BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour': insights into presenter intervention on inaccurate claims

Readers may have seen this video doing the rounds on the internet. It is taken from the August 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented by Owen Bennett-Jones. The programme included two interviews; one with Israel’s Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett and one with Husam Zomlot who is the executive deputy commissioner for Fatah’s commission for international affairs, a former member of the PLO’s diplomatic mission in London, a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies, a former UN employee and a member of the Oxford Research Group. He is also fairly frequently interviewed by the international media – including the BBC.Newshour 20 8 WS

These two interviews provide some interesting insight not just by way of the responses to Bennett-Jones’ questions, but also from the point of view of the wording of some of his own questions and statements and from observation of the occasions on which the presenter considers it essential to intervene in order to correct a mistaken impression given to listeners – and the many more frequent occasions on which he does not. The interviews can be found here, beginning at 31:59. Bennett-Jones’ questions to Naftali Bennett include the following revealing statements.

“Do you consider the land on which Palestinians are living – and have lived, of course, for centuries – to be Jewish land?”

Whilst some Palestinians may indeed have lived in Judea & Samaria “for centuries”, the UN’s definition of Palestinian refugees means that is by no means necessarily the case – but Owen Bennett-Jones makes no effort to clarify that point to listeners.

“Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” 

Later on, Bennett-Jones misleads audiences with the all too prevalent BBC myth of “’67 borders”.

“But your areas would be within the ’67 borders, would it? You’re not trying to make occupied land into Israeli and, are you?”

Later still, he appears to have fallen into the equally frequently seen double trap of ignoring the San Remo resolution and the Mandate for Palestine whilst at the same time pretending that the 1947 UN Partition Plan has some sort of legal significance.

“Yeah but the reason I asked you, you know, how you see the borders of Jewish land is that I think, you know, most people in the international community would think that the UN vote establishing Israel was the legitimate basis for Israel.”

Towards the end of his conversation with Naftali Bennet, Owen Bennett-Jones proposes the following theory for Western politicians’ approach to radical political Islam in the Middle East.

“Well there is an alternative interpretation of what they [Western politicians] think. They may think that peace in the Middle East – some sort of settlement in which the Palestinian people did have their aspirations fulfilled – would be a constructive start towards building a post-conflict society in which people could live together. They may think like that.”

Naftali Bennett’s reply is as follows:

“I can’t believe you’ve actually asked that. Do you think anything we do in Israel would affect ISIS, would affect Al Qaeda, al Nusra? Do you think these guys really want peace? Have you not been listening to them for the past year and a half? They’re talking about a Caliphate in the whole world and you have to face up and fight this sort of terror; not try and appease them and certainly not at the expense of Israel. Well I can tell you we’re not going to be the sacrificial lamb of the world in the hope of appeasing radical Islam. They kill reporters and behead them: that’s what we’re facing in this area. We expect the world’s support fighting these guys.”

Bennett-Jones then moves on to his next interviewee, Husam Zomlot, who appears to have a problem putting history in its correct sequence, although Bennett-Jones obviously does not see the need to interject. [emphasis added]

Zomlot: “If we go back to the biblical times and the biblical explanations, the map of the world, Owen, will be totally and utterly different – including England and most of Europe as you know. And if we go even further and go back to the Roman time, this is as you know and as you have just asked your…erm…your interviewer, nonsense to start with. I believe it all talks about a bunch of ideologues, purists, exclusivists [sic] brains and mind-sets in Israel right now that are calling the shots. And you have asked him all the right questions I have to say and he answered all the right answers in his own mind. He is not defending Israel proper. He is defending Israel’s expansion, Israel’s colonialism, Israel’s occupation, Israel’s siege. And in his mind, and he believes so, that we do not even deserve to have basic rights and therefore they are fabricating all these stories about beheading journalists somewhere in Iraq, about Palestine and the nation that has been….

Having quietly sat through inaccurate claims of Israeli “expansion”, “colonialism” and “siege”, Owen Bennett-Jones at that point sees the need to interrupt.

“Well hang on: that’s not…that’s not fabricated – that just happened.”

Zomlot carries on:

“It happened somewhere else – in Iraq – as if they are fabricating also the story of the Holocaust that it happened in Europe. Not the story itself, but the reason why they are doing this and using so many other examples to justify their murder of a nation that has been in a quest for self-determination and basic rights; that’s what I mean.”

Bennett-Jones apparently sees no need to clarify his guest’s reference to “fabricating also the story of the Holocaust”. Zomlot himself – a PhD graduate from a London university and therefore presumably a person with a reasonable command of the English language – later claimed that his words were misconstrued and that Bennett-Jones’ introduction of another question prevented him from fully explaining his point.

OBJ: “Let’s just be clear about this. What he [Naftali Bennett] is saying is that Palestinians can live on that land but he is anxious that there will be a tax on the Jewish people so he doesn’t feel that it is appropriate or safe or sensible for the Jewish people to allow the Palestinians to have weapons and the ability to destroy Israel.”

HZ: “Yeah, but that’s like the chicken and the egg. What comes first? Does it…is it their occupation that provoke some of these acts or is it really that we Palestinians are violent by nature? That it’s our violence that provokes their occupation? And I beg to differ, sir, and I beg to say that it’s actually their military occupation, their siege, their colonisation, their daily theft of our resources and land and their daily murder of our families and babies and women. “

As a member of Fatah, Zomlot is no doubt well aware that his organisation came into being long before any “occupation” existed. Owen Bennett-Jones obviously did not see fit to enlighten listeners with that snippet of relevant information or with the fact that it was the combined violence perpetrated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan in June 1967 which brought about Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and Judea & Samaria.  Zomlot continues:

“So…eh…eh…eh…”

OBJ: “Yeah.”

