BBC’s director of television Danny Cohen makes headlines in Israel

The BBC’s director of television Danny Cohen attended a conference on the topic of comedy as a vehicle for social change in Jerusalem on December 21st. His interview with Channel 2 news anchor Yonit Levi made headlines in Israel because of what Cohen had to say about antisemitism in Europe.

Screenshot from Walla!

Screenshot from Walla!

“I’ve never felt so uncomfortable being a Jew in the UK as I’ve felt in the last 12 months. And it’s made me think about, you know, is it our long-term home, actually. Because you feel it. I’ve felt it in a way I’ve never felt before actually”. […]

“And you’ve seen the number of attacks rise. You’ve seen murders in France. You’ve seen murders in Belgium. It’s been pretty grim actually. And having lived all my life in the UK, I’ve never felt as I do now about anti-Semitism in Europe.”

The context to those statements can be appreciated in the full interview (in English), available here with the relevant section appearing at around 18:49. A little earlier – at around 16:00 – Levi raises the subject of BBC bias against Israel and the corporation’s recent reporting of Operation Protective Edge which she describes as having been handled as reporting on a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, divorced from the context of Hamas missile fire on Israel. She gets the standard answer to the effect that ‘we annoy both sides so we must be doing it right’.

Cohen: “Does the BBC get every news report, every minute and every second of the thousands of hours of content we produce every year absolutely right? No. No broadcasting organization in the world would. Do the teams work hard to maintain their objectivity? I’d say yes. Are we perfect? No.”

Danny Cohen is of course not personally responsible for BBC News. If he can get past corporate loyalty, platitudes and sound-bites, he is however in a position to help those who are to understand the connection between inaccurate and partial BBC reporting of both Middle East and domestic events, the manner in which those stories are framed,  the BBC’s tolerance of antisemitism on its own comments boards, and the atmosphere on the streets of Europe which he clearly and justifiably finds so worrying.

After all, as his wife noted whilst writing about antisemitism even before the summer conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip:

“Jews in Europe now face a three-pronged attack. […] First, from the far right, for whom antisemitism is a long-established part of their manifesto. Second, from the liberal left, whose often knee-jerk anti-Zionism serves to fan the flames of antisemitism, all too frequently expressing its hostility to Israel in language and imagery traditionally deployed to attack Jews. […]

But fighting antisemitism cannot just be a top-down initiative. Each of us has to take responsibility for this project. This means being mindful about language and the imagery we accept. […] It means being careful to keep criticism against Israel fair and legitimate – evidence based, politically balanced and absent of racial overtones – so that it doesn’t demonise Jews. It means understanding our own latent biases, so that we can consciously address them.”

And whilst we are on the topics of comedy, language, imagery and antisemitism, it is worth remembering that this programme aimed at 16 to 24 year-olds was broadcast on Danny Cohen’s watch.

Related Articles:

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BBC Breakfast’s Jenny Hill enables PSC antisemitism washing

BBC News website coverage of Operation Protective Edge: part five

BBC’s flawed Second Lebanon war narrative crops up again

On December 20th the BBC News website published an article titled “UN asks Israel to pay Lebanon $850m over oil spill“.Leb oil spill art

The report relates to the decidedly Kafkaesque story of the UNGA passing a non-binding resolution demanding that Israel pay compensation to Lebanon for damage caused to a power plant during the 2006 Second Lebanon war, which was of course initiated (under the noses of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon) by the very terrorist organization which the UN Security Council had demanded be disbanded and disarmed two years earlier in Resolution 1559.

At the end of that article we see an interesting example of how an inaccurate narrative becomes a permanent fixture in BBC reporting and then goes on to become flawed “historical record” in its archive material.

Readers are told that:

“The 2006 conflict began when the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah launched a raid into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers.

Israel launched massive air and sea attacks on targets all over Lebanon, then invaded the south of the country.

More than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and about 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died.”

Of course Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser were not only kidnapped, but also killed. Significantly, the BBC makes no mention of the fact that Hizballah’s cross-border raid was accompanied by missile fire on Israeli communities before going on to describe the Israeli response and neither does it clarify that well over four thousand missiles were launched at civilian targets in Israel during the 34-day conflict. No mention is of course made of the fact that Hizballah is an Iranian-backed terrorist organisation.

Not for the first time we see the BBC claiming that the Lebanese casualties in that war were “mostly” civilians without providing any factual and independently verified evidence to support that claim. As has been noted here before:

“The BBC claims that the war’s Lebanese casualties were mostly civilians but does not inform audiences that Lebanese figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, that Lebanese officials reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah fighters, that UN officials gave similar figures and that Israeli estimates stand at around 600 – more than half (and therefore “most”) of the total Lebanese casualty figures.”

