Of camels and humps: the BBC addresses ‘media visual stereotyping’

A couple of recent BBC News website articles relating to the subject of photographed images have the most likely unintended distinction of falling into the category of the old adage “write about what you know” as far as the BBC is concerned. SONY DSC

On November 22nd an article titled “Altered Images: How to verify photos of current events” appeared in the website’s ‘News from Elsewhere’ section which is compiled by BBC Monitoring.

The article states:

“With smartphone use widespread, images of unfolding events quickly fill social media networks. While many are genuine, it is not uncommon for a picture depicting something else entirely to be passed off as documenting a protest, a natural disaster or other event.”

“Not uncommon” indeed.

Another article, which appeared in the website’s ‘In Pictures’ section on December 2nd, addresses the subject of what the BBC College of Journalism Twitter account termed “media visual stereotyping”.

Media Visual Stereotyping CoJ

Whilst the article – titled “Challenging stereotypes: Teesside’s new Roma” – deals with the work of a photographer who “challenges many of the stereotypical visuals seen in the media” in relation to Roma in the United Kingdom, the general theme will be more than a little familiar to BBC Watch readers.

In pictures 1

In pictures 2

In pictures 3

In pictures 4

In pictures 5

In pictures 6

Will the ‘In pictures’ camel finally get around to taking a look at some of its own humps?

Related articles:

Seeing Israel through the BBC’s lens

Disproportional representation: every (BBC chosen) picture tells a story

BBC’s “In Pictures” fails to meet editorial standards

BBC pictorial feature on ‘suffering’

BBC pictorial portrayals of conflict in Israel and Gaza

Examining the BBC’s track record on Jewish refugees from Arab lands

On November 30th 2013 the BBC News website’s home page and Middle East page both promoted a feature titled “In pictures: Early years of Palestinian refugees” which showcases images from the newly digitised archives of UNRWA – currently being promoted by that organization within the framework of its permanent public relations campaign. 

In pictures Palestinian refugees

Quite how the promotion of campaigning material produced by politically motivated organisations can be considered part of the BBC’s remit or in adherence to its editorial guidelines on impartiality is a (big) question in itself, but it is notable that the captions to the photographs showcased by the BBC adhere diligently to the UNRWA script, with the text accompanying the final photograph, for example, reading:

“There are now four generations of Palestinian refugees. The “right of return” to their former homes in what is now Israel remains one of the thorniest issues in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

But of course the issue of Palestinian refugees is only half the story. The other half – that of Jewish refugees from Arab lands – has no dedicated UN refugee agency to document its history, no hereditary refugee status, no UN sponsored ‘Solidarity Day’ and no UN funded committee  to champion its ‘inalienable rights’.

The other half of that story has in fact never been mentioned in any UN resolution whatsoever in the past 66 years, as was pointed out by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, at a special UN session held on November 21st.

“In his statement, Prosor decried the United Nations’ actions. “Since 1947, there have been 687 resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. Over 100 of those resolutions “deal specifically with the Palestinians refugees. And yet as we speak today, not one resolution says a single word about the Jewish refugees.”  “

The special session was titled “The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” and was hosted by the World Jewish Congress. The event featured testimonies from speakers including Lucette Lagnado, Linda Menuhin and Levana Zamir and the film below was also screened. In conversation with BBC Watch, Ambassador Prosor noted that only one Arab country was represented at the event. 

As readers may already be able to guess, that recent conference was not covered by the BBC’s UN correspondent. Whilst it is not true to say that the BBC ignores the issue completely (see here, here, here, here and here for example) its coverage of Palestinian refugees continues to be considerably more extensive – and notably less controversial – than that of the content it produces on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. 

A search for ‘Jewish refugees from Arab lands’ on the BBC News website produces 52 results (dating from between March 2002 and November 2013) – many of which are not actually directly related to the subject. In contrast, a search on the same website for ‘Palestinian refugees’ produces 1,304 results. 

