‘From Our Own Correspondent': a test case for BBC claims of ‘equal coverage’

Readers no doubt remember that on July 5th – three days before Operation Protective Edge commenced – the BBC’s World Editor Andrew Roy appeared on the World Service’s ‘Outside Source’ programme to explain how the BBC ensures equal coverage of what the programme termed “Israel-Palestine”.

Andrew Roy: “Well we try to look at the entirety of our coverage. We’re not minute counting. We are ensuring that across the whole thing we can look back on our coverage of this and say we did give fair balance to each side. So it’s not a minute by minute thing, no.” […]

Presenter: “When you get people complaining that they feel one side has been given more air-time or more favour than the other, what do you do?”

Andrew Roy: “We answer them by giving them the evidence that we’ve tried to put the other side as often as we can.”

Let’s take a look at the accuracy and validity of Roy’s claims by using a test case: BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.FOOC

Between July 8th (commencement of Operation Protective Edge) and the present, eight editions of the programme have been broadcast. The first two (July 10th and July 12th) did not include any content related to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The July 17th edition included an item by Yolande Knell (available here from 00:42) which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie using the description ‘fasting under fire’. Knell’s report focuses entirely on the presentation of life in the Gaza Strip with descriptions of shortages of food, frightened children, reduced business in markets and evacuees. Much focus is also put on the topic of border restrictions with Knell twice quoting interviewees referring to a “siege” which of course does not exist and no explanation given regarding the terrorism which brought about the border restrictions.

On July 19th the programme featured an item by Jeremy Bowen which is available here from 00:45. Whilst the item is introduced as being about the whole Middle East, the BBC’s Middle East editor has his sights firmly set on one tiny part of that region. Using the language of Hamas Bowen tells listeners:

“Gaza’s economy is definitely not able to support a population of 1.7 million people but that’s because of the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt.” [emphasis added]

Like Knell before him, Bowen makes no attempt to tell listeners about the Hamas terrorism which brought about border restrictions.  He later continues:

“And there’s been a reminder in the last few days of the terrible potency of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. [..] But the new war in Gaza shows how the Palestinian –Israeli conflict still has resonance across the world as well as in the region. People care about it, get angry about it in a way that they don’t about other crises and wars. I’m calling what’s happening in Gaza a war though I’m aware that it perhaps is not a perfect description. Some people have even told me I shouldn’t use the word because of the enormous imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. I disagree. Wars are increasingly fought between the strong and the weak. By the way, it’s wrong to pretend that there’s any kind of equality between what Israeli citizens are going through and the experience of Palestinians. The trauma of Israelis caught up in mass attacks is unquestionable but the trauma in Gaza is of an utterly different degree. The only long-term way to end this chronic killing is through a permanent settlement of the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. It has to be one both sides can tolerate. An imposed peace would just contain the seeds of the next war. But at the moment peace is not conceivable. Even a long-term absence of war is unattainable. What’s the alternative? If nothing changes more and more of these mini wars, which will eventually become major wars.” [emphasis added]

The BBC’s Middle East editor makes no effort to inform listeners that Hamas is not interested in the kind of “permanent settlement” which has been on the table for two decades, neglecting to inform them that Hamas was one of the Palestinian factions which rejected the Oslo accords.

On July 26th listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ heard Paul Adams. That item is available from 00:50 here and includes the following. [all emphasis in bold added]

“Generations have experienced nothing but occupation, embargo, blockade, war and death. It’s had a slow, brutalising effect. Perhaps that’s why some of them are seized by such a furious desire to tunnel out and seek revenge. For Gaza is a giant prison surrounded by a wall, watch towers and the most sophisticated military in the Middle East.”

Although he makes no effort to inform listeners of the fact that nine years ago, when Israel withdrew, Gaza stood at a crossroads which could have taken it in a very different direction had its leaders not chosen terrorism as their raison d’être, notably Adams does tell of things which – like the rest of his colleagues – he failed to report whilst he was in Gaza

“Of course it would be wrong to suggest that this prison 66 years in the making is full only of the innocent. There are men of violence here. Men who will never, ever accept Israel’s right to exist in the land they still regard as theirs. Men who will store weapons in mosques and schools and take great pride in launching almost entirely indiscriminate rockets from the midst of populated areas, hoping – in the name of resistance – to cause death and fear on the other side. During a week in Gaza I caught occasional glimpses of them; weapons stuffed under shirts, furtive in civilian clothes, moving with purpose through the ravaged streets of Shuja’iya looking for a fight. But when so many of those dismembered and burned by Israeli rockets and shells are not the fighters but women, old people and especially children, then it’s really, really hard not to conclude that the Palestinians are being collectively punished.”

The August 2nd edition of the programme included an item by Chris Morris, available here from 00:42 or here. In addition to Morris’ very graphic descriptions, audiences hear the following. [emphasis added]FOOC Morris

“Because things have got worse; much worse. Could anyone have imagined that twenty years on this would be their fate? Bombed from land, sea and air. Stuck inside the world’s largest prison with nowhere to run. […]

That’s why Hamas’ main demand is now in tune with public opinion: lift the siege of Gaza, open the borders, give people a chance to live.”

Like his colleagues, Morris of course makes no attempt to explain to listeners that it was Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians which brought border restrictions into being.

On August 9th listeners heard a report by Tim Whewell: the first (and last) making any attempt to portray the Israeli side of the story. That item can be heard here or here from 00:45. Especially, given the track record of his BBC colleagues as far as promoting the notion of a mythical ‘siege’ and failing to report on the context and background of border restrictions is concerned, one interesting part of Whewell’s report is this:

“Why, they [Israelis] demand, don’t you – foreign correspondents – ever report that? And again and again I slip into the same argument. We do report the reasons but we also have to report the results and then much of the audience for our reporting concludes that being afraid or traumatized like Honi [phonetic] is bad, but not nearly as bad as being dead – as so many more Palestinians now are. We’re talking now uncomfortably about hierarchies of suffering and Israelis reply ‘so what do you want? More dead Jewish children? Do we also have to die just to make you report the story fairly?’ “

The August 16th edition of the programme featured a report by Kevin Connolly on the children of Gaza already discussed here and with the audio versions available here from 06:00 or here.