And thus, in a mere fifty-two words, the BBC has once again misled its audiences by omission and promoted an inaccurate narrative which – unless corrected – will become part of the permanent public record on its website.







BBC WS fails to inform on political NGO links of interviewee on topic of PA’s UNSC bid

As was noted here previously, the BBC News website’s coverage of Jordan’s submission of a draft resolution on the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the UN Security Council on December 17th did very little to enhance audience understanding of the content of the draft resolution itself, the timing and motivation behind the move, its significance in the overall topic of peace negotiations or the reasons for other countries’ objections to it.

But did audiences on other BBC platforms perhaps fare better? The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ has a weekly reach of about 43 million listeners and in the December 18th evening edition of that programme, presented by Tim Franks, one of the topics was billed as “Palestinians seek statehood”. The item – available here from 14:05 – was introduced by Franks as follows:Newshour 18 12 LJK

“The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians tends to attract all sorts of uncomplimentary adjectives: things like ‘moribund’, ‘non-existent’ or just plain ‘dead’. So the question being asked in foreign ministries around the world is what will be the impact of the Palestinians taking their quest for statehood to the UN Security Council? A draft resolution recognizing the Palestinian state was submitted by Jordan yesterday, calling for a deadline to the end of Israeli occupation and a deadline for a conclusion to peace talks. Today Israel weighed against the move – a gimmick and counter-productive went the argument – and within the last few hours the US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the new draft resolution is ‘not something we would support’.”

After that promising start, listeners may have anticipated hearing – perhaps from an expert contributor – about the details of the draft resolution itself and just what it is about it that caused that US State Department reaction. If so, they would have been sorely disappointed because ‘Newshour’ editors apparently deemed that information unimportant to audience understanding of the issue and elected instead, for reasons not made clear, to devote their entire coverage of the topic to the amplification of the political opinions of a member of the British Jewish community. Franks introduced her thus:

“Now though, one prominent member of the Jewish diaspora has joined the debate. She’s Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner; the senior rabbi to the British Movement for Reform Judaism. What did she make of the Palestinians’ move?”

LJK: “I think from their point of view its extremely sensible decision to lobby in any way they can that is non-violent.”

TF: “You support the decision?”

LJK: “I think that anything that moves us forward towards two states is a good thing. I don’t think that this is the practical solution but it sets a target. It says we want two safe, solid, secure states.”

At that point, any listeners who had managed to study the text of the draft resolution before hearing this item must have wondered if Rabbi Janner-Klausner had actually read it herself given that, via its reference to Resolution 194, the text promotes the notion of the ‘right of return’ to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees. Franks goes on:

TF: “The argument from the Israeli government is that actually it distances the prospect of a peaceful resolution because it is – in their words – a gimmick.”

LJK: “I don’t think it’s a gimmick. I think it’s using any kind of political system that is legitimate to make their point. I think it moves the dynamic and the dialogue forward. I don’t think it’s the end at all and unilateral decisions are not the way but it says we will do something that is non-violent and I lived through two Intifadas in Israel: it was awful and I would never want to see another one.”

TF: “But how does this advance the actual hard graft of negotiations – ‘cos that’s the other main Israeli government argument, which is that you simply can’t do these things unilaterally. You have to sit round a table and you have to bash out all the hard issues like borders, like the status of Jerusalem, like refugees and simply, you know, getting this token endorsement – if indeed they do get one at the UN Security Council, although the Americans sound very dubious about it – is not going to advance the reality of peace.”

LJK: “As a rabbi I know that narratives are very important and the narrative that brings the word Palestinian state into the public zone is key. And yes; we will have to bash out all the details – water, security, land, everything. This is only to set the target.”

In fact, the aim of the draft resolution is of course to dictate the results before any final status negotiations even take place and thus to impose a solution rather than arriving at one through mutual discussion. Laura Janner-Klausner’s inaccurate and misleading representation of the issue, however, will not be understood for what it is by any listener who has not studied the draft itself or the background to its presentation and that of course means most of the people listening to this programme. She goes on:

“But as a rabbi I am constantly want to move forward to justice and peace and dignity – as do British Jews. They want two states for Israelis and for Palestinians. And this might – just might – take us a step forward. In this we’ve been in such a difficult situation for so many years. If there is a possibility of a shift we have to try it.”

Ignoring the fact that (with all due respect to what British Jews may want) it will of course be Israelis who have to cope with the fall-out of any further failed peace initiatives, Franks goes on to say:

“There’s often a tension…ah…when people talk about the views of Diaspora Jewry – those Jews who live outside Israel – ahm…when it comes to their attitudes to mainstream Israeli thinking or what the Israeli government is doing. You’re clearly disagreeing with the Israeli government’s view on this. Is that awkward for you as a prominent figure in British Jewry?”