Search BBC website Jewish refugees

Search BBC website Palestinian refugees

To use a term frequently employed by the BBC in its Middle East coverage, that ratio is of course disproportionate and – in addition to compromising the BBC’s commitment to impartiality as laid down in its editorial guidelines – also goes against the obligations of the BBC’s constitutional basis, according to which one of its public purposes is to build a “global understanding of international issues”.

Understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be promoted by consistent under-reporting of the story of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. 

 

BBC coverage of prisoner release in pictures

The story of the recent release of another twenty-six Palestinians convicted of murdering Israeli (and Palestinian) civilians has of course two aspects to it: the Israeli aspect and the Palestinian one.

The imbalance in the BBC’s coverage of those two aspects is apparent not only in the word count and the language used in its various reports on the subject, but also in the images selected to illustrate those articles.

In the article appearing on October 28th on the BBC News website, two images were used.

Images 1

Images 2

In the article from October 29th one photograph was used.

Images 6

In the filmed report of October 30th all the footage was of celebrations in Ramallah.

Knell filmed pris

The written article from October 30th included the video clip of the filmed report as well as two additional images.

images 3

Images 4

Also in that article, one photograph taken at the October 28th demonstration against the prisoner release held outside Ofer prison (which was not covered at all by the BBC) was featured. 

Images 5 I

Not one image of any of the twenty-five victims of the murders committed by the twenty-six prisoners was shown by the BBC and yet again the faces of family members of the victims also remain unseen.  That is not because such photographs do not exist; it is an editorial decision.

Below are just some of the other pictures taken at the same demonstration by photographers from the same agency – Getty Images – as credited on the image the BBC did choose to use. 

G I 1

G I 2

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Seeing Israel through the BBC’s lens

There is a standing joke in my family that British people who have never been to Israel, and whose main source of news is the BBC, are likely be under the impression that only soldiers and politicians inhabit that country because the BBC rarely shows images of anybody else – unless they belong to the minority (10% according to the most generous of estimations) ultra-orthodox community. 

An article titled “Worrying time for Israelis as US Syria strike looms” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page at the end of August 2013 and throughout the first week of September would surely have provided a good opportunity for the use of an illustration showing Israeli civilians coming to renew their gas masks. Instead, this is the photograph which was chosen.

pic gas masks

The illustrations used in other Israel-related articles which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page during September were dominated by pictures of what is perhaps the most photographed army in the world. 

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There was also an ‘In Pictures’ feature on Yom Kippur. 

Pic YK feature

And of course, politicians were also featured – though not always Israeli ones.

pic politicians 1

pic politicians 2

 Can the BBC News website claim that its visitors are being presented with an accurate and balanced selection of images of Israel?  

Related articles:

BBC ‘In Pictures’ on prisoner release: no mention of crimes

Disproportional representation: every (BBC chosen) picture tells a story

BBC pictorial portrayals of conflict in Israel and Gaza

BBC’s “In Pictures” fails to meet editorial standards

BBC ‘In Pictures’ on prisoner release: no mention of crimes

Among the extensive coverage of last week’s release of 26 convicted terrorists which appeared on the BBC News website was an item titled “In pictures: Palestinian prisoners released” dating from August 14th.

The pictorial feature includes seven pictures – five of which show the released prisoners being received by family and crowds. None of the captions to those pictures make any mention whatsoever of the crimes they committed. In the pictures, the subjects are seen to be happy and smiling, sometimes making triumphal gestures, and with their faces well-lit. 

In pictures prisoners 1

In pictures prisoners 2

In pictures prisoners 3

In pictures prisoners 4

In pictures prisoners 5

The last two images show the ‘Israeli side’ of the story. Picture number six shows Israeli police and prison service vehicles at the entrance to Ayalon prison. The only people in the photograph are uniformed officers whose faces cannot be seen.

In pictures prisoners 6

The final picture shows Israelis – mostly male – protesting against the prisoner release. Notably, we do not see their faces except for one small child and a blurred side-view of a woman’s face half hidden behind a sign and so their protest – unlike the celebrations of the prisoners and their families – does not take on a human face with which audiences can connect.