As we see, between July 17th and August 16th six editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 included items pertaining to the conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Only one of those items presented an Israeli point of view, with the other five not only presenting the opposite viewpoint, but often promoting the terminology of a terrorist organization and failing to provide essential context.

Surely even Andrew Roy cannot possibly claim that any attempt was made to “give fair balance to each side” in that series of programmes.

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BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Gaza: high on pathos and sunsets, low on accuracy and facts

The BBC Radio 4 version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ featured an item by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly in its August 16th edition which can be heard from around 06:56 here or as a podcast here. A very similar written version of Connolly’s report appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 17th under the title “Gaza: What does the future hold for the children?“.FOOC 16 8

Kevin Connolly is currently located in the Gaza Strip and, as the title of his report suggests, his last few days there seem to have understandably prompted him to worry about the children living in that territory.

“For children in Gaza, living through war must seem like an habitual part of life. Is it possible to imagine what the future may hold for them? […]

The children fizz with energy and curiosity, singing out their names across the gap between the buildings and demanding to know ours.

They quickly learn to wait until we are on air using the balcony’s portable satellite dish, before shouting across. They know that our desperate requests for quiet then have to be mimed, much to their amusement.

I find myself worrying what the future holds for them. […]

If you are a six-year-old in Gaza, you have already lived through three separate wars – the ugly and brutal confrontations with Israel which flared in 2008, 2012 and again this year. It is as though Gaza is a kind of junction box where the dysfunctional neural wiring of the Middle East fused a long time ago.”

Of course if you are a six year-old less than a mile away in Sderot you have also lived through those same three wars and if you are a thirteen year-old from any of the towns and villages surrounding the Gaza Strip, you have never known life without the constant missile fire from the Gaza Strip which – whenever the terrorist organisations there choose to escalate it – is the cause for the “brutal confrontations” which Kevin Connolly ambiguously describes as having “flared” without explaining why that is the case.

Interestingly though, since Connolly arrived in the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau in June 2010, neither he nor any of his colleagues have been sufficiently worried about the children in Sderot to make the 90 minute drive down there and ponder their future. The last BBC correspondents to do anything of that sort were Nick Thorpe in 2006 and Tim Franks in 2008. Perhaps some insight into Kevin Connolly’s comprehension of the situation can be gleaned from this segment of his report:

“And yet, decisive victory seems to elude Israel, just as it eludes Hamas. The fighting will probably end in ways which are ambiguous and unsatisfactory, just as it has in the past.

That will be tough on the civilians of southern Israel, who will almost certainly find themselves running for their air-raid shelters again in future.

But it will be tougher still for those children on the roof next door. They have no air-raid shelters and very little chance of escaping to the wider world as long as Israel and Egypt maintain strict controls on all movement across Gaza’s borders.”

Connolly makes no effort to inform his listeners or readers that the reason Israeli children have air–raid shelters is because their country invests considerable resources in the protection of its citizens and the reason the children in Gaza do not have air-raid shelters is that Hamas invests considerable resources in acquiring missiles and using concrete to build cross-border attack tunnels rather than air-raid shelters. Like the rest of his colleagues he of course refrains from mentioning that those controls on Gaza’s borders with Israel are necessary precisely because of those Hamas policies.

So whilst Connolly tugs at listeners’ heart strings with his artistic descriptions of Gaza and its young residents, he manipulatively blocks any mention of the root cause of the picture he paints from audience view.Connolly FOOC written 17 8

He also returns to the BBC practice of trivialising terror attacks against Israeli civilians by promoting the jaded ‘homemade rockets’ theme.

“These confrontations are hopelessly asymmetrical. Many of Hamas’s rockets are out-of-date or home-made, compared with Israel’s powerful and sophisticated weapons.”

Likewise, Connolly fails to convey to listeners and readers the fact that it was Egypt’s belligerency which eventually resulted in the Gaza Strip coming under Israeli control in 1967, that Israel withdrew from that territory nine years ago and that Israel controls the coastal waters and air-space of the Gaza Strip because the representatives of the Palestinian people – the PA – signed agreements stipulating those conditions two decades ago.

“In the Six Day War of 1967 Israel came back and has occupied Gaza – or controlled life inside it – ever since.”

Obviously, if Connolly’s statement were accurate and Israel did control life inside the Gaza Strip, there would not have been thousands of missiles fired at Israeli civilians from that territory or cross-border attack tunnels dug over the years. Connolly is no less inaccurate when he tells audiences:

“At one point, Hamas appeared to be navigating the treacherous cross-currents of the Arab Spring effortlessly. It seemed able to count, at different points, on the support of Syria, Egypt and Iran – all powerful regional players.

Now, through a combination of misjudgement and misfortune, it can count on none of them.”

The great misfortune of the children of the Gaza Strip is of course that the place they live is under the control of a nihilistic terrorist organization which puts their welfare way down its list of priorities and the terrorisation and murder of Israeli children at the top. Had Kevin Connolly bothered to properly explain that crucial point to BBC audiences instead of making do with flowery clichés and trite descriptions of sunsets, he might actually have made a step towards doing what the BBC exists to do: informing its funding public not just what is going on in the world, but why. 

 

Bowen again promotes BDS in three separate BBC programmes

Three recent and separate editions of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen.FOOC WS May 7

The BBC World Service edition of the item, which is abridged and was broadcast on May 7th, can be heard here. The programme’s webpage is illustrated with a photograph explained in the following euphemistic caption which omits all mention of the terrorist activities of Yassin and Arafat.