LJK: “What’s wonderful about British Jews is that they are very diverse. Lots of people support the Israeli government and lots of people don’t. But what unites the vast majority of British Jews is a desire for two states and for justice and peace and dignity for both peoples.”

Of course successive Israeli governments of all stripes have being trying to achieve exactly that for over two decades, but Franks makes no attempt to inform listeners of that fact. Adopting the misleading BBC practice of portraying the Arab-Israeli conflict as the only issue in the entire Middle East, he continues:

TF: “How soon do you think there could be peace in the Middle East? It’s been so often forecast, so – well, up to now – never achieved. Are you optimistic?”

LJK:” I am optimistic. I have no idea how soon but we’re not so special. There’s a narrative out there that says Israelis, Palestinians: so special that they’ll never reach a peaceful solution. With every single conflict – even the Hundred Years War – ended. This will end and if we start with that narrative – not that it won’t end but that it has to end – then we might change the dynamic.”

Obviously Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner was not invited by the BBC to spend four minutes or so talking about this topic because of her position as a spiritual leader of one of the smaller denominations of British Judaism. This item is entirely about politics and hence audiences should have been informed of her political affiliations before the item commenced in order to enable them to put her presentation of the topic into its appropriate context.

Those political affiliations include her high-profile involvement with British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights which supports the agenda of that political NGO “both ideologically and financially”.  

Given that this item is one of the few relating to the Jordanian-presented draft resolution and that the issue has not been adequately explained to BBC audiences on any other platform so far, the importance of adherence to BBC guidelines on impartiality by “summarizing the standpoint” of the sole interviewee in this item was all the more crucial.  

How did the BBC frame the PA’s UNSC move?

Over the past few days, the BBC News website has produced three reports relating to the topic of the presentation of a draft resolution to the UNSC by council member Jordan on behalf of the Palestinian Authority on December 17th.Draft res main 1

1) “Kerry discusses Palestinian bid to end Israeli occupation” – December 16th

2) “Palestinian draft peace plan put before UN Security Council” – December 18th

3) “Israel dismisses Palestinian peace deal plan as ‘gimmick’” – December 18th

Examination of these three reports shows that the BBC’s framing of the topic highlights specific issues whilst concealing others which are no less vital to audience understanding of the topic.

The issue of why this draft resolution was presented to the UNSC is addressed – briefly – only in the second article, where an insert of analysis by Yolande Knell informs readers that:

“Palestinian officials say their new initiative at the UN’s most powerful body marks a “strategic shift” in the way they’re dealing with Israel.

Earlier this week, former negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh told journalists that armed struggle and more than 20 years of on-and-off bilateral talks had failed to secure an independent Palestinian state. “Now we are going in a completely different direction, which is the internationalisation of the issue,” he said.”

Audiences are not told what “internationalisation” actually is and neither are they made adequately aware of the fact that such unilateral moves on the part of the PA represent an attempt to sidestep the internationally accepted route of negotiations on final status issues and its efforts to seek an externally imposed arrangement instead. Relatedly, in all three reports readers are informed that:Draft res main 2

“Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians brokered by the US collapsed in April.”

They are not, however, told that the reason for that collapse was the PA’s decision to form a unity government with the designated terror organization Hamas, in clear breach of the terms laid out by the Quartet, according to which:

“…all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap”.

Neither does the BBC address the issue of exactly which Palestinian factions are involved in this unilateral move and the significance of the fact that Hamas, whilst party to the Palestinian unity government, is not a member of the body recognized by the international community as representing the Palestinian people – the PLO. Hence, the subject of which factions exactly would be bound by what the BBC revealingly chooses to term this Palestinian “peace plan” – and its resulting efficacy – remains unaddressed.

Likewise, the fact that none of the officials supposedly representing the Palestinian people at the current time holds a valid elected mandate is, as ever, avoided.

Side by side with that superficial representation of the subject matter of these three BBC articles, we see an effort to frame the conflict in very narrow and specific terms. In the first of the three articles audiences are told that:

“Another draft resolution, being formulated by France, […] does not mention an Israeli withdrawal, but does lay out some of the parameters of a permanent deal, including using the ceasefire lines which separated Israel and the West Bank before the 1967 Six Day War as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state.” [emphasis added]

As has been pointed out here on numerous occasions, those 1949 ceasefire lines (in this case correctly described by the BBC) were specifically defined in the Armistice Agreement as not being borders. However, in the two later reports readers are misleadingly told with regard to the Jordanian draft resolution that:Draft res main 3

“The text of the draft says a negotiated solution should be based on several parameters including the boundary between Israel and the West Bank that existed before the 1967 Six Day War, security agreements, and “Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two states”.” [emphasis added]

In all three reports BBC audiences are steered towards a view of the conflict this draft resolution purports to address as being exclusively about “occupation” and “settlements”: for example:

“US Secretary of State John Kerry has met the chief Palestinian negotiator in London over moves to set a timetable for an end to the Israeli occupation.” (report 1)

“A previous draft of a Palestinian proposal that was circulated informally to the security council in October called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land by November 2016. However, the US and others found the text unacceptable.” (report 2) [emphasis added]

“It [the draft text] urges both parties “to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, including settlement activities, that could undermine the viability of a two-state solution”.” (report 3)

That messaging is also reinforced through the use of images and their captions.

