‘Lowbrow’, ‘Highbrow’ and the BBC

On September 30th the business section of the BBC News website produced an article described on its main homepage as being about “lowbrow click-bait”.

Click bait article

BBC business reporter Will Smale’s article (titled “Taboola: The internet firm at the forefront of ‘click-bait’“) opens:

“You may not have heard of a company called Taboola, but what it does may annoy you greatly.

“Controversial slimming pill sweeps the UK”, “15 inconveniences of being a woman”, “Nine people you won’t actually believe exist”, “Danger! Don’t watch this with your wife” – if you’ve ever seen any of these headlines screaming out at you, then you’ll be familiar with the company’s work.

Taboola is one of the main providers of sponsored stories on news and gossip websites.

When you scroll to the bottom of the page, there are picture and caption links to three, six or eight external stories, typically under the headings “More stories from around the web” or “You may like”.

More often than not the captions hoping to tempt you to click on them are just a little lowbrow, and the photos accompanying them typically show celebrities or women in bikinis (or both).

Critics have described Taboola’s (and its rivals’) content as “spam”, “click-bait”, “degrading”, “representing a race to the bottom” and many other derogatory terms.”

Whilst the pejorative term ‘click-bait’ is usually employed to describe material aimed at generating online advertising revenue, the method behind it is of course the presentation of content under an enticing ‘bait’ headline which raises readers’ curiosity to a level which causes them to click on the link.

Philosophically minded readers might care to ponder the question of the difference, if any, between that type of “lowbrow” click-bait and a recent example (from the end of August) of the BBC’s own use of the fashionably ‘highbrow’ equivalent of a celeb in a bikini when the then ‘hot’ topic of Gaza was used to prompt readers of the BBC News website to click on an article about immigration in Australia.

Click bait Gaza art

And if the BBC is going to engage in ‘highbrow’ explanation of Latin terms, audiences might of course be more impressed were it to do so accurately before publication That error has since been corrected. 

Click bait art pic

BBC promotion of the inaccurate notion of exceptional civilian casualties in Gaza

On September 1st the BBC News website published a feature titled “Gaza crisis: Toll of operations in Gaza” which has since become a frequent appendage to numerous other articles published on the website’s Middle East page. As we know, the BBC has stated that its online content is intended to act as “historical records” and hence the accuracy and impartiality of that content is of prime importance.Toll of Operations art

This particular feature opens with the following words:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.

Between 8 July and 27 August, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

The UN says the vast majority of Palestinian deaths are civilian. But figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price.”

Once again we see the BBC quoting “the UN” as though that body were impeccably objective, but with no effort made to inform audiences with regard to the very significant issue of the background to those UN statements and the political motivations involved.

The feature then goes on to address the topic of casualties in three conflicts in reverse chronological order. First comes a section titled “2014: Operation Protective Edge” in which readers are told that:

“The overwhelming majority of those killed were Palestinians.

The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.”

No effort is made to inform BBC audiences, for example, of the ongoing analysis being carried out by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre which, after examination of some 35% of the named casualties, so far indicates that the ratio of combatants to civilians stands at 49% to 51% respectively.

The section goes on to present graphics including one complied on the basis of information provided, inter alia, by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health and “Al Akhbar” – an anti-Israel Lebanese online media organization considered by some to be pro-Hizballah. It further includes ‘analysis’ from the BBC’s head of statistics who – as readers may recall – was forced to radically amend a previous article on the topic of casualties in the Gaza Strip due to outside pressure from politically motivated organisations.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The section goes on to state that “[s]atellite images released by the United Nations show how a section of Shijaia [sic] neighbourhood in Gaza City has been razed by attacks since 8 July” but no attempt is made to provide BBC audiences with the all-important context behind those images by informing them of the military installations deliberately placed by Hamas and other terrorist organisations in that neighbourhood.

The feature then moves on to a section titled “2012: Operation Pillar of Defense” in which readers are informed that:

“Israel’s previous major air strike offensive on Gaza was Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

It began with an air strike that killed the commander of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, whom it accused of responsibility for “all terrorist activities against Israel from Gaza” over the past decade.

Prior to the operation, there had been spates of Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas’s Qassam Brigades, firing hundreds of rockets into southern Israel and the Israeli military shelling Gaza and carrying out air strikes.”

In other words, the BBC continues its now well-entrenched practice of downplaying the months of terror attacks which preceded – and caused – Operation Pillar of Defense. Casualty figures promoted in that section come from one source alone:

“An Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, said 167 Palestinians were killed, including 87 civilians. Six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed.”

