs and their funders, ditching the apparently existing assumption that any organization labelling itself a ‘human rights group’ and any individual promoting him or herself as a ‘peace activist’ is automatically worthy of that title and the accompanying ‘halo effect’.

That would mean that BBC journalists would be better positioned to assess the relevance and reliability of material provided by NGOs and their staff, as well as the motivations behind the content provided. The gain would not only be to BBC audiences, but also to the reputation of the media organization which claims to provide them with accurate and impartial reporting.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Guardian once praised Israeli activist who ‘helps kill Palestinians selling land to Jews’ (UK Media Watch) 

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

In April 2015, listeners to an item about the plight of Christians in the Middle East broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were told by the corporation’s Middle East editor that:

“…Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing.”

Members of the public who complained to the BBC received a Stage 1 template response which claimed that “he was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel.”

One member of the public who was not satisfied by that response took his complaint to Stage 2 where it was rejected by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). The gentleman then appealed against that decision to the BBC Trust and when that appeal was also rejected, requested that the Trustees review the decision not to proceed with his appeal. The Editorial Standards Committee decided that the appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration and the details of that decision and the previous ones were published by the ESC last month.

The document (pages 48 – 52 inclusive here) shows that from Stage 2 onwards, BBC staff handling this complaint relied on information sourced from three remarkable sources.

Complaint Bowen 1

Complaint Bowen 2

All three of those organisations are campaigning bodies with a clear political agenda.

Founded in 2005, the Institute for Middle East Understanding is a US-based organisation with a mission to “offer journalists and editors quick access to information about Palestine and the Palestinians, as well as expert sources — both in the U.S. and in the Middle East”. IMEU promotes the BDS campaign against Israel and produces characteristically one-sided ‘reports’ and ‘fact sheets’ which – inter alia – promote the ‘apartheid’ trope and the notion of “official and unofficial discrimination” against Christians.

Sabeel is an organisation known not only for its promotion of the ‘one-state solution’ (i.e. the elimination of Israel as the Jewish state) but also for the employment of ‘liberation theology’ and supersessionism in its anti-Israel campaigning

Kairos – or Kairos Palestine – “is an NGO that promotes the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, drafted by a small group of Palestinian Christian clergy [see here]. It calls for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel and denies the Jewish religious and historical connection to any part of the Land of Israel.” Kairos Palestine describes terrorism against Israelis as “legal resistance”.

So as we see, the BBC’s approach to a complaint about inaccurate portrayal of Israel was to consult and adopt information from sources which are actively engaged in anti-Israel campaigning and delegitimisation.

In our submission to the DCMS consultation on the BBC charter review we noted that:

“Whilst the BBC recognizes the fact that “some ‘experts’ may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another, even if they have no overt affiliation”, it frequently uses contributions from academics with a record of anti-Israel political campaigning and even consults with such sources when dealing with complaints. Clearly the BBC needs to ensure that all ‘experts’ consulted are neutral and impartial.” [emphasis added]

As this example shows, that problem is obviously not limited to consultation with campaigning academics but also includes campaigning political NGOs. As long as that clearly unsatisfactory practice continues, the BBC Complaints system can only maintain its dismal reputation.  

 

Are BBC News reports on Palestinian deaths accurate and impartial?

As noted here earlier in the month, the BBC refrained from reporting on many, if not most, of the terror attacks against Israelis which took place during December. But on occasions when the corporation did cover violent incidents resulting in the deaths of Palestinians, misleading, inaccurate or incomplete reporting was evident.

Here, for example, is how the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell portrayed events which took place on December 24th in a report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. [emphasis added]

“This was in different parts of the occupied West Bank; three Palestinians shot dead, apparently while carrying out attacks. One stabbed two security guards at the entrance to an Israeli settlement. Another is said to have tried to attack soldiers close to Hebron with a screw driver. Another tried to run a car into a military post close to Jerusalem according to the Israeli military. There was a fourth Palestinian man killed in clashes with Israeli troops….”