HZ: “…if you really want to put the horse before the cart we can discuss till the morning. I believe your question was the right question: should they end their occupation, should they be in line with international consensus and international legitimacy and then we discuss security matters. Israel is dealing with the whole situation from a security point of view because they are not interested in the political issues.”

OBJ: “I think the point that the Israelis would make is that when they did pull out of Gaza and took some settlements out of Gaza, it didn’t solve any problems for them. It’s actually got worse.”

HZ: “Well of course because they pulled out of Gaza to lay siege on the people of Gaza for all these years and turn Gaza into the dark ages. There are no basic goods and commodities and that’s why the people of Gaza has to act in dignity and dig underneath to provide for their babies. So the Israelis haven’t left Gaza for a political breakthrough. They left Gaza to besiege it and to finish off their job in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

No effort is made by Owen Bennett-Jones to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate presentation; to point out that there is no such thing as a “siege” on Gaza, that “basic goods and commodities” are freely available there and that the reason for restrictions on Israel’s borders with the Gaza Strip is the terrorism emanating from that territory and the weapons smuggled into it. Zomlot continues:

“And this is exactly what Bennett has just confirmed. My friend; what we are facing now is a situation whereby they call the shots in Israel. The deciders in Israel are not interested in a political solution. They want the land and they want the people of the land – the original people, the natives, the Palestinians – out.  Whether besieged in Gaza, whether cycled by walls in the West Bank, whether slowly driven out or even – if they can – another ethnic cleansing like they did in 1948.”

Not a peep is heard from Owen Bennett-Jones despite Zomlot’s inaccurate and defamatory claim of “ethnic cleansing”.

HZ: “This is the situation. They are using negotiations as a tactic, wars as a tactic. They are buying time as they did in Cairo only yesterday. They abruptly…”

OBJ: “OK.”

HZ: “…withdrew their delegation to continue – I believe – they have no interest in ending their occupation, period.”

Making no effort to inform listeners that the Israeli delegation left the negotiations in Cairo after Hamas broke the ceasefire the day before this interview on August 19th, Owen Bennett-Jones then closes the interview.

Revealingly, Zomlot’s assertion that the beheading of journalist James Foley was “fabricated” rightly produced a very swift reaction from Owen Bennett-Jones who obviously could not allow listeners to be misled by that inaccurate claim. Equally revealingly, none of Zomlot’s other no less inaccurate claims evoked any intervention from a BBC presenter charged with promoting audience understanding of international issues. 

BBC News misleads audiences on UN food aid to Gaza Strip

h/t DS

On August 27th the BBC News website published an article titled “Gaza conflict: Israeli PM Netanyahu says war was ‘victory’” on its Middle East page. The report opens with various statements from a press conference held by Israel’s prime minister before stating in its seventh and eighth paragraphs:

“On Wednesday, the UN’s World Food Programme said one of its convoys had entered Gaza for the first time since 2007, carrying enough food to feed around 150,000 people for five days.

Fishing boats also ventured out to sea as restrictions were eased.”

Now of course most readers would understand those words to mean that the UN’s World Food Programme has not been able to supply people in the Gaza Strip with food aid since 2007. Given that the report’s previous sentences relate mostly to statements made by the Israeli prime minister and the subsequent sentence uses the words “also [….] as restrictions were eased” in relation to the fishing zone, readers might well also assume that the fact that a WFP convoy had not been able to enter the Gaza Strip since 2007 had something to do with restrictions implemented by Israel.

However, as readers who took the time to click on the link would see, the BBC actually left out two very significant words in its paraphrasing of the World Food Programme statement.

“For the first time since 2007, a humanitarian convoy of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) successfully crossed from Egypt into the Gaza Strip today, carrying enough food to feed around 150,000 people for five days.” [emphasis added]

But still, perhaps this is the first time since 2007 that the WFP has been able to provide food to people in the Gaza Strip? Well, no: it has been doing so throughout the recent hostilities and long before.

So how did it manage that if its convoys have been unable to enter the Gaza strip via the Rafah crossing since 2007? Via the Israeli-operated Kerem Shalom crossing, of course. [emphasis added]Kerem Shalom

“Kerem Shalom allows the transfer of hundreds of trucks daily carrying goods sent by the Red Cross, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), the UN World Food Program (WFP), the Ministry of Health of the Palestinian Authority as well as Palestinian and independent traders. The transfer was carried out in coordination with the Israeli government, the IDF and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Every day, between 250 and 280 trucks pass through the crossing, carrying over 6,000 tons of goods, mainly medical supplies and food, according to a list developed by involved international organizations.”

Wouldn’t it have been simple for the BBC to avoid misleading audiences by just adding those two words “from Egypt” and pointing out that WFP food aid enters the Gaza Strip regularly via Israel? 

And – whilst we’re on the topic of humanitarian aid – here’s an allegation any BBC correspondents still left in the Gaza Strip might perhaps like to investigate: “Fatah blasts Hamas for stealing humanitarian aid during Gaza operation”. 

“Fatah also accused Hamas of confiscating food and medicine sent to the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and other countries. It said Hamas distributed the aid among its men in mosques and sold some of it in the black market.”

Whilst previous experience shows that this may not be an entirely new story, it is surely one which would be of interest to members of the British public who responded to the BBC’s advertisement of the DEC charity appeal.  

BBC’s template wording on Golan Heights fails to keep audiences abreast of events

The BBC News website’s coverage of the recent incidents involving two different groups of UNDOF personnel began on August 28th with some problematic geography.