Detailed examination of the names of casualties by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre put the ratio of combatants to civilians at 60:40 compared to B’Tselem’s 52% civilian casualty rate.

The feature’s third and final section is titled “2008-2009: Operation Cast Lead” and it opens with the (apparently copy pasted) claim that:

The last time Israeli ground troops went into Gaza was in December 2008, as part of Operation Cast Lead. Around 1,391 Palestinians were killed, including an estimated 759 civilians, according to B’Tselem. Reports say this included 344 children and 110 women.” [emphasis added]

The section goes on to promote two more politically motivated NGOs and to advance the myth of the use of white phosphorous as a weapon during Operation Cast Lead.

“Israel’s military had put the overall Palestinian death toll at 1,166, of whom it said 295 were “uninvolved” civilians. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights estimates that 1,417 Palestinians died, 926 of whom were civilians.

An Amnesty International report into the operation said lives were lost because Israeli forces “frequently obstructed access to medical care.” It also condemned the use of “imprecise” weapons such as white phosphorous and artillery shells.”

No mention is made of the fact that Hamas’ Fathi Hamad admitted in a 2010 interview that around half the casualties in that operation were terrorists, thus negating the inaccurate claims made by the PCHR still being promoted by the BBC.

But by far the most egregious aspect of this BBC feature is the fact that it makes no attempt whatsoever to provide BBC audiences with the crucial context of casualty ratios in the Gaza Strip as compared to those in other conflicts.

Let us assume for a moment that the UN figures quoted and promoted by the BBC are correct and that 495 children were killed during Operation Protective Edge and that none of those under 18s (as UNICEF defines child casualties) were in fact operatives for terrorist organisations. Even if we take those figures at face value, the percentage of children killed in the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014 is, as Ben Dror Yemini has pointed out, considerably lower than the percentage of children killed by coalition forces (including British troops) in Iraq and by NATO forces (also including British troops) in Kosovo.

And even if we take the BBC’s claim that 1,462 (69%) of a total of 2,104 casualties in the Gaza Strip were civilians as being accurate (despite the fact that – as noted above – ongoing analysis suggests that the ratio of civilians to combatants may actually be lower), that would still mean that – as Col. Richard Kemp has pointed out on numerous occasions – there is nothing exceptional about that ratio.

“The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one.

In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.”

Now let us remind ourselves of the BBC’s opening statement in this feature:

“The number of civilians killed during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge offensive has raised international concern and condemnation.”

That statement would lead any reasonable reader to believe that the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge was somehow exceptional enough to prompt “international concern and condemnation”. The BBC’s editorial decision to omit from this feature any comparison to other conflicts means that audiences are unable to put that statement into its correct perspective and are hence likely to be misled.

Of course that editorial decision will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who closely followed BBC coverage of Operation Protective Edge throughout its duration because one dominant theme discernible throughout that coverage was the inaccurate portrayal of the conflict as an Israeli attack upon the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. The feature tells readers that:  

“…figures from previous operations over the past six years in the densely populated Gaza Strip show it is not the first time civilians have paid a heavy price”

Indeed the price paid by Gaza’s civilian population for the actions of terrorist organisations embedded in their midst is a “heavy” and regrettable one. However – in contrast to the impression this anonymously written feature deliberately attempts to create – it is nevertheless no heavier than that paid by civilian populations in conflict zones elsewhere in the world. The BBC’s decision not to inform its audiences of that fact can only be attributed to political motivations being allowed to trump editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Dumbed down BBC reporting on the Palestinian Unity Government continues

September 25th saw the appearance of an article titled “Hamas and Fatah agree unity government’s return to Gaza” on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.PUG art

The report opens with the specious suggestion that the reason that the Palestinian Unity Government which came into being on June 2nd has not brought the Gaza Strip under its authority to date is the conflict between Israel and Hamas which began 36 days after that government’s inauguration (and which it did nothing to prevent) rather than internal Hamas-Fatah disagreements.

“Palestinian negotiators in Cairo say they have agreed a “comprehensive” deal for a national unity government to take responsibility for running Gaza.

A cabinet backed by Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, was unveiled in June.

But the move was eclipsed by Israel’s conflict with militant groups in Gaza.”

The article continues:

“The territory has been governed by Hamas, which won the last parliamentary elections in 2006, since it ousted forces loyal to the PA in 2007.

The PA was left to run parts of the occupied West Bank not under Israeli control.”