“The French-drafted resolution says Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are “obstacles to peace”.”

Draft res art 1

“Palestinians want an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem”

Draft res art 3

“Settlement building has led to clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters”

Draft res art 3a

Issues such as the demand for the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and Palestinian terrorism – both of which appear in the Jordanian presented draft resolution – are not mentioned or addressed in any of these BBC reports, meaning that audiences are herded towards a narrow view of the conflict which focuses exclusively upon Israeli actions, erasing any mention of Palestinian actions or policies prolonging the conflict. Thus, the ability of audiences to comprehend the conflict as a whole is hampered and they are deprived of the comprehensive background crucial to their understanding of this latest unilateral act by the PA and any future developments connected to it.

Once again, the BBC’s politically motivated framing of a topic has been allowed to trump its obligation to provide audiences with the complete range of information which will allow them to fully comprehend international issues.

Missile from Gaza not news for the BBC but Israeli response gets headlines

On the morning of December 19th a missile fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Eshkol region of the Western Negev in the third such incident since the ceasefire in late August which brought the fifty-day summer conflict between Israel and Gaza-based terrorist organisations to a close. Like those previous incidents of missile fire, this one too was not reported by the BBC at the time.

During the night between December 19th and 20th, the Israeli air-force launched a retaliatory strike against a Hamas military installation near Khan Yunis. That event was considered news by the BBC.

With no mention of the obviously crucial context of the preceding missile attack some hours earlier, the BBC World Twitter account informed its 8.22 million followers:

KY strike bbc world tweet 1

Jerusalem bureau correspondent Quentin Sommerville did inform his 24 thousand followers that the Israeli action came in response to missile fire, whilst taking the opportunity to revive the well-trodden BBC theme of “home-made rockets”. There is no evidence to suggest that Sommerville was at the scene of the impact and hence his ‘diagnosis’ of the missile’s nature is apparently based on guess-work. Equally questionable is Sommerville’s geography: there is no city called Eshkol: that name refers to a regional council. Nevertheless, that inaccurate information was retweeted by the BBC World Twitter account.

KY strike Sommerville tweet 1

KY strike Sommerville tweet 2

More context-free ‘last-first’ reporting was seen on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of December 20th where visitors were informed that “Israel launches an air strike on an alleged Hamas site in Gaza, in the first such action since the declaration of a truce in August”, but with no mention in the headline or sub-heading of the missile attack several hours beforehand.

KY strike on HP

That headline leads to an article titled “Israel launches Gaza air strike on ‘Hamas target’” which fails to clarify to BBC audiences that this latest missile attack was the third since the end of August.

Readers will note that one of the recommended articles presented on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with that article is headed “Gaza: Life amid the rubble” which was discussed here. Whilst the BBC has put much effort in recent months into the production of numerous ‘reporter in the rubble’ items showcasing the topic of damage to houses and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip (see some additional examples here, here and here), it has refrained from carrying out any reporting whatsoever on the subject of Hamas’ reconstruction of its military infrastructure, including cross-border tunnels and missile capabilities.

Once again licence fee-payers relying on the BBC to meet its half of the bargain by providing them with reporting which will enhance their understanding of international issues are being sold short. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the corporation’s continuing policies of ‘last-first’ reporting and framing by omission. 

BBC’s report on European Parliament vote on Palestinian statehood misses the point

On December 17th a report appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the heading “Push for Palestine”. The report came from the BBC News ‘Inside Europe’ blog where it was titled “MEPs back Palestinian statehood bid” and it was written by Sofia Bettiza – now a researcher at BBC News in Brussels and formerly a European Parliament and European Commission employee.F&A push for palestine

The ‘Inside Europe’ blog informs visitors that:

“This blog is where BBC journalists in Brussels and across the continent will point you to diverse opinions, insightful analysis and nuggets of news you might otherwise miss.”

So did BBC audiences actually get any “insightful analysis” into the European Parliament’s decision to adopt a motion concerning Palestinian statehood? They were told by Sofia Bettiza that:

“The European Parliament voted to recognise Palestine as a state “in principle”, by an overwhelming majority – 498 in favour and 88 against.”

They were not, however, informed that one hundred and eleven parliamentarians abstained from the vote.