BBC breaking tweet UNDOF

UNDOF

Just over half an hour later, someone at BBC News apparently realised that the Syrian opposition group which captured UNDOF soldiers was unlikely to be located in the part of the Golan Heights the BBC terms “disputed” and that hence the automatic reflex adjective was inaccurate.

UNDOF 2

The title of BBC’s article on the topic was amended to read “Syria conflict: UN peacekeepers held in Golan Heights” and changes to that report – originally date-stamped August 28th – can be seen here. The article states:

“It comes a day after rebels took control of a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan after a long battle.

Activists said the rebels included members of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

During the fighting, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli civilian were wounded by stray bullets. The Israeli military said it had responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions.”

In fact, whilst the IDF officer was injured by a gunshot wound to the chest, the civilian from Kibbutz Ein Zivan was wounded by mortar fire. Those events on August 27th had previously been briefly and partially mentioned at the end of a report titled “Syria conflict: Islamic State ‘committed war crimes’“.

“In a separate development, Syrian rebel groups including the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front have taken control of a crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to a UK-based monitoring group.

“The Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Israel Defence Forces said one of its officers “was moderately injured as a result of errant fire from Syria”.

“In response, we struck 2 Syrian military positions in the Golan Heights,” an IDF spokesperson [sic]“.

The BBC News website’s second report on the UNDOF story appeared on August 29th under the title “Golan Heights: UN calls for release of Fijian peacekeepers“. On August 30th a third report appeared titled “Philippine troops ‘attacked in Syria’s Golan Heights’” and on August 31st a fourth report was published under the title “Philippine peacekeepers rescued in Syria’s Golan Heights“.

The first two articles both include the following statements taken in part from the BBC’s problematic profile of the Golan Heights which fails to make any mention of why Israel captured the area and its use by Syria prior to June 1967 as a position from which to attack Israeli civilian communities below.

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

The latter two reports use the following formulation:

“Israel seized most of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in south-western Syria, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

UNDOF’s actual mandate includes of course rather more than the BBC’s simplistic portrayal reveals and includes ensuring that both parties to the 1974 Israel-Syria Separation of Forces Agreement keep its terms.

UNDOF mandate

In relation to clause 5 above:

“The UNDOF shall carry out inspections under the agreement, and report there on to the parties, on a regular basis, not less often that once every fifteen days, and, in addition, when requested by either party.”

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, conditions on the ground have changed and the demilitarized zone has long since ceased to live up to its name. UNDOF personnel are known to have ceased inspections in the area of limitation in armament and forces on the Syrian side. On its website, UNDOF itself divides its activity into two phases: 1974 to 2012 and 2013 to the present because of the change in conditions.UNDOF art 4

“A considerable escalation of the conflict in Syria in 2013 has affected the UNDOF area of operations significantly. The military operations carried out by the Syrian Arab armed forces and the armed members of the opposition in the area of separation have adversely affected the efforts of the Force to effectively carry out the mandated tasks. They have also significantly raised the potential of escalating tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizing the decades-long ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the whole region. […]

By its resolution 2108 of 27 June 2013, the Security Council stressed the obligation of both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic to scrupulously observe the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and abide by its terms. Underscoring that there should be no military forces in the area of separation, it also called on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operation.”

Beyond moves such as the above resolution, the UN Security Council has done nothing to bring about the restoration of the designated status of the demilitarized zone which its UNDOF forces failed to keep free of military activity in accordance with their mandate. With frequent bouts of fighting between Syrian government forces and opposition groups taking place in that area often resulting in spillover fire into Israel and with tensions along the border rising as a result, UNDOF’s failure to meet its purpose is clearly an issue of significance about which BBC audiences need to be informed if they are to be able to reach informed opinions on current and future events and to understand Israeli reactions to them. That information was not provided in any of these four articles, which instead use template wording which has already been irrelevant for two years.  

CBBC’s ‘Newsround’ once again misleads 6 to 12 year-olds about Israel

On August 27th the CBBC website’s ‘Newsround’ section (which is aimed at children between the ages of six and twelve) updated a page titled “Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?“.CBBC

The page itself is not new; it was originally created in November 2012 and was the subject of a complaint and a ruling by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit  in June 2013. Nevertheless, the item still includes many problematic statements – not least in its title.

Neither the most recent conflict of July/August 2014 nor the one before it in November 2012 was rooted in a dispute “over Gaza”. The idiom ‘to fight over’ means “to fight a battle that decides who gets […] something”. Israel does not – as that title incorrectly suggests – want Gaza. Both those conflicts, like the one before them, began because of escalated attacks on Israel’s civilian population.  Neither was either conflict fought against “the Palestinians” but against Hamas and other terrorist organisations based in and acting from the Gaza Strip which perpetrate the attacks on Israeli communities. That same inaccuracy is repeated in the guide’s opening sentence.

“Israelis and Arabs have been fighting over Gaza on and off, for decades. It’s part of the wider Arab Israeli conflict.”

The item continues with an inaccurate description of events leading to the establishment of the State of Israel, erasing from view the Mandate for Palestine which preceded by 25 years the point in time bizarrely chosen by the BBC as the commencement of the story.

“After World War II and the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were killed, more Jewish people wanted their own country.

They were given a large part of Palestine, which they considered their traditional home but the Arabs who already lived there and in neighbouring countries felt that was unfair and didn’t accept the new country.”

An inaccurate and highly sanitized representation of the fact that the nascent Israeli state was attacked by five Arab countries along with assorted irregulars and volunteers hours after it had declared independence conceals from readers which parties initiated the war and the fact that hostilities had actually begun six months beforehand. The fact that the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria are both areas designated as part of the Jewish homeland under the terms of the Mandate for Palestine is not made clear and neither is the very relevant issue of the lack of international recognition of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent annexation of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem.