Notably, Knell qualifies (unnecessarily) her accounts of the first three incidents, but not the last one. Here is a report from the Jerusalem Post relating to that fourth incident in which, according to Knell, a Palestinian man was simply “killed in clashes”.

“Separately, during a Palestinian riot that broke out in the Kalandiya refugee camp, the IDF killed a Palestinian gunman, Bilal Omar Zayed, 23. The soldiers had entered the camp to arrest two Palestinians for their suspected involvement in a shooting attack against Israelis.

The Palestinian gunman fired at the soldiers while they were in the camp, an army spokeswoman said. Soldiers returned fire, and it is believed that Zayed was killed at this point. After the exchange of fire, a large-scale disturbance ensued in which local residents threw rocks and fire bombs, wounding two soldiers.”

Did BBC audiences receive an accurate impression of the circumstances of that incident from Knell’s portrayal? Obviously not. Clearly too, in her account of the first three incidents, Knell’s focus is on the attackers rather than the victims.

The “Israeli settlement” she mentions is Ariel – a town with a population of over 18,000 people.

“Thursday’s violence began in the morning, when Muhammad Abdel Hamid Zahran, 23, from Kufr al-Dik, stabbed two security guards at the entrance to the settlement of Ariel, next to the city’s industrial park.

Both of the 24-year-old guards suffered stab wounds to their upper bodies that left one in serious condition and one in moderate condition.”

Contrary to the impression given by Knell, the attacker in the third incident did not try to strike an inanimate object as suggested by the wording “run a car into a military post”.

“Two hours later, around noon, Wissam Abu Ghawileh, 22, from Kalandiya, tried to mow down Border Police and soldiers with a car, just outside the Rama army base, located by the Adam junction in Samaria.

The Border Police released a statement made by “A.,” the commander of the Border Police officers who shot and killed the attacker, who explained that the attack occurred as the security forces were leaving the base on a routine mission.

“We saw a vehicle veer toward us on the path leading to the base, which is used only by people approaching the base, which left us with no doubt that this was a vehicular attack. The fighters actually leapt in the direction of a nearby shelter while we shot at the terrorist until he was neutralized,” A. said.

One officer lightly wounded in the incident was treated at the scene with an injury to one of his hands.”

Another example – from December 26th – is seen in a BBC Radio 4 news bulletin relating to incidents which took place on December 25th.Midnight news

“Israeli police say a Palestinian woman was shot dead when she tried to run her car into a patrol in the West Bank. At a border crossing with Gaza, another Palestinian was killed during a protest.”

By the time that news bulletin was broadcast, even the spokesman for the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry had already clarified that the man was engaged in violent rioting at the time of his death.

“A Palestinian was killed on Friday east of Gaza City in clashes with Israeli troops, a spokesman for the Palestinian health ministry said.

Hani Whadab [Wahdan], 22, was killed as he was throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers near the Nahal Oz crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.”

The BBC’s classification of the circumstances as a “protest” therefore clearly fails to provide audiences with the full picture.

In both these examples we see that BBC reporting erases from audience view the fact that the deaths of Palestinians came about because they were carrying out violent acts. Not only is such reporting obviously inaccurate and misleading in that it fails to inform audiences of the full circumstances of the incidents but the failure to include key information also raises concerns about the impartiality of such reporting. 

 

Why did the BBC’s Kevin Connolly resurrect an irrelevant moggie story?

If blessed with a long memory, listeners to the December 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme might have concluded that Kevin Connolly has spent so long at the corporation’s Jerusalem bureau that he has simply run out of fresh stories to tell. After all, barely three years have passed since Connolly last devoted one of his reports to the subject of street cats in Israel – “The lairy, wary cats stalking Jerusalem bins“, 18 October 2012. 

However, those listening to the item (from 01:20:00 here and promoted separately in abridged version here and a filmed version here) would quickly have understood the intent behind Connolly’s purported feline-interest report – which actually relates to a story over a month and a half old. The synopsis to the abridged version reads:Connolly cats R4

“Israel has a feral cat problem, with as many as two million feral cats living rough and scavenging for food around the country.