They were also told that:

“The MEPs voted to support “in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution”, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. The text also says that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, and calls on the EU to become a facilitator in the Middle East peace process.”

The EU is of course already a partner in that process via its membership of the Quartet.

Readers of this article were not told that the text of the motion links recognition to negotiations.

“The European Parliament “supports in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced,””

Neither was it clarified to readers that the version of the motion which was eventually adopted in fact rejects the idea of unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state:European Parl vote

“Lawmakers on the left had originally wanted to urge the EU’s 28 member states to recognize Palestine now without conditions. […]

However, conservatives and centrists said recognition should only form part of a negotiated agreement with Israel.

“With this vote, the European Parliament has clearly rejected an unconditional recognition separate from the peace negotiations,” said Elmar Brok, a German conservative who chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs committee.”

In fact, Bettiza goes on to suggest to BBC audiences that the European Parliament vote should be seen in the same light as previous ones in assorted European capitals which did fail to link recognition to negotiations, writing:

“There is growing momentum to recognise Palestinian statehood. In the past couple of months the parliaments of the UK, Republic of Ireland, Spain and France have all passed non-binding motions in favour. Sweden has gone further, officially recognising Palestine as a state. […]

The European Parliament clearly doesn’t want to lag behind.”

Bettiza closes:

“This vote is not legally binding, but it sends a strong message to the international community. Palestinian officials say they will press on with a bid for statehood at the UN – and this European support no doubt helps their cause.”

Quite how Bettiza imagines that a motion which clearly ties recognition to negotiations supports or helps the assorted unilateral Palestinian moves aimed at avoiding negotiations is unclear. It is, however, worth remembering one relevant point which the BBC’s researcher failed to note at all: the EU is part of the Quartet (together with the UN, the US and Russia) which is committed to solving the conflict through negotiation alone.

Clearly this article does little to meet the BBC’s remit of building “understanding of international issues” with its main achievement being to confuse audiences with regard to the motion and its significance. Perhaps if Sofia Bettiza had not limited her quest for quotes to MEPs from the Socialist group and the Greens, she might have come up with a more balanced, accurate and informative picture of the issue.

Related Articles:

EU Backs Palestinian Dictatorship  Khaled Abu Toameh 


BBC News presentation of EU court’s Hamas terror designation decision

December 17th saw the appearance of a report on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list“. Readers who proceeded past that somewhat misleading headline discovered only in later versions of the report, however, that in fact the story is not quite so straightforward.EU Hamas art

“In December 2001, the Council of the European Union – representing the governments of member states – adopted a “common position” and a regulation to combat terrorism.

It established a list of designated entities and people whose funds would be frozen. Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, was named on the initial list, and its political wing was added two years later.

Hamas contested the decision and on Wednesday the EU’s General Court found it had been “based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet”.

The court said it was therefore annulling Hamas’ designation but would temporarily keep existing measures against the group “in order to ensure the effectiveness of any possible future freezing of funds”.

This would be maintained for three months, or, if an appeal is brought before the European Court of Justice, until it was closed, it added.

“The court stresses that those annulments, on fundamental procedural grounds, do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group within the meaning of the common position.”

[…] European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said the EU continued to “consider Hamas a terrorist organisation” and would consider its response to the ruling.” [emphasis added]

Remarkably, the BBC report does not relate to the key question of why the EU has not come up with its own independent evidence regarding Hamas’ terror activities either in the eleven years since the designation was first brought into effect or in the four years since Hamas’ lawyers first launched the appeal against its designation.

Notably too, the article presents a partial picture of the obviously relevant issue of Hamas’ terror designation worldwide.

“Israel, the United States and several other nations have designated Hamas a terrorist organisation due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence.”

What the BBC’s article does do, however, is amplify Hamas’ subsequent spin of the ECJ decision.

“Hamas deputy political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said the decision was “a correction of a historical mistake”.

“Hamas is a resistance movement and it has a natural right according to all international laws and standards to resist the occupation,” he told the Reuters news agency.”

Moreover, despite informing readers that “[u]nder its charter, the movement is committed to Israel’s destruction”, the BBC article additionally promotes the inaccurate and misleading notion of Hamas as a “resistance movement” in both its text and photo caption, whilst concurrently whitewashing its violent 2007 coup in the Gaza Strip.EU Hamas art 2

“Hamas, which was founded in 1987, won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and reinforced its power in Gaza the following year after ousting its Fatah rivals.

Its supporters see it as a legitimate resistance movement against Israel, with whom it has fought for years.”

Photo caption: “Hamas is designated a terrorist group by many nations, but to its supporters it is a resistance movement”.

No effort is made to adequately clarify to BBC audiences that, as far as Hamas and its supporters are concerned, its efforts to destroy a UN member state count as “legitimate resistance” or that Hamas’ definition of “the occupation” includes the whole of Israel – as expressed just days ago by Mahmoud al Zahar at one of several recent rallies celebrating the 27th anniversary of Hamas’ founding.