Readers are not informed that the electoral mandate won by Hamas in 2006 long since expired and elections to the PLC are long overdue. Neither is it made clear that what the BBC euphemistically describes as Hamas having “ousted” the PA was in fact a violent coup. Likewise, the fact that PA control over Areas A and B is a product of agreements between Israel and the PA is not adequately clarified to readers. The article continues:

“Earlier this month, PA President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas accused Hamas of operating a “shadow government” in Gaza. Hamas denied the claim, calling it “against the reality”.”

No effort is made to enable BBC audiences to place that Hamas denial in its correct context by informing them that, despite the establishment of the unity government on June 2nd, Hamas continued to run ministries such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Information – both of which played active roles during the recent conflict.

Next, readers are provided with the following analysis from Kevin Connolly:

“The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says bringing unity between Hamas and Fatah is a strategic aspiration for the Palestinians – but differences between the factions are bitter and profound.

The new deal is described as “comprehensive”, but not enough detail is being published to allow a real judgement on its prospects, our correspondent adds.”

In line with the BBC’s policy since the beginning of June, Connolly fails to clarify to readers that – despite the placatory assurances at the time of its inauguration – the PUG has failed to live up to the PA’s existing agreements with Israel on various issues, including the disarming of terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. Connolly apparently does not consider it relevant to inform audiences about crucial clauses in those existing agreements such as the ban on local weapons manufacture and import.

Later on, the report states:

“However, a Hamas official told the Associated Press that there were still disagreements over who should be responsible for paying civil servants in Gaza, and whether the PA’s own security forces would be allowed a significant presence in the territory. He described the deal as “partial”.” [emphasis added]

Despite that very clear writing on the wall, the BBC obviously does not see the necessity of making audiences aware of the fact that if Hamas and other terrorist organisations are not disarmed by the PUG and the territory not brought under the sole control of PA security forces, then the Gaza Strip – along with the rest of the PA-controlled areas – will find itself in a ‘Lebanon-style’ situation whereby the actions of a foreign-sponsored terrorist organization can continue to spark conflict whenever that suits its own (or its sponsors’) agenda.

Additionally, the obviously relevant topic of the recent exposure of a planned Hamas coup against the PA is once again ignored by the BBC in this report.

Nearly four months since the Palestinian Unity Government came into existence, the BBC has still not met its obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues” by providing audiences with anything more than superficial reporting on the topic. That failure clearly not only hampers audiences’ ability to understand current events, but also means that they will be ill-equipped to comprehend any future developments. 

BBC misleads audiences regarding cause of Operation Protective Edge

On September 23rd the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article titled “Israel kills Palestinians suspected of teenagers’ murders“. The original version of the report read as follows.

Qawasme shootout art

The article was subsequently amended twice but all its versions continue to promote the notion that the seven weeks of hostilities in Israel and the Gaza Strip were caused by the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers on June 12th.

The final version of the report informs readers that:

“The abduction of the teenagers was a trigger of the recent conflict in Gaza.[…]

Israel launched a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank following the abduction, detaining hundreds of members.

Then on 2 July, a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem was abducted and burned alive in an apparent revenge attack two days after the bodies of the Israeli teenagers were found. One Jewish man and two youths have been charged with the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair, 16.

The killings set off an escalating cycle of violence, leading to a 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip that claimed more than 2,000 lives.”

As can be seen, the sequence of events presented to audiences by the BBC completely erases the fact that “the recent conflict” did not only take place “in Gaza” but also in Israel, with thousands of residents of the southern part of the country forced to leave their homes during that time.

Even more misleading is the fact that the BBC has completely airbrushed from audience view the hundreds of missiles launched at civilian targets in Israel between June 12th and the commencement of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th. It was of course that incessant missile fire which was the reason for the military operation, with the later discovery of dozens of cross-border tunnels prompting the subsequent ground operation. The military operation could have been avoided had Hamas elected to take advantage of the ample opportunities it was given to stop the missile fire before July 8th, but the terrorist organisation chose not to do so – for reasons not by any means exclusively connected to Israel.

“A Hamas official, who did not give his name to Palestinian news agency Sawa, said overnight Friday-Saturday [July 4th/5th – Ed.] that “those who expect Hamas to stop the rocket fire [on Israel], should to turn [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister] Rami Hamdallah.”

The official was alluding to the fact that the salaries of 40,000 Hamas clerks in Gaza were still unpaid, which was reportedly a key Hamas demand since agreeing to a unity government deal in late April with the Palestinian Authority.”

There is unfortunately nothing novel about this article’s promotion of the erroneous notion of an irresistible “cycle of violence” and its failure to inform BBC audiences that the events of this summer could have been prevented had Hamas so chosen.