“In 1948, the two sides went to war. When it ended, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and another area, the West Bank, by Jordan. They contained thousands of Palestinians who fled what was now the new Jewish home, Israel.”

Equally lacking is the guide’s description of the Six Day War and the failure to explain which parties initiated that conflict and what was their aim.

“But then, in 1967, after another war, Israel occupied these Palestinian areas and Israeli troops stayed there for years. Israelis hoped they might exchange the land they won for Arab countries recognising Israel’s right to exist and an end to the fighting.”

The wording of the next paragraph leads children to mistakenly believe that Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip came about through elections rather than a violent coup in which it ousted the Palestinian Authority and euphemises Hamas’ aim of bringing about the end of the Jewish state.

“Israel finally left Gaza in 2005 but soon after, a group called Hamas won elections and took control there. Much of the world calls Hamas a terrorist organisation. It refuses to recognise Israel as a country and wants Palestinians to be able to return to their old home – and will use violence to achieve its aims.”

Neither are readers informed of the fact that it was Hamas’ decision to escalate terrorism against Israeli civilians which made the implementation of border restrictions necessary.  

“Since then, Israel has held Gaza under a blockade, which means it controls its borders and limits who can get in and out.”

Children are also mistakenly led to believe that power cuts in the Gaza Strip are connected to border restrictions whilst in fact the real reason is the dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, they are inaccurately informed that exports abroad are restricted and that “not many goods get into or out of Gaza” when in fact the only limits are on weapons and dual-purpose items which can be misappropriated for terrorism.

“Israel controls its coastline and all the entry and exit crossings into Israel. There is another crossing point into Egypt. There is no working airport. Because access is so restricted, not many goods get into or out of Gaza. Food is allowed in, but aid agencies say families are not eating as much meat or fresh vegetables and fruit as they used to. There are often power cuts.

Large numbers of people are unemployed because businesses can get very few of their products out of Gaza to sell, and people don’t have much money to buy things.”

The item fails to clarify to readers the differences between Palestinian refugees and those from any other country or that their exceptional hereditary refugee status is in fact the result of the decision by the Arab league countries to refuse to grant them equal status in the countries in which most of them were born. Jewish refugees from Arab lands do not appear in the picture presented by CBBC. 

“During the 1948 and 1967 wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left, or were forced out of, their homes and moved to neighbouring countries to become refugees.

More than 4.6 million Palestinians are refugees and their descendants, many living in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They get help from the United Nations.”

Children are then informed that Israelis living under missile attack for almost a decade and a half have got used to it.

“Though the Palestinians don’t have an army, rockets are regularly fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis living in border towns are used to having to take shelter and adapting their lives to deal with the rockets.”

The item continues with misrepresentation of casualty figures from three rounds of conflict.

“In the years since Israel withdrew its troops in 2005, Gaza has seen several Israeli offensives. Israel says these were aimed at putting a stop to rocket fire.

In 2008, Israel sent soldiers into Gaza. An estimated 1,300 people, many of them civilians, were killed in Gaza before a ceasefire was declared; 13 Israeli soldiers also died.”

Around 700 of the Gaza Strip casualties in Operation Cast Lead were terrorists and three of the 13 Israeli casualties inaccurately described by the BBC as all being soldiers were in fact civilians.

“In 2012, at least 167 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli operation. After eight days a ceasefire was declared with both sides promising to stop attacks.”

Around sixty percent of the Palestinian casualties in Operation Pillar of Defence were terrorists.

“Most recently in July 2014, authorities said over 2,200 people were killed – most of them Palestinians – and many more injured, during 50 days of violence. A ceasefire was agreed between Israel and Hamas on 26 August.”

Whilst the data for casualties in Operation Protective Edge is as yet incomplete, 46% of the names examined so far have been shown to be terrorists.

The item closes with whitewashing of the PA decision to scupper the Oslo peace process, presenting the failure to reach a negotiated agreement as a matter dependent solely upon Israeli agreement.

“Other countries, particularly America, have worked hard to settle the fighting between the Arabs and Israelis but so far nothing has worked. Many people want Gaza and the West Bank to be turned into a new country – Palestine. Israel won’t agree to this unless it feels safe – and Hamas accepts its right to exist. The other sticking points are what will happen to Israelis who’ve settled in the West Bank, who will run Jerusalem and what will happen to the Palestinian refugees.”

This is unfortunately not the first time that an inaccurate presentation of Israel-related issues has been promoted by ‘Newsround’ to young children. There is of course a vast and crucial difference between “simplification appropriate for an item intended for children” (as cited in the ECU ruling on this item from June 2013) and the presentation of inaccurate and misleading information.

Incidents such as the recent bout of conflict often prompt increased pondering of the topic of why so many educated people in Western countries exhibit a disturbing lack of factual knowledge with regard to Israel. With CBBC apparently reaching 34% of six to twelve year-olds weekly in the UK and its website having a million unique browsers a month, items such as this inaccurate and misleading ‘Newsround’ guide are clearly aiding to perpetuate that situation whilst failing young audience members and their licence fee-paying parents by neglecting  the BBC’s obligation to promote “understanding of international issues”. 

BBC Israel focus in numbers: June and July 2014

The pace of events over the last couple of months has meant that our usual end of month round-up of coverage on the BBC News website got put on hold. Below are the counts of articles appearing on the website’s Middle East page during June and July 2014 according to the twenty-two countries and territories defined by the BBC as making up that region per the profiles on that page.