“Palestinian women walk past a mural depicting late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (L) and late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on May 4, 2014 in Gaza City.”

A slightly different version of the same item – also abridged – was broadcast in addition by the BBC World Service on May 10th and can be heard here.

The BBC Radio 4 version from May 3rd can be heard here from about 07:12.

The transcript below is of the unabridged version.

Jeremy Bowen: “Gaza City has very few open spaces. The beach is the most popular. Many Palestinians in Gaza can’t leave the narrow and overcrowded Strip because of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions. At the beach they can walk, swim in the Mediterranean, relax a little and wonder about a much bigger world somewhere beyond the horizon.

Another oasis is the Gaza War Cemetery. Three and a half thousand British and Commonwealth dead from the two world wars are buried there and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has performed its usual gardening miracle. Among the lines of limestone graves are flat, green lawns, trees and they’ve created some peace and shade in a dusty, noisy city built on sand dunes.

More than fifteen years ago I walked around the cemetery with a Palestinian man in his mid-twenties. He told me it was the only place he could think. We were talking because he’d been tortured in a Palestinian jail. His fingernails had been torn out with pliers and had regrown as horny little stumps. He’d been accused of being an activist in Hamas. His torturers were from the Palestinian Security Forces that were dominated by men from Yasser Arafat’s faction Fatah. The peace process with Israel was still supposed to be moving ahead and Arafat’s people had cracked down hard on Hamas after a series of suicide bombs that had killed dozens of Israelis.FOOC WS May 10

Tension – and worse – between Hamas and Fatah has deep roots. So, it was no surprise that it led to bloodshed after Hamas won an election in 2006. Palestinians were sick of Fatah’s excesses, corruption and ineptitude. Hamas is an acronym for the Arabic words for Islamic Resistance Movement. It’s a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – the group that’s been working since the late 1920s to put Islam at the heart of political and social life in Muslim countries. The barman in the American Colony – the hotel journalists like to use in Jerusalem – was a Muslim who didn’t drink. He said back then that he’d known an electoral upset was coming when Christian Palestinians had told him over their whiskies that they’d be voting for Hamas.

Fatah and its allies in the West were aghast about the victory of Hamas. A senior American official told me in his office in the State Department in Washington that the priority was reversing the result. The Americans helped Fatah prepare a coup against the newly elected Hamas government. Hamas moved first and amid brutal scenes, Hamas fighters unceremoniously ejected Fatah from the positions of power it still held in Gaza.

Mohamed Dahlan was the Fatah strongman in Gaza; someone the Americans relied on. His men had rounded up and tortured Hamas sympathisers in the 1990s, including the man I’d met in the British graveyard. I’d talked with Dahlan in his office not many months before I saw TV pictures of exultant Hamas fighters smashing it up and firing their Kalashnikovs into his desk. He had escaped.

Since then the Palestinians have been divided, with Hamas in power in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. I use the term ‘in power’ advisedly. Israel is really in control of the West Bank and even though its troops and settlers were pulled out of Gaza nine years ago, it can still blockade the Gaza Strip in a way that is at times devastating for civilians. People in Gaza in different ways relied on tunnels dug into Egypt for everything from Coca Cola to weapons. Some tunnels were big enough to drive in cars and live animals. When the Muslim Brotherhood – Hamas’ allies – won the election in Egypt, Hamas was flying high. But now the Egyptian military says it’s destroyed more than thirteen hundred tunnels since it seized power last year.

Hamas was running out of options. What it had left was ending the split with President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. His side had concluded that the latest round of talks with Israel was going nowhere – like all the others over twenty years or more. So unity seems to be part of a new strategy for President Abbas and his people. It includes joining international organisations which could eventually lead to war crimes prosecutions of Israeli soldiers.FOOC R4 May 3

And there’s BDS – or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The idea is for Israel to be as isolated as South Africa was in the 1980s. That worries the Israelis more and more. The editor of one of Israel’s leading papers told me that BDS was moving from the fringes to the centre of politics. ‘Israel’s so much stronger than us’ one Palestinian activist told me before I left Jerusalem this week. ‘But we’re more organised than we were – and we’re not going away’.”

As we noted here a couple of weeks ago, Bowen’s job description has been defined by BBC News management thus:

“Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

It is therefore unacceptable that Bowen should present an entire item based on the subject matter of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation without informing audiences of Hamas’ terror designation, that he should fail to mention the fact that it was terrorism by Hamas and other Gaza-based factions which brought about the need for tight security along the border with the Gaza Strip and counter-terrorism measures to prevent weapons smuggling and that he should mislead audiences by stating that “Israel is really in control of the West Bank”.

It also remarkable that the BBC’s senior Middle East authority portrays the 2007 Hamas coup to his audience as a pre-emptive – and therefore presumably justified – move and that he appears to have adopted the Hamas narrative regarding the rivalry between it and Fatah at the time.

But most notably of all, it is of course completely inexcusable that Bowen is permitted to use no fewer than three BBC programmes to once again amplify and promote the BDS campaign and its tactical ‘apartheid’ analogy to millions of listeners both in the UK and abroad.

That editorial decision is especially egregious considering that whilst the BBC has to date refrained from informing its audiences of the true agenda of the political campaign to dismantle Israel as the Jewish state, promotion of the BDS movement is becoming an increasingly regular phenomenon in BBC content of all types, with Bowen currently in the running for title of chief cheerleader.

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Another dose of context-free Gaza Strip pathos from Yolande Knell

On April 12th an article by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt gives Hamas and Gaza the cold shoulder“. On the Middle East page itself, the link was presented under the title “Hemmed in”, with the sub-heading “Gazans suffering effects of Egypt’s drive against Muslim Brotherhood”.Knell piece on hp

The article is actually a near transcript of an audio report by Knell which was broadcast in the April 12th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent” on BBC Radio 4. The audio version of the report can be heard here from around 12:23 or as a podcast here. Presenter Kate Adie opens her introduction of Knell’s item with a gratuitous context-free statement which, like a recent BBC News article on the same subject, neglects to inform audiences that “economic sanctions” are actually a way of trying to reclaim over $400 million of Palestinian Authority debt to Israel.