In pictures prisoners 7

Here are some examples of other pictures of Israelis protesting the prisoner release which were not selected for this ‘In Pictures’ feature.

Manipulating BBC audience opinions with pictures

The BBC News website’s ‘In Pictures’ section includes a daily feature titled ‘Day in Pictures’ which mostly showcases photographs (taken by non-BBC photographers) relating to the particular day’s news and events. The section is edited by BBC Picture Editor Phil Coomes

The image below appeared in the ‘Day in Pictures’ feature for August 2nd.

In pictures August 2

The picture’s caption reads: [emphasis added]

“Israeli soldier removes a ladder placed by Palestinians who used it to climb over the controversial barrier, near Ramallah.”

The pop-up caption to the thumbnail version of the picture reads:

“An Israeli soldier removes a ladder placed by Palestinian males (not seen), not permitted to cross into Jerusalem from the West Bank by Israeli security forces, after they used it to climb over Israel [sic].” 

The picture was taken by Reuters photographer Mohamad Torokman and on the Reuters website we find another photograph from the same series with the caption:

“Palestinian males not permitted by Israeli security forces to cross into Jerusalem from the West Bank due to an age limit, climb over Israel’s controversial barrier, in the village of Al-Ram, near Ramallah, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan August 2, 2013.” [emphasis added]

Reuters photo A Ram

Reuters is of course not bound by the same editorial guidelines as the BBC. If the BBC is going to use photographs from agencies, it obviously needs to ensure that accompanying captions meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality. The inclusion of the word “controversial” clearly represents a breach of impartiality, pushing readers towards a specific political viewpoint which regards the building of an anti-terrorist fence to thwart terror attacks against Israeli civilians as “controversial”.

Likewise, the presentation of this photograph and its accompanying caption without any mention of the fact that record numbers of Palestinian civilians have received permits to enter Israel during Ramadan this year, together with the omission of any explanation regarding the criteria which form the basis of considerations for the granting of permits and why the entry into Israel by Palestinian males of a certain age might be considered a security risk, clearly also breaches editorial guidelines.

If all that relevant context is too much for one photo caption, then obviously the photograph is not suitable for use by the BBC. But when the BBC does elect to run such an image, accompanied by a caption which uses a politically loaded adjective and omits crucial context, then the only conclusion readers can reach is that this is another case of the BBC trying to shape a particular viewpoint in the minds of audiences.

 

Images of Israel – BBC style

On the night between June 27th and 28th 2013 the ‘White Night’ festival took place in Tel Aviv. This annual event – held on the last Thursday in June – commemorates the 2003 UNESCO recognition of the White City – the Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv – as a World Heritage Site. As readers can probably imagine, the wide range of cultural events provided a rich source of inspiration for photographers, both professional and amateur. 

The BBC News website’s ‘Day in Pictures’ feature for June 28th 2013 included one photograph from Israel, but it was not of the White Night festival.  

Day in pictures 28 6

The caption reads:

“An Israeli Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter launches anti-missile flares during an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli air force pilots at the Hatzerim base in the Negev desert.”

Indeed, the latest batch of Israel Air Force pilots graduated on June 28th.  Whilst the photographic potential of that event is of course limited by the necessity to conceal the identities of the new pilots, nevertheless pictures of the people at the centre of that story do exist – as shown on the IDF’s Facebook account and among the other pictures taken by the same AFP photographer on the same day. 

קורס טייס

קורס טייס 2

קורס טייס 3

Interesting editorial choices yet again from the BBC Picture Editor. 

Related posts:

BBC pictorial portrayals of conflict in Israel and Gaza

Disproportional representation: every (BBC chosen) picture tells a story

BBC’s “In Pictures” fails to meet editorial standards

Disproportional representation: every (BBC chosen) picture tells a story

h/t Dan

Even the highest estimates – and there is plenty of conflicting opinion on the subject – put those belonging to ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) streams at about 10% of the total population of Israel. 