As in previous months (see ‘related articles’ below), the count relates to three categories of articles – headline, non-headline and features – with the total representing both the appearance of a new report and its level of exposure in terms of the number of days it stayed up on the site. Filmed reports and ‘related articles’ are not included in the count.

June 2014:

Table June

The stories behind those numbers were many and varied with the take-over of parts of Iraq by ISIS accounting for nearly all the articles relating to that country and putting it first in terms of coverage. Presidential elections in Syria and Egypt accounted for many of the reports concerning those two countries in second and third place respectively and the trial of Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt which received extensive coverage from the BBC also accounted for a proportion of that country’s coverage. The BBC did not begin covering the story of the kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers in Gush Etzion until two days after they went missing but much of the latter half of the month’s reports on Israel were devoted to that topic. Whilst the BBC defines the Golan Heights as a separate territory, its items on that area were in fact about Israel’s reaction to the killing of an Israeli teenager near the border. Elections and political violence in Libya accounted for most of the stories concerning that country which came fifth in terms of the amount of coverage.

Other June stories included the World Cup; all of the reports on Algeria related to that topic along with several of those on Iran. A significant proportion of the stories from Qatar concerned the FIFA investigation into its World Cup bid. The Palestinian Authority unity government also got coverage at the beginning of the month and quite a few of the stories concerning Saudi Arabia were about the outbreak of MERS there.  All the reports on the UAE related to its airline’s purchase of a stake in Alitalia. Sharp-eyed readers will note that for the first time since we began recording BBC coverage of Middle East countries in March 2013, reports on Sudan appeared in June 2014.

July 2014: 

Table July

For the second consecutive month Iraq got the most coverage on the BBC News website in July with most of the reports again relating to the topic of ISIS. Israel came second in terms of coverage with the majority of reports relating to Operation Protective Edge and the influx of additional BBC correspondents to the region very apparent. Syria was once again in third place for the second month running, Egypt fourth and Iran in fifth place with a significant proportion of the reports relating to the topic of the P5+1 talks. Despite continuing political violence in Libya, that country came seventh in terms of coverage.

Table sikkum

Related Articles:

BBC Israel focus in numbers: May 2014

BBC Israel focus in numbers: April 2014

BBC Israel focus in numbers: March 2014  (includes links to all previous months) 

BBC’s summary graphic continues to mislead on Gaza casualty ratios

It would appear that the graphic below (which appeared in a recent BBC News website article titled “Gaza conflict: Israeli PM Netanyahu says war was ‘victory’“) can be said to represent the BBC’s summing up of Operation Protective Edge.

Graphic Op PE

As we see, the BBC is still promoting statistics and civilian/combatant casualty ratios provided by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and UN OCHA which relies on information provided by political NGOs.

“UN estimates 70% of deaths are civilians”

The Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Centre has now published the fourth part of its analysis of casualties in the Gaza Strip (previous chapters can be found  herehere and here) and has so far examined a total of 667 names.

“Weighting the findings of the current examination and the findings of the three previous examinations (detailed in the previous documents) yields the following results:

273 of those killed were terrorist operatives(65 + 66 + 71 + 71).

316 of those killed were non-involved civilians (76 + 93 + 66 + 81).

The identity of 78 people who were killed is unknown at this stage (34 + 26 + 15 + 3). Therefore, it is not possible to determine whether they were terrorist operatives or non-involved civilians.

Of the 589 dead who could be identified on the three lists that were examined, terrorist operatives constitute approximately 46% of the names. Non-involved civilians constitute approximately 54% of the names. This ratio may vary as the ITIC continues to examine the names of those killed.”

As we also see, there is still no evidence to suggest that the BBC has independently verified the statistics it quotes and promotes and BBC audiences have still not been informed of that lack of independent verification or of the political backdrop to the figures cited.

Readers may be interested to know of the existence of a petition to try to persuade the BBC to correct its obviously problematic policy.

Notable too is the fact that at no point during its last seven weeks of coverage of the conflict has the BBC attempted to put the topic of civilian/combatant casualty ratios in Gaza into their broader context. Audiences in the UK and other Western countries have not been informed how those ratios compare to other conflicts in which their own armed forces were involved. Some interesting thoughts on that topic and many others come from former BBC journalist Richard Miron.

“Israel must be held to account not in comparison to elsewhere in the Middle East but rather to other Western armies operating under similar conditions. And yet in reading and watching the coverage out of Gaza it seems the media held Israel to an altogether different standard. Civilian casualties were often portrayed as the consequence of deliberate Israeli vengefulness and bloodletting.

I have seen for myself how Western armies operate during conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans and elsewhere, and tragically there is no such thing as a clean conflict. I still have the photos I took in an Afghan village of what remained after a US air strike destroyed a family compound killing about fifty civilians in pursuit of one Al Qaeda operative. While there has been some questioning by the media over the extent of civilian casualties (numbering in their tens of thousands) in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it has been muted by comparison to Gaza. […]

[…] the (Western) media must also account for itself and for its own conduct including apparent omissions and failures in the reporting of the conflict. It must question where reporting may have ended and emoting began, if it held Israel to a standard apart from all others, and why it allowed Hamas a free pass in controlling the flow of information. “

Read the whole piece here.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’ does damage control on Gaza casualty figures article

BBC content continues to mislead on Gaza casualties

 

 

Why did the BBC downplay years of Hamas extrajudicial killings?