A neutering programme run by an animal charity has been keeping the numbers down but this year faced a challenge from a right-wing, religious Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who felt that it was against Jewish ethical principles to spend Israeli state money on interfering with the reproductive cycle.”

Presenter Mishal Husain’s introduction to the item was as follows:

“For decades Israel has had a problem with feral cats. There are an estimated 2 million of them on the streets. A neutering programme run by an animal charity has been keeping the numbers down but this year it faced a challenge from a right-wing minister who said it was against Jewish ethics to spend state money on interfering with the reproductive cycle. For now the charity has won the argument so our correspondent Kevin Connolly went to see it at work.”

In the report itself Connolly inaccurately tells listeners that the charity-run neutering programme is “controversial” in Israel. 

“For the cats the neutering clinic offers a brief respite of cleanliness and care. But in Israel its work is suddenly controversial.”

He goes on:

“The religious right-wing agriculture minister Uri Ariel has tried to direct state funding away from the programme, arguing that a prohibition in Judaism on interfering with the Almighty’s preferred arrangements for reproduction applies to animals as well as humans.”

Later he says:

“At one point the Agriculture Ministry was talking about transferring them [street cats] to other countries – although without saying where or how. A little internet mockery has put paid to that idea – at least for now.”

In fact it was not “the Agriculture Ministry” which proposed that idea but the same minister in a letter to his opposite number at the Ministry for Environmental Protection and what Connolly does not adequately clarify to listeners is that Ariel’s outlandish ideas were quickly shot down by the public, animal welfare activists, lawmakers and the attorney general, meaning that the story he now tells is long since irrelevant.

Nevertheless, that did not prevent Connolly from resurrecting it over a month and a half later even though British listeners to this report would not have learned anything about methods of catching, neutering and releasing street cats which does not also happen in their own country But of course the real subject matter of this item is not the cats: they are merely the hook for the promotion of a story about a “right-wing, religious” politician in one of the BBC’s ‘Israeli Jews behaving weirdly’ stories.

Radio 4 listeners also heard Connolly imply that Israelis like to blame the British for their problems:

“And if you’re British and you’re waiting to hear how this problem in the Middle East is somehow your fault – keep listening.”

An interviewee then says:

“The legend in Israel is that there was a rat problem and that the British brought cats to Israel to take care of the rats and now we have no rat problem and we have many, many cats.”

As those listeners with a long memory may have recalled, Connolly promoted that same theme three years ago in his previous cat story.

“There are plenty of feral cats elsewhere in the Middle East too but the great thing about being a citizen of a former colonial power is that almost any problem you ask about can somehow be traced back directly to your national door.

So there is a theory that the feline population of Jerusalem began to expand when the city was under British rule between the wars when cats were introduced to control rats.”

Apparently this kind of non-story is what the audiences of a media outlet which has apparently lost interest in reporting terror attacks against civilians and serially avoids touchy subjects such as internal Palestinian politics or the situation of minorities living under PA and Hamas rule must come to expect. 

BBC radio stations mangle Samir Kuntar story – part one

h/t HG

Listeners to BBC radio channels on December 20th were provided with inaccurate information in items relating to the attack on a building in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, in which Samir Kuntar and several others were killed.R4 6pm news 20 12

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ (from 07:32 here) not only upgraded Kuntar’s Hizballah ranking whilst simultaneously downgrading the outfit from designated terrorist organisation to “militant group” but also misled listeners with regard to the fact that Kuntar’s role in the 1979 terror attack in Nahariya was proven in a court of law.  

“A leading figure in the Lebanese militant group Hizballah has been killed by a rocket attack in the Syrian capital Damascus. Samir Kuntar had previously spent thirty years in an Israeli prison for his alleged role in the killing of four people. Hizballah said Israel was behind the rocket attack. An Israeli minister welcomed his death but didn’t say whether his country had carried it out.” [emphasis added]

Kuntar was convicted of murder, attempted murder and kidnapping and sentenced to five life sentences plus 47 years imprisonment. 