Another point worthy of remark in this report is the fact that the penny seems to have finally dropped with regard to Hamas’ involvement in the kidnappings and murders of the three Israeli teenagers.

“The militant Islamist group Hamas initially denied being behind the killings but later on its political leader Khaled Meshaal said members had carried them out.

“Hamas praises the role martyrs Abu Aisha and Qawasmeh played in chasing down Israeli settlers and we stress that their assassination will not weaken the resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.”

That belated epiphany means that the BBC should now ensure that all its previously published content promoting the notion that Hamas was not responsible for the murders (material which of course remains accessible to the general public online) is amended to include a footnote informing audiences that the BBC’s claims were inaccurate. An organization truly committed to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality would also carry out a review of the role played by Jon Donnison in promoting politically motivated inaccurate information which deliberately misled audiences with regard to Hamas’ involvement in the kidnappings and murders. 

 

 

Will the BBC’s Doucet report on the real reasons for lost childhoods in Gaza?

On September 21st the Guardian published an interview with the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet in which we learn that she is apparently in the process of making a documentary about children in Gaza, whom the Guardian – not unexpectedly of course – wrongly describes as being ‘targeted’ by Israel. Doucet Guardian interview

“However, even with this wealth of experience, the BBC’s chief international correspondent admits the targeting of civilians, and in particular children, she has witnessed over the past two years in Syria and Gaza has prompted “an editorial shift in my journalism”, evident in last month’s BBC2 documentary The Children of Syria. Doucet is already working on a follow-up based on her experience of reporting from Gaza during the Israeli onslaught this summer.

“The way the wars of our time are fought, as punishing, sustained attacks on neighbourhoods, towns, cities, means assaults on families and childhood,” Doucet says. “Most places I cover young children are everywhere, in Gaza they are pouring out of every crevice.” [emphasis added]

Clearly Doucet (in addition to holding extremely ahistorical notions about warfare before “our time”) is disinterested in the very significant difference between an attack on a military target intentionally located in an urban area and a deliberate attack on a residential neighbourhood.

“In these crises, they are no longer the kids caught in the crossfire, they are the centre. We saw that in Gaza too. I began to realise there was a story to be told from the ground up. Just do the children.” […]

“Doucet intends to take a similar approach with her documentary on Gaza. “I keep thinking of the children, the families we spent time with there. I don’t get nightmares, but we are going back and following some of the stories.”

She is cagey about saying too much but explains: “We are trying to tell a very old Middle East story in a new way.”

“This will include the impact on both sides, a method established in Children of Syria, which included two heavily politicised boys, one an Alawite in Damascus, another in a refugee camp on the Turkish border.”

So will Doucet finally get round to telling the story (so far ignored by the BBC) of the Israeli children who have lived – and died – under the threat of constant missile attacks by terrorists in the Gaza Strip for the past thirteen years? That remains to be seen.

“Doucet says she believes in being “compassionate, not emotional”, suggesting she would not go so far as Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow’s anguished online video about the children of Gaza. “Empathy is a good thing. [But viewers] don’t want to see me, or anyone falling apart. It is not about us.” “

The vast volume of BBC coverage of events in the Gaza Strip during July and August – including from Lyse Doucet – actually provided audiences with very little which did not fall into the category of ‘anguished’ and ‘emotional’ reporting. One example of that was Doucet’s written report titled “No place to hide for children of war in Gaza and Syria” which appeared on the BBC News website on July 27th.

If this new documentary is not to be merely more of the heart-string-tugging, context-free same and is actually to provide BBC audiences with some insight into why Lyse Doucet sees “childhood […] being destroyed” in the Gaza Strip, then obviously it is going to have to address the root cause of the repeated violence: Islamist terrorism.

Her interest in children means that Doucet could do a lot worse that to begin her research with these names: Wasim Rida Salhia (aged 15), Anas Yusuf Qandil (aged 17) and Obeida Fadhel Muhammad Abu Hweishel (aged 9). Two of those youths appear on the Hamas Ministry of Health’s list of children killed during Operation Protective Edge: a list extensively promoted and quoted by the BBC as readers well know. The youngest boy was also listed on Hamas’ casualty lists, but with a false age. All three of them were acting as auxiliaries for terrorist organisations (including in one case Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) at the time of their deaths.

Doucet could also tackle in her documentary a topic which the BBC has so far studiously avoided: the summer camps run by internationally designated terrorist organisations for the children of the Gaza Strip. And of course the issue of the contribution made by Hamas children’s TV programmes to the phenomenon of “childhood […] being destroyed” is worthy of a documentary in itself.