“Anyone who thinks that we will recognize the existence of the [Zionist] entity or the 1967 borders is deluded… Palestine stretches from the Egyptian border in the south to Lebanon in the north, and from Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean sea in the west, and we will never recognize anything less than this.” He added: “If part of our land is liberated, we will establish our state in that part without relinquishing even an inch of the rest. Just as we liberated Gaza and established a genuine administration in it, [with] an army and security apparatuses that defend us, rather than the Israeli enemy [unlike those of the PA], we will do the same in the West Bank, as a prelude to attaining all of Palestine.”

Significantly, there was no BBC coverage of those rallies whatsoever. 

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Confusing and conflicting messaging on Jabhat al Nusra in BBC reports

On December 9th an article by State Department correspondent Kim Ghattas appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Syria war: Southern rebels see US as key to success“. Despite its title, the report is illustrated using a photograph taken in Damascus in February 2013 rather than in southern Syria.Ghattas art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Rebels in southern Syria are working to convince Washington to provide more decisive support as they continue to make small but steady gains against government forces.

While most of the world’s attention and the Syrian government’s forces have been focused on Kobane and Aleppo in northern Syria, moderate rebels south of Damascus have successfully taken territory and held it over the last three months, in the Deraa province, along the Jordanian border and along the Golan Heights.” [emphasis added]

Audiences will of course be likely to conclude that those “moderate rebels” differ essentially from the Jihadists profiled two days later in the BBC’s special feature on “Jihadist attacks”. One of the groups named in that feature is Jabhat al Nusra which, according to the BBC’s data, was responsible for 36% of the Jihadist attacks in Syria during the month of November.

Jabhat al Nusra attacks

Much later on in Ghattas’ long article, however, readers discover that one in ten of the rebels operating in southern Syria she previously described as “moderate” actually belong to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra.

“Abu Majd el-Zoubi, a spokesman for the Southern Front, acknowledged that the Nusra Front operated in the region but insisted they were only 10% of the fighting force and that the rebels were all “100% Syrians”.”

That information in turn conflicts with a previous statement (still uncorrected) made by the BBC in its profile of Jabhat al Nusra (not updated since its publication in April 2013), according to which the Free Syrian Army does not cooperate with the Jihadist group.

“Al-Nusra’s connection to al-Qaeda has led the Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition to distance itself from the movement.

“We don’t support the ideology of al-Nusra,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

“There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra.””

The take-away message for BBC audiences in Ghattas’ report is that the ability of the rebels in southern Syria to challenge the Assad regime is being hampered by a lack of American support.

“The growing coalition of 58 US-backed rebel groups south of Damascus known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is inching closer to the capital but with restricted military supplies and only half-hearted political support from the White House, they admit their progress will be limited.

“For three years most factions in the opposition have been asking Washington ‘what can you do for us?'” said one activist speaking by phone from the Middle East.

“We want to make Washington want to help us because of what we achieve on the ground,” added the activist, who is close to the rebel groups.”

Notably, Ghattas backs up her message by linking to an article produced by Charles Lister of the Doha branch of the Qatari-funded Brookings Institute.

“There are growing warnings that the US is on the verge of losing the last remnants of influence it has on the ground in Syria.

Reluctant backing has led to a lack of trust by the moderate rebels, and the newly announced Pentagon programme to train and equip new rebel recruits only starts in the spring of 2015.

So the southern front is even more crucial for any short-term Western strategy in Syria, especially if it still envisages putting the squeeze on the government in Damascus.”

However, Ghattas fails to inform BBC audiences that as well as funding the think-tank which produced that article, Qatar has also funded some of the extremist groups promoted by Lister as ‘invaluable actors’ in the battle against the Assad regime; Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

Jabhat al Nusra is currently designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the US. Ghattas’ simplistic (though revealing) admonishment of American policy towards “moderate rebels” in southern Syria fails to mention the very relevant fact that those forces include a designated terrorist organization defined by the BBC itself as a Jihadist group.  

BBC’s Matthew Price produces superficial report on charity audit

On December 12th the BBC News website published an article titled “Audit ‘clears Islamic Relief’ of terror funding claim” by Matthew Price; the chief correspondent for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In addition to appearing on the website’s UK page, the article was also posted on the Middle East page where it remained for three consecutive days.Islamic Relief art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Britain’s biggest Islamic charity says an audit of its activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has found no evidence to support accusations it has funded terrorism.”

In the next paragraph readers learn that the audit was commissioned by the organization itself.

“Islamic Relief Worldwide denied claims made first by Israel and later the United Arab Emirates and hired leading auditors to review its West Bank work.”