“Israel this week said it would bring in new economic sanctions against the Palestinians. The move came amid mounting pessimism over the eventual outcome of the ongoing peace talks between the two sides. And in Gaza it came as the Islamic militant group Hamas was facing its deepest crisis since it took control of the Strip in 2007. Hamas is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union. And now, as Yolande Knell has been finding out, the interim government in neighbouring Egypt has begun to take a tougher approach as well.”

Had she simply added the two words ‘among others’ after her incomplete list of countries which designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, Adie could have avoided the pitfall of inaccuracy caused by her elimination of Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand from that list.Knell GAza FOOC

Since the departure of Jon Donnison last summer, the BBC has not had a permanent foreign correspondent in the Gaza Strip, but Knell has been among those paying occasional visits and reporting from there. Like most of her previous reports from the past few months (see for example here, here and here),  this one too is an exercise in context-free pathos and promotion of the theme of poor, blameless, downtrodden Gazans.  

The most striking feature of Knell’s report is its framing of Egyptian actions and policy solely as a “crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood” and the failure to make any mention of the connections between the Gaza Strip and terrorist activity in the northern Sinai.

“Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has led to a sharp deterioration in relations with the Islamist group Hamas in neighbouring Gaza, and the people there are paying the price. […]

Relations with Gaza’s Hamas government have dramatically worsened since Egypt’s elected president Mohammed Morsi was ousted last summer following mass protests.

Hamas was closely aligned with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Now Cairo’s new military-backed authorities accuse Hamas of meddling in their affairs. They have banned all its activities.

And ordinary Palestinians feel the consequences.”

Also notable is Knell’s anodyne portrayal of the cross-border smuggling tunnels and her failure to clarify to audiences that Egypt’s actions against those tunnels were not inspired by their use for the smuggling of commercial goods, but because they are also used to move weapons and Jihadist fighters in and out of sovereign Egyptian territory.

“Already hundreds of smuggling tunnels under Egypt’s border have been destroyed by its troops.

They used to act as a lifeline to get around restrictions that Israel tightened seven years ago after Hamas wrested control of the Palestinian territory from Fatah forces loyal to the president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Trade is visibly down at a market in southern Gaza.

“Nobody can bring in goods any more and people are suffering,” says a grizzled stallholder, Waleed, “our economy’s at zero.”

Without the tunnel business, unemployment has risen sharply.

There is a shortage of building materials.

And there is no cheap, subsidised Egyptian fuel. That means longer power cuts.”

Of course Knell does not bother to make any attempt to provide audiences with any relevant background as to why it is essential that there are limitations on the entry of dual-use goods – including some building materials – to the Gaza Strip and she fails to clarify that legitimate construction projects are able to receive the supplies they need.  Neither does she inform audiences of the full background to the Gaza Strip’s electricity crisis.  

“Recent Egyptian military activity rendered out of commission hundreds of tunnels that once connected Sinai and Gaza and were used to import one million liters of fuel into Gaza each day. As a result, Hamas has no choice but to purchase fuel from Israel via the Palestinian Authority at prices similar to those found in the Israeli market, namely over seven shekels ($2) per liter of gasoline. That is a major problem for private car owners.

The more acute problem is that fuel is needed to operate the Gaza power plant that generates the majority of the local electricity. The Palestinian Authority purchases a liter of fuel for the power plant for approximately 4 shekels from Israeli gas companies and has tried to sell it to Hamas for almost double, including excise tax.

Hamas has rejected those prices outright and stopped purchasing fuel for its power plant. The dramatic consequence was that the power plant has shut down and the electricity supply has been completely disrupted. The PA refuses to waive the excise tax, a critical part of its own budget. And the residents of Gaza are the ones who suffer.”

Knell goes on to quote Raji Sourani, whom she describes simply as a “human rights campaigner” without clarifying his link to the PCHR as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines. Using Sourani’s words as a hook, she implies that the recent barrage of missile attacks on Israeli civilians in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip was the inevitable – and hence presumably ‘understandable’ – result of economic frustration.

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas addresses the PCHR 2006 conference

 

“Back in Gaza City, I find the veteran human rights campaigner Raji Sourani looking uncharacteristically miserable.

“Egypt’s added another dimension to this siege that’s suffocated Gaza socially and economically. It’s a collective punishment. We’re reduced to hostages and beggars,” he says.

“And I don’t think anybody should expect Gazans to be good victims. Things will ultimately explode.”

Already there have been explosions. Last month fighters from Islamic Jihad in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at their historic enemy, Israel.”

That is quite a remarkable piece of whitewashing of the motivations of an internationally proscribed terrorist organization (which, in the audio version of the report is revealingly described by Knell simply as “an armed group more extreme than Hamas”) inspired by religious supremacist ideology and funded by Iran. Knell’s downplaying of Hamas’ extremism also includes the failure to mention its recently improved ties with Iran and a distinctly woolly portrayal of the latest Hamas rally in Gaza which the BBC failed to report in English at the time.

“Hamas – which fell out with its other regional patrons Syria and Iran earlier during the Arab uprisings – was left feeling even more squeezed.

A massive rally held soon after in Gaza was meant as a show of force.

Hamas leaders spoke defiantly about Israel and the failing peace talks led by their political rival, President Abbas.

But some also criticised Egypt and what they called its military coup.”

Once again BBC audiences are herded towards focusing their attentions exclusively on the issue of the economic difficulties facing the ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip without any proper context being provided regarding the responsibility of the ruling Hamas regime for those very real hardships. And once again, that policy actively prevents BBC audiences from being able to form an understanding of international issues based on the full range of facts.  