On August 22nd Quentin Sommerville produced a filmed report for BBC television news which also appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Suspected informants killed in Gaza“.Sommerville 22 8 executions

The appearance of this filmed report and an accompanying written one on the BBC News website was particularly interesting because previous announcements in the local media with regard to the execution of four people on July 17th and the execution of thirty more people on or around July 28th had been completely ignored by the BBC despite its plethora of correspondents on the ground at the time. The reason for the anomaly appears to be that this time the information came from Hamas itself, as Sommerville noted in his report.

“On a Gaza City street just after Friday prayers a group of men are led to their deaths. Bound and hooded, they’re made to kneel. As a crowd looks on, they’re shot dead. Hamas, which supplied these pictures, say they were collaborators. It was a bloody day in Gaza; as well as the men killed here, eleven were earlier put to death by firing squad, accused of the same crime.”

The only brief reference to the lack of due legal process comes later on in Sommerville’s filmed report with the written version failing to relate to that topic at all.

“Hamas said the men were sentenced by an emergency court but human rights groups say these were extrajudicial killings. Two women were among the dead.”

The written report ‘explains’ the incident to readers as follows:

“After the first 11 executions, Hamas warned that “the same punishment will be imposed soon on others”.

It added that “the current circumstances forced us to take such decisions”, suggesting a link between the executions and the killing of the three senior Hamas leaders.”

Sommerville also promoted a similar ‘explanation’.

“The deaths come a day after Israel dealt its heaviest blow to the militants: an air strike here in the south of Gaza killed three of its top military commanders. The brutality and the swiftness of today’s killings are an indication of the severity of the blow struck by Israel against Hamas with the killing of its three military commanders. The militants suspect that Palestinians here in Gaza colluded with Israel to bring about these deaths. Today’s shootings are an attempt to disable any network of informants but also to send a message to deter others from collaborating with Israel’s intelligence services.”

Sommerville closes with the following odd remark:

“Hamas is an armed movement but it’s been years since it turned its weapons with such force against its own people. Even so, it warns that more killings will follow.” [emphasis added]

It is not of course apparent how Quentin Sommerville defines “years” or “such force”, but extrajudicial killings and torture by Hamas are by no means a rare occurrence and indeed formed an integral part of its violent take-over of the Gaza Strip in June 2007. Some other examples of that practice (by no means all) appear below.

In 2009 Human Rights Watch produced a report which stated that thirty-two suspected collaborators had been killed between December 2008 and April 2009 and at least 49 people from the rival Fatah movement had been shot in the legs by masked gunmen.

In March 2010 Hamas announced that it would reinstate the death penalty in the Gaza Strip. As HRW pointed out at the time:

“Most of those facing the death penalty in Gaza are affiliated with the rival Fatah movement or are people whom Hamas military courts have convicted of collaborating with Israel.”

In April 2010 two people were executed and in December of the same year three more men were convicted of ‘collaboration’ with one sentenced to death. In July 2011 two men were executed.

In November 2012 at least six summary executions took place with Hamas claiming responsibility in a note attached to an electricity pole. Those events got 29 words of coverage from the BBC at the time. In June 2013 the BBC failed to report on two executions and two more in May 2014 were likewise ignored. 

As Khaled Abu Toameh recently pointed out:

“Under Palestinian Authority law, all death sentences must be approved by the president of the PA. But in 2005, PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a moratorium on death sentences – a prohibition that did not stop Hamas from pursuing executions under the pretext that the PA president was no longer a legitimate leader since his term had expired in 2009.

It is notable that the latest executions in the Gaza Strip were carried out after the formation of the Hamas-backed Palestinian “national consensus” government a few months ago. These extrajudicial executions show that despite the unity agreement between the two parties, Hamas continues to act as the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, where it has its own security forces, militias and “revolutionary courts.”

It is also ironic that Hamas has chosen to execute suspected “collaborators” at a time when it is seen as part of the “national consensus” government that continues to conduct security coordination with Israel.”

The BBC has a dismal record on reporting abuses of all kinds by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and it is therefore all the more notable that these two reports came about only when Hamas wanted to publicise the executions of suspected collaborators for its own purposes.

It is also remarkable that neither report ventured beyond limited reporting of the incidents themselves to inform audiences with regard to the issue of the absence of due legal process before those killings and their implications given that the Gaza Strip is – officially at least – now ruled by the Palestinian Unity Government rather than the “armed movement” as Sommerville so quaintly dubs an internationally recognized terrorist organization. 

 

Selective PSC outrage over BBC impartiality and integrity

This article was originally published at the British political blog Harry’s Place.  

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign needs no introduction and neither does its recently accelerated campaign to try to persuade the British public that the BBC suffers from pro-Israel bias. At her usual Electronic Intifada gig on August 3rd, PSC activist Amena Saleem wrote:EG

“Pro-Israeli broadcasters are finding it ever harder to defend Israel in the face of the large-scale massacres and destruction in Gaza, but the BBC is determined to do its best, sacrificing all claims to impartiality and journalistic integrity in the process.

In addition to flooding its radio and television programs with Israeli spokespeople, while keeping Palestinian voices to a minimum, the BBC, as it did during Israel’s 2012 assault on Gaza, has taken to presenting pro-Israel commentators as independent.

BBC audiences are, therefore, given strong doses of pro-Israeli propaganda — being told that Hamas is using civilians as human shields, that Israel has shown nothing but restraint in the face of constant rocket attacks, that it is defending its citizens and so on — while under the impression that they are hearing neutral, independent comment.

These key Israeli messages are, of course, more likely to be believed by viewers and listeners if they think they are impartial observations, rather than the opinions of pro-Israeli spokespeople.”