Further along readers also learn that the public is not being informed which company carried out the audit, although it is obviously a very efficient one because it managed to carry out the work “in a few days”.

“It [Islamic Relief] says the audit, carried out over a few days in September this year, shows “absolutely no evidence” of any link to terrorism.” […]

“The charity is not publicly saying which company they paid to do the audit – but they do say it is a leading global audit firm.

Islamic Relief says because of what it calls the “sensitivities in the region” it has agreed with that firm not to identify it.”

Although the BBC report does not relate to the topic of the publication of the report, we learn from Reuters that it too will be kept from the public view.

“Islamic Relief has not named the ‘leading global audit firm’ which carried out the investigation or published the audit because of what it calls “sensitivities in the region” and the need to ensure people’s safety.”

Via the charity itself we also discover that “a number of major stakeholders” have been given access to the audit, one of which we can conclude from the BBC’s report is the DEC

“The Disasters Emergency Committee, which brings together 13 leading UK charities to deal with acute crises, said in a written statement that it “has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

It added: “We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately. The DEC is not aware of any evidence that Islamic Relief has used aid funds inappropriately in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” “

Matthew Price refrains from informing readers that the chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Mohammed Ashmawey, also sits on the DEC board of trustees.

Price does however inform BBC audiences that:

“Israel has not responded so far.” […]

“Neither the Ministry of Defence in Israel nor the Israeli embassy in London would comment on the report.”

Reuters journalists apparently put a little more effort into getting an official Israeli response:  

“A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Friday that Israel stood by its designation of Islamic Relief as an “unlawful association” and repeated a previous statement that the charity funnelled millions of dollars a year to Hamas.”

So, to recap the story so far: a charity banned in Israel because of Hamas ties commissions and pays for an audit by an unidentified company which produces a report not made accessible to anyone other than a selected few chosen by the charity itself and, on the basis of the charity’s own interpretation of the unpublished findings, the BBC rushes to inform its audiences (on the same day that the charity puts out its press release) that the organization is above-board, implying that Israel’s reasoning for banning the charity is invalid.  

Clearly the BBC is remarkably unperturbed by the blatant lack of transparency displayed by Islamic Relief Worldwide. It also apparently lacks any journalistic curiosity with regard to the methodology used in this audit such as, for example, the critical questions of how the auditors chose to define “links to terrorism” and “funding terrorism”. As John Ware explained in an article from August of this year, the answers to those questions are far from obvious, but very important: an issue which clearly Matthew Price did not find cause for concern.

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BBC reporting on Abu Ein incident: the numbers and the narrative

In addition to the grossly inaccurate account of the circumstances preceding the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein presented in the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on December 10th, the programme’s evening version, presented by Tim Franks, included a report on the same topic by Kevin Connolly (available from 00:39:00 here).Newshour 10 12 Franks

As has been the case in all the BBC’s reporting on this subject, Connolly failed to provide listeners with an accurate representation of the circumstances behind the demonstration at Turmus Aya, saying:

“A group of demonstrators set out for the village of Turmus Aya because they believe that Israel’s marking out land there to build a new settlement of the sort regularly condemned by the international community near the existing settlement of Shilo.”

In fact, the protesters – who were organized by the councils of adjacent villages – arrived at the specific location at the particular juncture because on that day the political NGO Yesh Din, together with the same local councils, presented a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the eviction of the nearby outpost Adei Ad. The demonstration – as stated by the organisation’s lawyer Shlomi Zacharia in the interview here (Hebrew, from 07:24) – was intended to garner publicity for that move, as the presence of film crews obviously informed of the event in advance also indicates. Whilst Connolly may have been told that the demonstrators “believe” there are plans to build a new community in the area, he obviously did not bother to fact-check the existence of any such plans before repeating that hearsay.

Once again, Connolly’s account of the sequence of events is also misleading.

“The Palestinians found the Israeli security forces waiting for them and a confrontation which was perhaps inevitable began quickly. In television images you can see an old man pushed to the ground and getting up and striking Israeli soldiers with a flag pole. There is a lot of violent shoving and tear gas is used. In the midst of it, Ziad Abu Ein finds a camera and begins telling the crew what’s going on. Listen carefully and you can hear him fighting for breath before he begins to speak.

Voiceover: They are assaulting us. This is the terrorism of the occupation. This is their terrorist army; practices terrorism against the Palestinian people. Nobody threw a stone and nobody fought back.

Connolly: Now, within minutes of recording that brief interview Ziad Abu Zain [sic] had died in an ambulance taking him to hospital and it’s still not clear exactly what caused his death. At one point an Israeli Border Police officer was seen to grab him by the throat but perhaps very briefly. He would have inhaled tear gas and there are also stories of him being hit and shoved.”