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BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent': Israeli airport security ‘Kafkaesque intimidation’ and ‘mind-games’

Let’s be honest; it doesn’t take much talent – journalistic or otherwise – to come up with a gratuitous overly dramatic scare story about Israel and one particularly easy option for those not inclined to put any degree of real effort into their Middle East reporting is the topic of airport security.

Just such a vacuous item was broadcast on March 19th in the BBC World Service edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – available here.  But Marijke Peters also ventures beyond the trite and shoddy into something bordering the world of self-centered paranoid conspiracy theory. And yet for some reason the BBC World Service considered Peters’ unqualified slurs and unsourced anecdotes worthy of broadcast to millions around the globe in a programme which purports to bring audiences “insight, wit and analysis”. FOOC airport 19 3

The item is introduced by presenter Pascal Harter.

PH: “Airport security – it’s a hassle, isn’t it, at the best of times. Did you remember your passport? Have you decanted your shampoo into a smaller bottle? Have you sealed that bottle in a see-through plastic bag? Now go back through, removing your shoes and your belt, and putting your dignity in a separate tray. Passing through security in Israel though is in another league altogether, says Marijke Peters.”

[all emphasis added]

MP: “Whether it’s excessive questioning or having your computer confiscated then sent off for checks, every foreigner living in the West Bank’s got a scare story about Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. And then there are what I call the secret codes. They say the worst is a five; the first of a series of numbers stamped on a bar code stuck to your passport by a security guard that determines whether you spend the next few hours in duty-free or a dingy back room. Is the ‘one’ really for settlers? And should you actually consider the highest number – a six – a blessing in disguise because it means you’re seen as such a security risk you’ll be personally escorted onto the plane?

Requests made through the airport’s press office are an exercise in patience. My questions are met with more questions and I hang up with even less idea if there really is a system or if it’s all in my imagination. I try asking the people who hand the stickers out, pointing at the mathematical Pi symbol preceding the numbers, asking the woman if it’s specifically for journalists. She laughs; no it’s just a random sign the computer generates she says. It changes every month – doesn’t mean anything. I double-check, remembering I’ve had the same sign every time on recent trips. She walks off with my passport to ask her superior. I start to worry. A burly man in a suit walks towards me shaking his head, then assures me again the codes are all random and I shouldn’t read too much into them, suggesting perhaps now I’d like to stop holding up the other passengers. Of course all this insistence makes me even more suspicious.”

Peters goes on to make interesting – and inaccurate – use of the word ‘occasional'; defined as meaning “occurring or appearing at irregular or infrequent intervals”.  

“Israel’s notoriously strict on security and Ben Gurion is no exception. The ongoing threat of terrorism gives the country cause to take safety seriously. Occasional attacks by Palestinians are a reminder that violence is still a real concern. And yes; this is the Middle East where border controls are bad at the best of times. But here the intimidation is cranked up to a level that’s kind of Kafkaesque, which makes you wonder what it’s all about.

I’ve had my hair ruffled by a female guard – presumably to check I wasn’t hiding anything dangerous in it. Another ran her fingers inside the waistband of my underwear – just enough to make me uncomfortable without making me get naked. Because that happens too. One former colleague jokes he gets the marigold treatment every time he travels here – a reference to the yellow rubber gloves worn for strip searches. Plenty of people I know have had the crotch of their boxer shorts swabbed. Things go missing; a friend’s plastic Kindle case was sent on a separate flight. Jars of Marmite are regularly bomb-tested. Foreigners who work illegally in the West Bank on tourist visas memorise fake addresses in Israel, spending hours getting their story straight.”

The majority of BBC World Service listeners will of course be unaware that “foreigners who work illegally in the West Bank on tourist visas” are frequently connected to groups such as the ISM which have connections to terrorist organisations and of course Peters makes no attempt to enlighten listeners with that fact. She concludes:

“But occasionally you steel yourself for a grilling and are greeted with a smile instead – all that pre-flight anxiety proving totally pointless. And as you’re waved out with little more than a shrug you wonder how you managed to avoid the naughty corner this time. And while the experts devote hours to debating how the system works then devising cunning plans to cheat it, perhaps, we conclude, there’s no real point. Because whether you sail through in seconds or have every last bit of luggage pored over, you almost always make the plane.

The question’s really whether you’ll feel like coming back and running the risk of enduring what’s probably just one big mind-game all over again.”

Pascal Harter closes:

PH: “Marijke Peters – still wondering what those numbers really say about her.”

Well, Peters has already been repeatedly told that they mean nothing, but that hasn’t stopped the BBC from indulging and amplifying her puerile paranoid speculations and self-obsessed whining about a system aimed solely at saving lives (a topic which clearly interests her a lot less than the fate of her Marmite), all with the glaringly obvious aim of producing a self-serving instant item which plays to the gallery of prejudice and pre-conceived ideas. 

Listeners may have learned nothing from this item about security at Israel’s main airport, but they have certainly gained a lot of insight into the dubious editorial considerations at ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.  

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BBC headline promotes a lie

 

BBC’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ does fashionable post-colonial guilt

With the BBC’s commemoration of the World War One centenary well underway, it was not surprising to see that the March 6th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service – included an item described in the Radio 4 version’s programme synopsis as follows:

“James Rodgers visits a World War 1 cemetery near Jerusalem and ponders how events there 100 years ago influenced the region and still do.” 

The item – which can be listened to here or as a podcast here from about 18:00 – was also featured in the World Service edition of the same programme on March 11th and can be heard here from around 04:43. In that abridged version it was presented under the title “Bearing Witness on the Middle East” and the synopsis reads: FOOC WS 11 3

“Near Jerusalem, James Rodgers has been researching the area’s war graves. As the world gears up to commemorate World War One in Europe, he argues that perhaps we would do better to cast our minds eastwards, and consider how that conflict continues to shape the Middle East.”