Saleem goes on to produce a list of examples of what she claims were inadequate introductions on the part of the BBC which failed to clarify the supposedly pro-Israel stance of contributors and recounts that in one case:

“The Palestine Solidarity Campaign wrote to the BBC to remind it of its own editorial guidelines, which include this: “We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

For once, the BBC was quick to write back, sending this by email: “We apologize for this and would like to assure you that the matter has been raised with the relevant editorial staff at the BBC News Channel, who have been reminded of the need to clearly describe the ideology of such organizations in our coverage.” “

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality do indeed relate to the issue of clarification of the viewpoint of interviewees in section 4.4.14 and in October of last year the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit recommitted to the practice of “summarising the standpoint” of contributors after the Palestine Solidarity Campaign made a complaint based on similar claims to those appearing in Saleem’s above article.

However, the selective nature of Amena Saleem’s interest in this matter indicates that it does not stem from genuine concerns about BBC impartiality and journalistic integrity but is a tactic employed in the broader PSC public relations strategy.

Read the rest of the article here

BBC presentation of truce fails to tell the real story

The real story behind the August 26th ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is of course the fact that Hamas could have accepted the same terms six weeks earlier and thereby prevented hundreds of deaths, thousands of injuries, extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure and unquantifiable suffering for the people of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas however refused to accept the Egyptian-offered terms at the time, insisting that there would be no ceasefire until its demands were met. The BBC – as we know – took it upon itself to extensively and energetically publicise and promote Hamas’ unrealistic demands concerning the lifting of border restrictions but consistently refrained from providing audiences with accurate information regarding the nature of the restrictions themselves and the reasons why they had to be imposed in the first place, thus denying them the ability to appreciate why that particular Hamas pre-condition to a ceasefire would not come about.

Six weeks and much avoidable civilian suffering on, Hamas jettisoned those preconditions and agreed to a truce without any of them having been met as Avi Issacharoff explains.

“Hamas’s defeat lies in the area it counts as most important. With all due respect to the international community, or to al-Jazeera which emerged as the Hamas propaganda arm, what interests Hamas is public opinion in Gaza and in the West Bank. Time and again its leaders — including military wing chief Muhammad Deif, of whom it is not clear what remains after the IDF airstrike that targeted his home — bragged and made promises to the Gaza public that this conflict would continue until the siege was lifted. And until the re-arrested prisoners from the Shalit deal were released. And until an airport was opened. In their enthusiasm for these causes, they cost hundreds of thousands of Palestinians their homes. Two thousand, one hundred and forty-four men, women and children who were killed in a war that they were assured by Hamas simply had to continue until those goals were achieved. The Hamas leadership swore that without a seaport (getting the Rafah border crossing reopened was not deemed a sufficient achievement because it is controlled by the Egyptians) the rockets would continue to fall on Sderot and Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Netivot.

Hamas further promised that there would be no return to the understandings that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 or to the realities of recent years. Time after time, for almost 50 days, they rejected the Egyptian initiative, which included, almost clause for clause, the elements of the 2012 agreement.

And then, on Tuesday afternoon, when first word of the ceasefire began to emerge, it became clear that Hamas had capitulated, retreated with its tail between its legs, abandoned everything it had insisted upon. No seaport and no airport. No release of the Shalit prisoners who were re-arrested in June after the murders of the three Israeli teens. No lifting of the blockade.”

The significance was clear even to journalists at the New York Times:

“Hamas, the militant Islamist faction that dominates Gaza, declared victory even though it had abandoned most of its demands, ultimately accepting an Egyptian-brokered deal that differs little from one proffered on the battle’s seventh day. In effect, the deal put both sides back where they were at the end of eight days of fighting in 2012, with terms that called for easing but not lifting Israeli restrictions on travel, trade and fishing in Gaza.”

But have those important points been conveyed to BBC audiences in the corporation’s coverage of the August 26th ceasefire? The BBC News website’s main article on the subject ran under the headline “Gaza conflict: Israel and Palestinians agree long-term truce” and it was amended numerous times until its final version was reached. At no point is it made sufficiently clear to readers that the terms of the agreement are the same as those offered after the first week’s fighting or that Hamas abandoned its preconditions – including those still being promoted by the BBC in the sidebar of ‘related articles’ links. The only hint of the latter point comes in an insert of ‘analysis’ from Kevin Connolly.26 8 truce

“There have been small celebrations in the streets of Gaza City hailing a “victory” but the truth is that Hamas has not achieved the headline-making concessions it was demanding in return for a ceasefire agreement.

So, there is no deal on the opening of a sea terminal or an airport at this stage. How ordinary Palestinians view the deal probably depends on how quickly their tightly-controlled borders are opened and how wide.”

Whilst the article fails to clarify to readers that the suffering of residents of the Gaza Strip could have been dramatically and significantly reduced had it not taken Hamas six weeks to abandon its unrealistic demands, it does include amplification of the Hamas narrative.

“Hamas said the deal represented a “victory for the resistance”. “

“A spokesman for Hamas, which controls Gaza, said: “We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance.” “

The article states:

“The announcement was greeted by celebratory gunfire on the streets of Gaza City.”

It fails to inform readers that a 19 year-old girl – Randa Nemer – was killed and 45 others injured by that “celebratory gunfire”.Sommerville 26 8 cf 1

The later version of the report briefly notes that two Israelis were killed around an hour before the ceasefire came into effect, but once again father of five Zevik Etzion and father of three Shachar Melamed of Kibbutz Nirim are not named.

“A last-minute volley of mortar shells from Gaza killed two Israeli civilians in Eshkol Regional Council, medics told the BBC.”