Connolly fails to clarify that the use of tear gas was in response to an attempt by the demonstrators to approach Adei Ad and that the media interview given by Abu Ein occurred after his provocation of and altercation with the Border Police officer rather than beforehand, as clarified by Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon here (Hebrew) from 03:16.

Connolly then uses an extended version of the interview with Hanan Ashrawi (who was not present at the scene) also found in his television report on the subject from the same day and, despite the lack of any evidence proving that Abu Ein was “killed”, nevertheless includes that allegation in this item.

Ashrawi: “Well first of all it’s extremely sad that a colleague and an old friend has been killed in such a cruel way. But I’m also…I have a sense of outrage. Ziad was guilty of nothing more than planting olive trees where Israel would uproot trees, was guilty of nothing more than ensuring that we remain on the land where Israel was trying to expel people: that we save the land where Israel was attempting to steal the land.”

No mention is made in this report of Abu Ein’s conviction for the murder of two Israeli teenagers and the injury of over 30 others in a terror attack on Tiberias market in 1979. Neither are listeners informed that when the terrorist leader Marwan Barghouti was arrested by Israeli special forces in 2002, he was hiding in Abu Ein’s house.

The next day, December 11th, the evening version of Newshour (also presented by Tim Franks) included a report by Yolande Knell (from 00:45:00 here) which contained a statement from Saeb Erekat similar to the one used in her television report from the same day.Newshour 11 12 Franks  

Knell’s description of the previous day’s events is as follows:

“Yesterday television crews filmed Mr Abu Ein as he joined dozens of protesters in a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. But Israel’s security forces were waiting for them. After scuffles broke out an Israeli Border Policeman briefly grabbed Mr Abu Ein’s throat and later he fell to the ground, clutching his chest. An Israeli doctor was present at the Palestinian post-mortem examination and Chen Kugel from the National Institute of Forensic Medicine gave Israel’s conclusions.

Kugel: The findings of the autopsy were that the cause of death was a heart attack. Now this type of heart attack is caused by stress and apparently he had a stressful event just before – we all saw it – and we found some bruises in the muscle layer and the sub-cutaneous layer of the neck.

Knell: For the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, it was more clear-cut.

Erekat: Ziad Abu Ein was killed in cold blood. The autopsy report said he had an explosion in the major artery. What caused this was Israeli soldiers suffocating and beating up Ziad Abu Ein. They are fully responsible.”

As was the case in her filmed report, Knell refrains from informing audiences that there is no evidence to show that Abu Ein was “killed” or ‘suffocated’ or ‘beaten’. Note too how she places the evidence-free rhetoric of Erekat on the same level as the scientific opinion of a senior physician. Neither is any attempt made by Knell to inform listeners of Abu Ein’s past conviction for terrorism.

A look at the coverage of this incident across various BBC platforms (see related articles below) shows that in two filmed reports for television, two written articles and three World Service radio programmes, the picture presented to audiences adheres predominantly to the Palestinian narrative.

In addition to hearing or reading differing and conflicting reports from unidentified Palestinian “witnesses”, “medics” and local reporters for foreign news agencies, BBC audiences were presented with two interviews with Hanan Ashrawi, one interview with Abdallah Abu Rahma and two interviews with Saeb Erekat, who was also quoted in one of the written articles. Despite the lack of any supporting evidence, audiences have been told that Ziad Abu Ein’s collapse and subsequent death was caused by inhaling tear gas, being hit and/or shoved, being hit by a tear gas canister, being beaten up, being suffocated and being hit on the head with a helmet – to name but some of the proffered accounts. They have also been told on two separate occasions across all platforms that Abu Ein was “killed” and on three further separate occasions that he was “killed in cold blood”.

In contrast, audiences heard one interview with an Israeli official (the pathologist) and in two other reports the BBC paraphrased statements concerning Abu Ein’s medical condition made by the Israeli authorities. Abu Ein’s terror conviction was only briefly mentioned in one of these reports.

The amplification of unproven, inaccurate hearsay, rumour and propaganda from obviously interested parties is not ‘impartiality’ as demanded by the BBC editorial guidelines. It is the BBC’s job to present its audiences with the verified facts behind a story in order to enable them to become better informed about events – not to blindly repeat the narratives promoted by anyone and everyone willing to speak to journalists.

Unfortunately, this kind of jumble sale journalism, in which all the tales offered to the BBC – however bizarre or disconnected from the facts – are promoted and presented as legitimate news, seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in BBC Middle East reporting.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in Kevin Connolly’s filmed BBC report on death of Ziad Abu Ein

BBC’s Knell at Abu Ein funeral: all the rumour not worth reporting

BBC News website’s written reports on Abu Ein continue to spread rumour

Palestinian activist gets open mic for propagation of lies on BBC WS ‘Newshour’