Somehow, though, one doubts that any of those subjects are on Lyse Doucet’s “compassionate” agenda.

 

 

Yolande Knell’s Gaza borders campaign continues on BBC Radio 4’s PM

h/t JK

Since July a prevalent theme in BBC reporting on the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip has been the context-free amplification of Hamas’ demands to lift border restrictions imposed by Egypt and Israel in response to the activities of that terror organisation and others.

Initially, Hamas declared that the lifting of border restrictions was a precondition to any negotiations on a ceasefire and the BBC provided plenty of publicity for that obviously unrealistic demand – see examples here, here, here and here. Notably, the BBC also adopted Hamas terminology as part of its amplification of the terror group’s demands and began to inaccurately describe very specific restrictions on the entry of dual-use goods into the Gaza Strip as a “siege”.

Later, Hamas found itself obliged to climb down from that particular tree and demands for the lifting of border restrictions joined others, such as the construction of a seaport and an airport, as part of what Hamas promoted as its conditions for a long-term ceasefire. Those demands were also given ample promotion by BBC correspondents – see examples here, here, here, here, here and here.  

Even before the August 26th ceasefire agreement was reached the BBC’s focus turned to promoting the topic of the lifting of border restrictions via the subject matter of reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. With BBC representation in the area having returned to pre-conflict staffing levels, most of that particular advocacy campaign has been carried out by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell who has in recent weeks produced several ‘reporter in the rubble’ items all designed to impress upon BBC audiences that those same border restrictions must be lifted in order to facilitate the reconstruction of houses destroyed or damaged during the conflict. Examples can be seen here, here and here. PM 18 9  

On September 18th the BBC Radio 4 news magazine ‘PM’ broadcast an audio item by Yolande Knell (available for a limited period of time from 50:52 here) which recycles material from two of her previous reports for television and the BBC News website.

The programme’s presenter Eddie Mair introduces the item with citation of Gaza Strip casualty figures which fail to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

EM: “The human toll of the most recent violence between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza is well known. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed. As our correspondent Yolande Knell reports, the physical damage to Gaza is also significant.”

Knell opens:

“There’s a single bulldozer working to clear a path through an enormous pile of rubble in Shuja’iya in Gaza. The scale of destruction here is overwhelming. Last month this area was pounded with tank fire and airstrikes as the Israeli military said it set out to destroy a network of tunnels used by militants for cross-border raids and storing rockets. Dozens of local people were killed and thousands were left homeless.”

There is of course absolutely no editorial justification for Knell’s use of the phrase “as the Israeli military said”. Knell and her editors know full well that Hamas turned the Shuja’iya neighbourhood into a district overflowing with military targets including missile launching sites and the entrances to some ten cross-border attack tunnels. There is also no reason to assume that Knell is unaware of the fact that among the “dozens of local people” killed in Shuja’iya were a significant number of terrorists who engaged in fierce fighting with Israeli forces tasked with decommissioning the tunnels. And yet Knell deliberately refrains from communicating that fact to listeners, who next hear a local man – who cannot have been unaware that his neighbourhood had been used by terrorists as a missile launch site – feigning surprise that those sites came under attack.

Man: “I was shocked. I didn’t expect to see my house, my street, my neighbours’ houses destroyed like this. Now the war is ended but really we suffer from now here diseases. We suffer from no water, no electricity. Everything is destroyed really.”

Knell: “Abdel Karim Abu Ahmed is an English teacher. As the chickens run through the ruins of his house he shows me where he sleeps on a mattress alongside his brother and sons.”

Man: “Now we haven’t furnitures, we haven’t blankets, we haven’t walls. This is a problem. But we have – inshallah – to rebuild these houses. We hope through negotiation – inshallah – they will bring what we need here.”

Abdel Karim Abu Ahmed the English teacher also appeared in Knell’s recent feature on the BBC News website which included an aerial photograph of the location of his house in Shuja’iya.  

English teacher's house

As can be seen from the IDF’s aerial map of the neighbourhood, at least five missiles were fired from close proximity to Abu Ahmed’s house and yet Knell neglects to inform listeners of that fact and amplifies his feigned surprise at the consequences.

English teacher's house missiles fired

Knell continues with promotion of the main purpose of her report.

“But so far, nothing’s changed to ease the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt and that means reconstruction can’t yet begin. By the Kerem Shalom crossing lorries are bringing in commercial goods – mainly food – but Israel bans the import of building materials for private use, saying that militants use them to build tunnels.”