It is of course difficult to believe that the BBC would use the inaccurate term “alleged” to conceal from its audiences the fact that due legal process resulting in conviction had taken place when reporting on a terrorist previously imprisoned in the UK.

Resources:

BBC Radio 4 contact details

BBC upholds PSC inspired complaints against ‘Today’ programme

Via the Guardian we learn that:

“The BBC has ruled that a Today programme misled viewers in a report on the recent period of renewed violence in Israel and Palestine.”Today

The report concerned was broadcast on the October 19th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

“The BBC received a number of complaints about an on-air conversation between presenter John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly on 19 October about an ongoing flare-up in violence between Palestinians and Israelis that began on 1 October.

The conversation began with Humphrys referring to the most recent attacks, and summing up the total number of casualties.

John Humphrys: “Yet another attack on Israelis last night – this time an Arab man armed with a gun and a knife killed a soldier and wounded 10 people. Our Middle East correspondent is Kevin Connolly. The number is mounting, isn’t it Kevin? It’s about 50 now, isn’t it?”

Kevin Connolly: “We think about 50 dead over the last month or so, John – this sharp uptick of violence – not just that attack on the bus station in Beersheba, in Israeli itself but also on Saturday a wave of stabbing attacks in Hebron and Jerusalem.””

According to the Guardian’s report:

“The BBC head of editorial complaints, Fraser Steel, has written to those who complained saying that while it was clear the reference to 50 dead was meant to take in casualties on both sides, it would be “natural” to infer from the broadcast that only Israelis had been killed.

“In the context of a discussion of attacks carried out by Palestinians, and in the absence of clarification on the point, the natural inference for listeners was that it referred to the number of Israeli dead – which, in view of the actual incidence of mortality, would have been misleading,” wrote Steel. “To that extent, the report did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards regarding accuracy and I am proposing to uphold this part of your complaint.””

At the time of that broadcast ten Israelis had been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the wave of attacks began. The Palestinian casualties were for the most part either terrorists shot whilst carrying out attacks or violent rioters threatening the lives of others. Ironically, it is the BBC’s attempt “to take in casualties on both sides” (seen not only in this report but also in many others) and the ensuing promotion of a false notion of moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims which was the root cause of this inaccuracy.

Should the BBC by chance deviate from its usual practice by issuing an on-air correction, in the interests of the same editorial guidelines concerning accuracy it should of course clarify that the Palestinian casualties include a high proportion of terrorists.  

Insight into the source of inspiration for the complaints comes not only the fact that the Guardian’s report includes comment from a representative of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign but also from the fact that the PSC’s Amena Saleem flagged up the ‘Today’ report at her usual ‘electronic Intifada’ slot the day after its broadcast.

As has been noted here before with regard to the PSC:

“Ironically, on numerous occasions in the past the BBC has failed to conform to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when interviewing both Amena Saleem and other members of the opaquely funded anti-Israel, pro-Hamas lobbying and campaigning group with which she is associated.

For some time now the nature of the BBC’s relationship with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been a topic of interest and the corporation’s swift capitulation to political pressure following the publication of an article last summer [2014] about Hamas-supplied casualty figures and the subsequent ‘top-down’ dictated alterations made to that article – along with additional ‘damage control’ – brought the issue further into public view.”

Given the above statement from Colborne and the article by Saleem, the BBC complaints department might care to revisit its own words concerning “interested groups/supporters” – written in response to a complaint concerning a different report by Kevin Connolly in the same month. Additional BBC responses to less successful complaints concerning the BBC’s reporting on the current wave of terrorism can be seen here and here.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ECU upholds complaint from the UK’s pro-Hamas lobby

Kevin Connolly tells BBC Radio 4’s ‘Feedback’ complaints rooted in narratives

BBC explains why it can’t always report history accurately