The Radio 4 version is introduced by Kate Adie.

“The Great War of 1914-18 may have been largely concentrated in France and Belgium and that’s the focus of most of the commemorations this year. But the largest theatre of war in terms of territory was in fact in the Middle East. It pitted the British and Russians among others against the forces of the Ottoman Empire, supported by the Central Powers – in other words the likes of Germany and Austria. But it also involved all sorts of others, including Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Berbers, Arabs and Jews. James Rodgers, who’s been writing a book on the region, has been exploring some of the consequences of the fighting.”

The World Service version is introduced by Pascale Harter.

“Coming up: the graveyards in Jerusalem which bear witness to the way World War One shaped the Middle East.”

And:

“Across the Middle East, James Rodgers has been researching the First World War. It’s coming up to one hundred years since the outbreak of what was known then as the Great War. As people prepare for the centenary commemorations by focusing on the devastation it caused for Europe, James takes a walk through a part of the world where it’s still affecting events today.”

Listeners may therefore have quite reasonably concluded that the four minutes or so of former BBC journalist James Rodgers’ item would inform them about the British campaign in the Middle East nearly a hundred years ago. British cemetery Jerusalem

That, however, is not quite the case.

Yes – Rodgers begins with a description of the British war cemetery in Jerusalem and recounts his search for the graves of soldiers commemorated in his local church in London, but he soon goes off on a tangent and a sizeable proportion of his report is devoted to an event which took place twenty-eight years after the end of the First World War.

“I was pointed in the direction of the graves of some of the men from my local parish. They had been killed a few days before Christmas 1917 as British forces sought to consolidate their hold on Jerusalem. Their occupation of the Holy Land then was part of the process – the defeat and dismantling of the Ottoman Empire – which would see the Middle East divided by borders we largely recognize today.

British forces stayed in Jerusalem until 1948. Their commanders came to use the King David hotel – opened in the early 1930s – as their headquarters. This made the building a target for Jewish fighters seeking to drive them out of Palestine. In July 1946 bombers disguised as milkmen blew up the southern wing of the hotel, killing 91 people. Today the king David hosts presidents and prime ministers. Guests sitting in the lobby on my recent visit seemed casually dressed, but snatches of conversations and ubiquitous smartphones and tablet computers suggested they were doing big business.

I had come to learn more about the experience of my journalist counterparts in the late 1940s. Some of them had narrow escapes from the explosion. It was here, explained Maya Morav – the hotel’s PR manager – flicking on the lights to a basement room. Now it’s a hall for conferences and meetings. Then it had been a subterranean kitchen – the place where the bombers left the milk-churns they had packed with explosives. Less than two years later the British Mandate came to an end. British involvement in the Middle East, of course, did not.

When you are covering the Israel-Palestine conflict as a correspondent you need to have history at your fingertips – often more than one version of it. One of my earliest experiences in Gaza was being welcomed and then chastised by an elderly Palestinian refugee. Because I was British he saw me as bearing some of the blame for events of the previous century which had left his family in a shanty town in one of the most crowded parts of the world. Perhaps he had a point.

As events remembering the First World War gather pace in Europe, perhaps the real focus should be on the Middle East where decisions taken then helped to shape Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel, Syria and Iraq as they are today.”

What Rodgers hopes to achieve by urging BBC audiences to focus on geo-political events in the Middle East a century ago is not stated clearly in this report. What is apparent is some degree of fashionable ‘post-colonial guilt’ and an utter disregard for the all-important subject of context – as shown for example in Rodgers’ failure to note that his “elderly Palestinian refugee” actually came by that status as a result of the decision by Arab countries to invade the new Israeli state or his failure to mention the British policies which kept untold numbers of Jews from reaching safety in Palestine before, during and after the Second World War.

Some might consider that Rodgers’ suggestion that those commemorating World War One turn their attentions to the Middle East becomes a little less opaque when one notes that he is not averse to collaborating with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign and that the latter organization – in addition to producing its own highly inaccurate propaganda concerning Britain’s record in the region – also promotes and supports the ongoing campaign by the Hamas-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ (and others) to get Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

A dollop of selective post-colonial guilt will surely oil the wheels of that politically motivated campaign. 

 

 

 

The BBC, the British Council and BDS: what Simon Cox didn’t report

The February 13th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ – broadcast both on Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service – was titled “Come to Sunny Gaza!”.

FOOC 13 2

The programme can be heard here (with the relevant section beginning at about 22:48) or here. A written version of the same report by Simon Cox also appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Discovering Gazans’ resilient side“. Simon Cox art

Listeners to the audio version may well have been quite bowled over by the fact that presenter Kate Adie actually mentioned the escalation in missile fire from the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year in her introduction to the item and also by the fact that Cox does not stick entirely to the ‘Gaza doom and gloom’ route so well-trodden by herds of BBC correspondents before him.

All the same, he offers no context or explanation for statements such as:

“I had come prepared for trouble, with a flak jacket and helmet, driven from the border with Israel in an armour-plated car past a plethora of grey breeze block structures, unfinished due to a lack of cement.” [emphasis added]

Or:

“Rawan, my young translator, explained how the electricity was only on for eight hours a day so work, shopping, everything had to be crammed into this brief window.” [emphasis added]

Or:

“You need this kind of ingenuity when half the population is unemployed.” [emphasis added]

In fact, the PCBS cites an unemployment rate of 31.0% – not 50% as Cox claims – during the first quarter of 2013 and of course that is influenced by the fact that only 17.1% of women participate in the labour force.

But the less obvious (and much more interesting) aspect of this report – which Simon Cox does not seem too keen to expand upon – is the one reflected in this paragraph:

“I was not here to report, but to train a group of journalists from Alwan radio for a weekly programme they had been making with other stations in the West Bank as part of a wider BBC and British Council project.”