Again, Knell’s presentation of Hamas’ proven misappropriation of construction materials for the purposes of terror in terms of “Israel says” has no editorial justification. She also fails to clarify that construction materials for the private sector were imported into the Gaza Strip until last October when a cross-border tunnel was discovered. Knell continues with a Norwegian Refugee Council official who also appeared in one of her previous filmed reports.

“Now international aid agencies are calling for a rethink. Ruth Allan represents the Shelter Cluster. It’s worked out there would still be a housing crisis in Gaza even if this crossing ran at its full capacity.”

Allan: “We’ve calculated that it would take 20 years to rebuild the homes. This is not including schools, not including hospitals, not including any other civilian infrastructure – oly houses. Basically 17 thousand homes were destroyed in this last war. Also, there is huge population growth and therefore there is a shortfall of homes.”

Next comes promotion of propaganda straight from the Hamas horse’s mouth.

“In Gaza City I meet another Palestinian inspecting his damaged house. Mahmoud Zahar knows that he was Israel’s intended target here as a founder and leader of the Islamist movement Hamas. He insists the recent conflict was a great victory.”

Al Zahar: “Now I think if we are going to make any election in any area in Palestine, Hamas will be number one – just because this is the first war that Israel failed to achieve any of its goals. Destruction of the tunnels: tomorrow we are going to start doing more tunnels. Tunnels was a self-defence. Rockets was a self-defence. Resistance was our style. Israel started the war and they finished by big losses.”

Knell makes no effort to ensure that listeners are not misled by the inaccurate claims of a man who, despite being on record as having legitimised the murder of Jewish children anywhere in the world and despite UK legislation on the encouragement of terrorism, is apparently still deemed by the BBC to be an appropriate interviewee with something to contribute to audiences. She continues:

“Such attitudes have angered the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who heads a unity government backed by Hamas. He’s warned they hamper efforts to rebuild Gaza. As far as Israel’s concerned, they justify its caution, particularly when it comes to construction supplies. Mark Regev is the Israeli prime minister’s spokesman.”

Regev: “As to materials that could be syphoned off by Hamas to once again rebuild their terror machine, well we’re taking now to the international community – to the United nations, to relevant governments – of how we can have mechanisms in place that will prevent Hamas stealing what is ultimately supposed to reach the people of Gaza. I mean the amount of cement that went into those terror tunnels could have built a dozen hospitals; let’s be clear.”

Knell concludes:

“Back in Shuja’iya residents are trying to clean up their homes. While Gaza’s now calm, they know there’s still no political solution to its underlying problems and now they’re feeling them more acutely than ever.”

Despite al Zahar’s clear declaration of intent to re-engage in the construction of terrorist infrastructure, Knell fails to join the dots and clarify to listeners that there is no chance of success for any “political solution” to the Gaza Strip’s “underlying problems” which does not include adherence to the PA’s existing agreements with Israel – i.e. the disarming of all terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. Neither is she apparently concerned by the fact that her own role in the BBC’s repeated advocacy for Hamas’ political campaign to lift border restrictions is likely to contribute to the current calm in the Gaza Strip being very short-lived. 

Reader secures correction to BBC News website article

Earlier this month we noted here that a report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on August 27th misled audiences with regard to UN World Food Programme supplies of food aid to the Gaza Strip.correction

The BBC article stated:

“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.”

As we wrote at the time:

“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.”

In fact, the WFP’s statement related to entry to the Gaza Strip from Egypt, but that was not made clear in the BBC’s report and neither was the fact that the WFP has been able to supply food aid to the Gaza Strip via the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom crossing.  

A reader complained to the BBC about the inaccuracy of the report and received the following reply:

“You are quite correct and we would like to apologise for this error. We have amended the article and also added a correction notification at the bottom to outline the change.”

The above paragraph now reads:

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

A footnote has been added to the article:

Correction WFP art

Unfortunately though, in the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, it is unlikely that those who read the original version of the report during the three weeks in which it stood uncorrected would have reason to return to this article and see that footnote. One must therefore once again ask the BBC what exactly is the point of amendments and corrections to reports appearing on its website if no effort is made to ensure that audiences receive the corrected version?

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A BBC News report tells readers: ‘ceasefire has held’ and ‘mortar fired’

On September 17th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “UN brokers agreement to rebuild in Gaza Strip“. The report is made up of nineteen paragraphs and in the sixth and seventh ones readers are informed that:reconstruction article

“Israel launched a major military operation in Gaza on 8 July, with the stated aim of stopping militants firing rockets and mortars at its territory.

Following several short-lived ceasefires, both sides agreed to an open-ended truce on 26 August which has so far held.”