BBC television audiences saw two reports from Quentin Sommerville on the evening of August 26th. The earlier one – which also appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Gaza conflict: Israel and Palestinians agree new truce” – tells viewers nothing about the fact that Hamas abandoned its preconditions and settled for what it could have had six weeks earlier.

Moreover, in Sommerville’s second report of the evening (“Gaza conflict: Israel and Palestinians agree long-term truce“), which one can conclude was produced after more details of the terms of the ceasefire had come to light, he not only neglects to mention the above points but misleads audiences with regard to those terms.

“After fifty days of conflict – fifty days of loss – the streets of Gaza came alive tonight. It was a fight that cost two thousand lives but here they’re calling it a victory. There have been other ceasefires – eight in total – but it hasn’t brought people out onto the streets like this. They’re celebrating tonight because they believe that the fighting is over, that Israel’s blockade of Gaza has ended.” [emphasis added]

Later on in the report viewers are shown footage of Mahmoud Abbas saying that the agreement secured includes “providing Gaza with foodstuff and supplies”. No attempt is made to clarify to viewers that food, medicines and essential supplies have continued to enter the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing throughout the 50 days of conflict: 5,359 truckloads between July 8th and August 25th to be precise.Sommerville 26 8 cf 2

Against a background of footage of a missile hit on a kindergarten in Ashdod – which fortunately was empty at the time because the school year has not yet begun and the teacher preparing for the new term had left ten minutes earlier – Sommerville informs viewers of the obvious:

“Israel says that Hamas rockets have to stop if this truce is to work. This one landed today in a playground. No-one was hurt.”

Oddly, the fact that two members of Kibbutz Nirim were killed in a mortar attack earlier in the day is not mentioned.

On the afternoon of August 27th an article by Kevin Connolly appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Indecisive end to Gaza conflict“. There readers were informed that:

“Gaza does not function as a democracy so Hamas does not have to worry about immediate accountability to its own people, but many will question its judgement on two key points.

One is the decision to embark on a conflict when the agreement ending it only guarantees the restoration of the status quo that went before, together with commitments to discuss other grievances.

The other is the tactic of insisting on huge, headline-grabbing concessions (like the construction of a seaport in Gaza) in return for merely agreeing to enter talks.

It seems possible that that tactic made it harder to secure a ceasefire.”

Unfortunately, Connolly’s use of understatement and the fact that the BBC has throughout the past seven weeks consistently failed to adequately explain the important topic of the implementation of border restrictions and the naval blockade as a means of curbing the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip mean that many readers are likely to remain unclear as regards the fact that the same ceasefire could have been accepted by Hamas six weeks previously and the extent to which Hamas’ tactics have caused unnecessary suffering to the people of the Gaza Strip.  

 

 

 

Reporter in the rubble: what is missing from BBC presentation of structural damage in Gaza?

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th BBC audiences have seen copious amounts of footage and images of damaged and destroyed buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Examples of televised reports include James Reynolds in Shuja’iya on August 6th, Jon Donnison in Beit Hanoun on August 5th, Orla Guerin in Khuza’a on August 11th and Chris Morris in Gaza City on July 29th. Listeners to BBC radio have heard dramatic descriptions such as this one by Kevin Connolly from Juhor-ad-Dik on Radio 4 and visitors to the BBC News website have seen illustrative photographs and graphics such as those below by the dozen and read statements such as:

“Approximately 16,800 housing units in Gaza had been destroyed, Mr Serry added, affecting some 100,000 Palestinians.” (“Gaza ceasefire ‘extended by a day’ after Cairo talks“, 19/8/14)

Damage photos 1

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Damage photos 2

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Damage photos 3

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Damage photos 4

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Damage photos 5

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Damage photos 6

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Absent from these BBC reports and the many others relating to the same topic, however, are two very important aspects of context: where and why.   

Most BBC audience members will have no reason to be familiar with the geography of the Gaza Strip. They will therefore be unable to judge to what extent the isolated images they are repeatedly shown by the BBC represent the picture in the whole of the Gaza Strip.Damge heat map

As we see above, the BBC obviously relies on UN OCHA as a source of information on the topic of damaged structures and that organization recently put out a series of maps titled “Gaza Crisis Atlas”. Analysis of those maps published at ‘Israellycool’ – see here and here – shows that the majority of damaged structures are concentrated in specific locations.

“Several patterns are discernible:

The attacks are in no way “random” or “indiscriminate”. One can clearly see the spatial distribution of the damage in several aspects. We find 8,952 of the 12,433 total points (72%) are within a 3 KM buffer abutting the border with Israel. The main objective of Operation Protective Edge was to find and destroy dozens of terror tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.

That the most intensive damage was caused to the area where the tunnels naturally originated is thus perfectly understandable. Furthermore, of the 4,441 destroyed structures, 3,481 of them (78%) are within the 3 KM buffer, as are 2,531 of 3,303 (77%) of the lowest intensity damage (simple craters), which are mostly strikes on rocket launchers and tunnels.

Most of the attacks are grouped around certain neighborhoods or villages, such as Shuja’iyya, Johur ad-Dik, Sureij, and Khuza’a. These were probably the result of the ground operations that took place in dense urban areas also within the 3 KM buffer that housed multiple tunnel entrances and shafts, as well as launch sites for mortars and rockets.”

Of course another important type of context lacking from most BBC reports is why certain locations were targeted. Some examples of explanations can be seen in the video below.

So why is it that context which is so vital for BBC audiences’ understanding of what they are being shown by the BBC is subject to serial omission? Well, former AP correspondent Matti Friedman has some important insights to share on the topic of Western media coverage which may provide a clue.

“While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual human beings in positions of responsibility—in this case, journalists and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations. […]

Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story.”

Read the whole article here