BBC audiences might at this point have been interested in some context regarding the media scene in the Gaza Strip post the 2007 violent coup carried out by Hamas. The fact that media outlets associated with political and terrorist groups other than Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad were quickly forced to close down, revise their content or relocate is, after all, a relevant factor – particularly perhaps for audience members who fund both the BBC and the registered charity the British Council via Foreign Office grant-in aid funding.

“The majority of media outlets in Palestine are based in the Gaza Strip. Since June 2007, Hamas loyalists have either shut down or assumed control of these outlets. As of August 2007, only two TV stations are currently available: Hamas’s Al Aqsa and the Islamic Jihad’s Sawt Al Aqsa, and two radio stations: Al Qur-an Al-Kareem which is run by Hamas’ Religious Affairs ministry, and Radio Alwan which is considered a pro-Hamas station.” [emphasis added]

In other words, only media organisations run or tolerated by Hamas can operate.

“Today [Ed. – August 2007] there are seven radio stations broadcasting from the Gaza Strip, most of them affiliated with Hamas and Islamists: Hamas’ Radio Al-Aqsa, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Radio Al-Quds, four independent stations (Sawt al-Iman (The Voice of Faith), Radio al-Manar, Radio ‘Alwan and the entertainment station, FM-Gaza). They all broadcast, as does Radio al-Qur’an al-Karim, which belongs to the Palestinian ministry of Islamic endowments.” [emphasis added]

Radio Alwan does not however confine itself to being on the receiving end of training projects provided by benevolent foreign organisations. Recently it ran a training project of its own in collaboration with an organisation called iPal

iPal fb Alwan

And what is iPal’s raison d’etre? Well we can learn more about that via the Anna Lindh Foundation website where, in among the jargon and buzz words and in addition to “collaboration with Alwan Radio” and “collaboration” with the Hamas supporting organisation Islamic Relief which Israel designated in 2006, we find the following among iPal’s stated activities:

“BDS Movement: building workshops about the BDS as an introduction for the youth in Gaza to let them know more about this campaign and the importance of it and how it plays an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for Justice and also to get them a part in some BDS activities in Gaza.”

iPal’s “coordinator in Gaza” Abeer Abu Shawish also works for the Arab Centre for Agricultural Development (ACAD) and in November 2013 she was to be found organizing on its behalf “a conference on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid, colonization and occupation” at which “Zaid Shuabi, outreach officer of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), gave a report by Skype from the West Bank.”.

However, Radio Alwan is far from being the sole organization with British Council and BBC links which directly or indirectly supports and promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which aims to delegitimize Israel into extinction

As we noted here only recently, the British Council has a “partnership” with the BDS supporting ‘Palestine Festival of Literature’ – or PalFest. Among the British Council’s partners in Israel is the Mossawa Centre and among its partners in the Palestinian controlled territories are the Maan Development Centre, Miftah and Palestinian Vision which employs a media spokesman who is a veteran of the BDS campaign and in its 2010 annual report (scroll down for English) noted inter alia that its activities include the organization of quiz nights with the theme “Judaizing of names in the city” [Jerusalem] and included the illustration below. Palestinian Vision 2010 report

In addition to Miftah and ‘Palestinian Vision’, the British Council’s partners in its ‘Tajaawob‘ project include Oxfam and the BBC’s own charity ‘BBC Media Action’ which gets over 40% of its funding from departments of the British government.

The same British government claims that it does not support the BDS movement.

“In correspondence with NGO Monitor, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated: “The UK Government does not support the BDS movement,” and “we have been very clear that the boycotts movement is not productive… it could be deeply corrosive.” “

However, the same government department which wrote those words funds both the British Council and departments of the BBC which do partner organisations that directly or indirectly oppose a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and work towards the elimination of the Jewish state. 

Isn’t it odd that the BBC’s “investigative journalist” Simon Cox should have missed all that? After all, UK-based members of the BBC’s audience might like to be enlightened as to what lies behind some of the projects and organisations which their taxes and obligatory payments are actually funding.

Related Articles:

BBC promotes Gaza film company which uses antisemitic imagery

 

 

BBC reports on a “new debate” in Israel that isn’t, revives old Ha’aretz campaign

The January 25th edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, which is broadcast both on BBC Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service, included an item by Josh Spero – editor of the luxury magazine ‘Spear’s’ which describes itself as:

“…the multi-award-winning wealth management and luxury lifestyle media brand whose flagship magazine has become a must-read for the ultra-high-net- worth (UHNW) community. It is also required reading for the affluent financial services community, including the bankers, lawyers and family offices who advise the wealthy.”

It might then have come of something as a surprise to listeners to this edition of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (available here from 06:15) to find that: Spero FOOC audio

“Josh Spero in Jerusalem asks how best to teach Israeli children about the Holocaust without traumatising them”.

In her introduction to the item, presenter Kate Adie correctly states that:

“The 27th of January was chosen as Holocaust Memorial Day because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945. In Israel the Holocaust is commemorated later, either in April or in May.”

Unfortunately she did not bother to inform listeners as to why that is the case or of the significance of Israel’s different date of commemoration – close to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Adie goes on:

“Commemorating is one thing; teaching another. A new debate has broken out in Israel on how to teach young school children about the Holocaust as Josh Spero found out.”

In fact, the BBC’s “new debate” is three months old.

Spero’s audio report at first appears fairly unremarkable in itself. The interesting part of this story comes when one looks at the written version which appeared on the BBC News website on January 29th under the title “A Holocaust book for young children” in both the Magazine section and on the Middle East page. Spero FOOC written

In that article readers are told that:

“At the moment [Israeli] teachers deal with the subject as they think best, often in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, but they are rarely suitably trained.”

In the audio version of that sentence Spero does not mention the date January 27th, so that is clearly an inaccurate addition by the website’s editors.

With regard to the “new debate” around which this item is centred, the article states:

“In newspaper opinion pieces, writers recalled the traumas they had suffered when Holocaust education had been done badly.