However, those who bothered to read right down to the end would no doubt be confused when they discovered in the final paragraph that:

“The Israeli military also reported that a mortar shell fired from Gaza had landed in southern Israel, the first since the ceasefire came into force.”

Indeed, a mortar fired from the Gaza Strip did hit the Eshkol area on September 16th – as the BBC was aware but did not report separately at the time. Obviously a ceasefire cannot be accurately described as having “so far held” when mortar fire has taken place.

The BBC’s description of the actual subject matter of this report’s headline – an “agreement” on reconstruction in the Gaza Strip – is very vague and provides little factual information.

“Robert Serry, special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the Palestinian Authority would play a lead role in the reconstruction effort. […]

Mr Serry announced that his office had brokered an agreement to enable large-scale reconstruction, involving the private sector in Gaza and giving a “lead role” to the Palestinian Authority, “while providing security assurances through UN monitoring that these materials will not be diverted from their entirely civilian purpose”.

The Israeli government is worried that they might be used to rebuild tunnels under Gaza’s frontier from which attacks have been launched.”

Whilst the lack of information concerning the actual details of the agreement is not the fault of the BBC (the UN has not publicised exactly how it intends the agreement to work), it would nevertheless have been in order to clarify several issues to BBC audiences.

One important point is that from the information available this agreement does not appear to be very different from previous arrangements beginning in 2010 whereby construction materials were imported into the Gaza Strip for projects guaranteed and supervised by the PA and international bodies. Despite those guarantees and that supervision, Hamas managed to misappropriate construction materials for the building of dozens of cross-border attack tunnels and other military projects. The question of how “security assurances through UN monitoring” will be any more effective this time round than, for example, its past inability to prevent missiles being stored in UN schools did not apparently prompt the writer of this article to summon enough journalistic curiosity to chase up Robert Serry’s office. Instead BBC audiences have to make do with a rehashed version of ambiguous statements from a UN press release.

An additional point which is not adequately clarified to readers is that according to the above UN press release, this agreement was reached with Israel and the Palestinian Authority (the BBC’s report says merely “Palestinian officials”). The Palestinian Authority’s government is of course currently the same Palestinian Unity Government (PUG) which in theory has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 2nd 2014 and yet failed to honour existing agreements with Israel and did nothing to stop the escalation in missile fire by terrorist factions (including Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) from June 12th onwards which led to the conflict and the consequent need for an agreement on reconstruction. The BBC article states:

“Mr Serry added that the UN stood ready to provide “increased technical assistance” to the Palestinian unity government, which was formed in June by the Fatah movement of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, the militant Islamist group that dominates Gaza.

Relations between the two factions have deteriorated and it is unclear whether Hamas will be part of the unified Palestinian delegation at the second phase of the ceasefire talks in Cairo.”

With Hamas having sidelined the PUG into irrelevance by continuing to run its own de-facto government in the Gaza Strip throughout the conflict and with details of a Hamas plot to overthrow the PA having emerged in recent weeks, the question of whether the PA can realistically be expected to oversee reconstruction in the Gaza Strip in a manner which will prevent Hamas from getting its hands on building materials is a very relevant one which the BBC elects not to examine.

Likewise the corporation is silent on the fact that when the PUG was formed, the UN (along with the EU and the US) attached conditions to its recognition:

“Both the UN and EU have welcomed the new government, on the basis of the assurances that it will abide by its commitments of recognition of Israel, non-violence and adherence to previous agreements.”

Clearly those assurances have not been met and yet – despite its platitudes at the time – the UN is now doing deals with the same body which blatantly ignored existing agreements and, moreover, appointing it to a “lead role” in a reconstruction project which, if not stringently monitored, could well create the spark for further rounds of conflict.

An organization truly committed to the public purpose of building “a global understanding of international issues” would of course ensure that audiences were made aware of the above issues.  

 

More on the BBC’s ‘Dutchman returns Holocaust medal’ story

Readers may recall that last month we noted here that two reports – one written and one filmed – which appeared (and are still available) on the BBC News website failed to inform audiences of a very significant factor in the story they told.Anna Holligan report

That story was recounted by the BBC as follows:

“A Dutchman honoured by Israel for hiding a Jewish child during World War Two has handed back his medal after six of his relatives were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza.

Henk Zanoli, 91, wrote to the Israeli embassy in The Hague to say he could no longer hold the honour.

He said an Israeli F-16 had destroyed his great-niece’s home in Gaza, killing all inside, in the recent offensive. [….]

His great-niece is a Dutch diplomat who is married to Palestinian economist Ismail Ziadah, who was born in a refugee camp in central Gaza.

Mr Ziadah’s mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and nine-year-old nephew were all killed after their family home was hit by Israeli aircraft.”

However, the BBC did not inform readers and viewers that in addition to Mr Zanoli’s family members, a “guest” was also present in the house at the time: Mohammed Mahmoud al-Maqadma – a member of Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades. As we noted at the time:Ziyadeh poster

“That information was in the public domain for almost a month before BBC News ran this report. It is a very relevant part of the story which provides context important to proper audience understanding. And yet, the BBC elected to refrain from providing that information to readers and viewers.”

Now further research by Elder of Ziyon reveals that al Maqadma was not the only Hamas terrorist present in the Ziadah family home on July 20th. Omar Ziadah – Mr Zanoli’s great-niece’s brother-in-law – was a field commander in Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades.

The BBC’s written report ended with amplification of the following statement from Mr Zanoli:

” “Against this background it is particularly shocking and tragic that today, four generations on, our family is faced with the murder of our kin in Gaza. Murder carried out by the State of Israel,” he wrote in the letter addressed to Israeli ambassador Haim Davon.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality should mean that – having elected to amplify that very serious accusation – the BBC is now obliged to inform audiences that in fact one of Mr Zanoli’s relatives was a member of Hamas and a combatant.

And perhaps the BBC’s correspondent in the Hague who produced the original filmed report might care to ask the Dutch government how a diplomat from an EU member country – in this case the Deputy Head of the Netherlands’ mission to Oman and former policy advisor on the Middle East to the Dutch MFA – happened to have a relative who was a member of a terrorist organization proscribed by the EU.  

Not just about journalism: BBC editorial guidelines and the wider public interest

As is of course to be expected, the horrific murder of one British charity worker by ISIS last weekend and the accompanying threat to behead another has been extensively covered by the UK media.Nye Jul 14 a

According to the Times:

“The security services are investigating whether kidnappers who abducted two Britons on aid missions to Syria were acting on insider tip-offs.

As part of efforts to build up a picture of the network around the British kidnap gang that has been executing westerners, MI5 and MI6 are trying to establish whether they had help in identifying victims. […]

It is thought unlikely that the gang, which could have as many as 20 western hostages, were able to conduct so many kidnappings without the help of informers on both sides of the border.”

The Daily Telegraph informs us that:

“Alan Henning was kidnapped within half an hour of entering Syria after he unwittingly became involved with a charity with links to alleged extremists, it has emerged.

Mr Henning, 47, now threatened with beheading by jihadists, ignored pleas from friends, colleagues and local guides not to cross the Syrian border, telling them he was determined to make sure the supplies he was carrying were delivered safely to the right people.

Mr Henning was driving an ambulance on behalf of Rochdale Aid 4 Syria, which raised money on behalf of Al-Fatiha Global, a registered charity currently under investigation by the Charity Commission after one of its leaders was photographed with his arms around two hooded fighters carrying machine guns. […]

There is no suggestion Mr Henning, a father of two from Eccles, Greater Manchester, knew of the apparent links between the charities and extremism. Al-Fatiha Global was only placed under investigation in March – three months after Mr Henning was kidnapped – after Adeel Ali, the son of one of its trustees, was pictured with gunmen on the front of The Sun newspaper.”

Among the BBC’s recent coverage of the issue is a filmed interview with Catrin Nye of the BBC Asian Network which was aired on BBC television news programmes on September 14th and also appears in a written report currently featured on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.  Nye met Alan Henning whilst she was making several reports for numerous BBC platforms on the topic of British aid convoys to Syria. Henning’s later participation in one of those convoys led to his kidnapping in Syria in late December 2013.Nye Jul 14 b

As was noted here at the time, Catrin Nye’s numerous reports – aired in November and early December 2013 – refrained from addressing the topic of the extremist links of some of the charities and individual activists involved in organizing those convoys. Catrin Nye produced additional reports on the same subject in July 2014 which once again failed to adequately inform audiences of the convoys’ organisers links to extremists, even though one of the charities involved in previous trips was already under investigation by the Charity Commission when the report was being made. Nye’s latest interview likewise fails to inform viewers on the same issue.

Notable too is the fact that Orla Guerin produced a report from Gaza on August 13th which was based on the claims of an ISM activist with additional links to the same UK charity currently under investigation.

It is all too clear that BBC promotion of the activities of NGOs and charities without the required disclosure of their ideologies, political agendas and any extremist links not only breaches the corporation’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, but also goes against the wider interests of the British public in general.