One remembered being shown the movie Night and Fog aged 14, with footage from the death camps of “mountains of bodies being bulldozed”, leaving him “tormented”, while another still suffered nightmares 30 years after a teacher showed him, aged seven or eight, photos of what he called “walking corpses in striped pyjamas“.”

Diligent readers who bother to click on the links provided by the BBC will note that the author of the second article is a woman rather than a “he” and that both those articles date from November 2013 and both come from Ha’aretz – a fact not revealed in the audio version. That second article is also included, together with an editorial, in a side-box of quotations from Ha’aretz articles on the subject. sidebox Holocaust educ art

The opening paragraph of the written article states that:

“News that Israeli children are to receive compulsory lessons about the Holocaust provoked an outcry from pundits who were traumatised by teachers when they were young.”

Hence, readers who clicked on the links to see the sources of these three articles may by now have concluded that just one newspaper exists in Israel, seeing as the only apparent evidence of that “new debate” being touted by the BBC is to be found on the pages of Ha’aretz and the BBC does not provide links to any other sources.

So what are the actual facts behind this BBC-promoted saga?

In 2010 the Israeli State Comptroller (Mevaker HaMedina) criticized Holocaust commemoration in the education system saying that the Ministry of Education “did not instruct the kindergarten teachers and teachers who dealt with teaching the Holocaust and did not provide them with pedagogic material in order to enable them to cope with the complex questions involved in the teaching of this sensitive subject.”.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum took up the challenge of preparing suitable material for use in classes of differing ages during the hours already devoted to teaching the subject in the run-up to Holocaust Remembrance Day. In October 2013 Education Minister Shai Piron announced the new proposal.

Josh Spear’s claim that “[t]he storm […] broke out when education minister Shay Piron announced that Holocaust education was to become compulsory for all Israeli schoolchildren” is not an accurate one. In contrast perhaps to their European counterparts, Israeli children take part in annual commemorations from a very young age and cannot fail to be aware of the siren marking the occasion, the media coverage of the subject and the fact that for many families in Israel, the Holocaust is part of their personal history. Hence, Holocaust education already exists and this latest initiative is designed to help teachers who have been asking for better pedagogic resources on the subject for years. 

But, as Ben Dror Yemini pointed out in an article last November, the new proposal became the focus of an overtly political campaign on the pages of Ha’aretz rather than anything which can be honestly described as a “debate”.

Interestingly, the BBC has chosen to revive and amplify that now old Ha’aretz campaign and has inadvertently illustrated once again that it would be prudent for BBC employees and contributors to widen their reading of the Israeli media beyond the pages of Ha’aretz if they wish to inform themselves – and of course their audiences – of domestic Israeli affairs. 

Helen Grady does real journalism on BBC WS ‘Assignment’

Last month we noted here the miserable decision by the BBC 2 ‘Newsnight’ production team to provide a platform to Alain Soral (described in this recent article by the Independent’s John Lichfield as “a virulently anti-semitic French intellectual, light years to the right of the Marine Le Pen and the National Front”) as part of its coverage of the quenelle/Anelka/Dieudonne story.

Newsnight’s tepid and misleading description of Soral as a “writer and film-maker” and the unhindered airing of his antisemitic conspiracy theories did nothing to enhance audience understanding of the issues at hand. 

Hence, it is all the more refreshing to be able to note a recent BBC World Service programme in the ‘Assignment’ series which actually does provide a lot of background material which will help BBC audiences reach informed opinions. Helen Grady’s interesting and informative report – titled “Dieudonne: France’s Most Dangerous Comedian?” – makes fascinating listening for anyone trying to understand the popularity of Dieudonne and how that phenomenon fits into the picture of contemporary politics and antisemitism in France. It is available here or here on BBC iPlayer. 

Assignment BBC WS

Related Articles:

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BBC Sport amplifies Anelka excuses, downplays antisemitism

The BBC story making 2013 round-up headlines

One particular BBC story has been making the headlines in various round-ups of Middle East media coverage throughout 2013.

Although it was first publicized extensively in and around late 2012, the story relating to the unfortunate death of the son of BBC employee in Gaza Jihad Masharawi came into the spotlight once again in March 2013 when the BBC’s unproven and unsupported claim that the little boy had been killed in an Israeli operation had the rug pulled from under it by a UNHRC report. 

CAMERA’s “Top Ten MidEast Media Mangles for 2013” notes that: 

“Though it was later determined that the death was likely the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket, subsequent corrections received far less attention. Promoted as part of a preconceived narrative depicting Israelis as ‘baby killers,’ an image of Jihad Masharawi holding his son’s body became entrenched in the minds of many as a depiction of Israeli wrong-doing. The image has since been used in several anti-Israel protests and continues to foment hatred against Israel. Months later, the flawed account of Omar Masharawi’s death was still featured prominently in the Magazine section of the BBC website.”

The “2013 Dishonest Reporting Awards” also highlight the BBC’s inappropriate response:

“Months afterwards, the UN concluded that Baby Omar had, in fact, been killed by a Palestinian rocket. To their credit, most Western papers picked up on the new findings. But despite the revelations, the BBC — Misharawi’s employer — continued waving its fists at reality, arguing that Israeli responsibility was still disputable.”

Of course the real issue behind this story – the fact that the BBC knowingly published and extensively promoted a story for which it had absolutely no proven evidence, purely because it fit in with the political narrative accepted and promoted by the BBC – has to this day not been adequately addressed by the corporation which claims commitment to editorial values of accuracy and impartiality. 

Related articles:

BBC’s Omar Masharawi story has rug pulled by UNHRC

A reminder of the chronology of the BBC’s Omar Masharawi story

BBC appoints Jon Donnison as ‘Shin Gimmel’ of Masharawi story

After effects 2 : BBC accuracy failure again used to promote hatred