Much of the foreign media, however, has a tendency to disproportionately feature the ultra-Orthodox in pictures used to illustrate articles about Israel, thus creating a misleading impression of the make-up of the country’s population. The BBC is no exception. 

Take this “In Pictures” item from January 9th 2013 entitled “Storms sweep Middle East” for example. Four of the eleven pictures featured were taken in Israel – one in Tel Aviv, two in Jerusalem and one in the Golan Heights. 

Storms 1

Storms 2

Storm 3

Storms 4

The first three pictures are credited to Reuters. Perhaps, one might think, the BBC pictures editor had no choice: maybe those were the only pictures available.

Well it just so happens that Reuters is running a similar feature on its own website and the first and third pictures used by the BBC also appear there. But alongside them are many pictures which the BBC elected not to use. 

Reuters 1

Reuters 2

Reuters 3

Images can evoke a range of emotional reactions from the viewer, one of which is identification. Identification with the subject of an image in turn promotes empathy. The decision by members of the media to disproportionately feature pictures of people who represent a minority group within Israeli society and whose lifestyle, dress and customs do not promote a sense of identification – and hence empathy – for the vast majority of viewers, is therefore very significant. 

Once again, we see interesting editorial decisions from the BBC News website’s Pictures Editor Phil Coomes and/or his staff: decisions which contribute towards painting a misrepresentative picture of Israeli society. 

BBC ‘tidies up’ Fatah celebrations

Fatah has been marking an anniversary this week, although the BBC only got round to reporting on the subject on Friday, January 4th when a rally was held in Gaza. 

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The BBC’s coverage included a television report by Wyre Davies, an article on the BBC News website and an “In Pictures” feature.

In all three items, it is stated that the rally marks the 48th anniversary of the founding of Fatah. 

TV report 4 01

Article 4 01

in pictures 4 01

That theme was also promoted by the BBC’s man in Gaza, Rushdi Abualouf:

Fatah Gaza 2

Readers familiar with the history of the Middle East will no doubt now be scratching their heads because of course Fatah was not founded 48 years ago in 1965, but in 1959. What Fatah is in fact celebrating is the 48th anniversary of its first armed attack on Israel which took place on January 1st 1965, but the BBC apparently does not consider that a ‘need to know’ fact for its audiences.

The latest amendment to the BBC News online article states that:

 “Fatah organisers decided to end speeches early due to “the huge number of participants and logistical failures”, Yahiya Rabah, a Fatah official in Gaza, was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

There were reports of clashes between rival Fatah factions, but none of violence between Hamas and Fatah supporters.”

Other sources indicate that AP actually expanded on the subject of those “clashes” – information which the BBC apparently did not deem necessary to include in its own report: 

“Yahiya Rabah, a top Fatah official in Gaza, said the rally was cancelled “due to the huge number of participants and logistical failures.”

But witnesses said one pushing match was between supporters of Abbas and partisans of Fatah’s former Gaza security commander Mohammed Dahlan, who was expelled from the party because of conflicts with Abbas.

Another Fatah official, who spoke anonymously because he did not want to embarrass the party, said the rally was cancelled because hundreds of Dahlan supporters jumped up on the stage and clashed with Abbas supporters.

Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Etta attributed the injuries to overcrowding and the excitement of the rally. Later, more Palestinians were injured when part of a stage collapsed. Youths also clashed and stabbings were reported. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said overall 55 people were injured, including three critically.

There was one death during the rally: A 23-year-old Fatah activist was electrocuted while trying to hang a flag on an electric pole.”

The BBC’s reports, however, are nothing but pastoral in tone, focusing upon images of yellow flags in the sunshine and the much-touted ‘reconciliation’ between Fatah and Hamas. The BBC’s report of the video address (from Ramallah) to the rally by Mahmoud Abbas states:

“In a pre-recorded message played on giant screens, President Abbas said: “Victory is near and we will meet you in Gaza in the near future,” AFP news agency reported.

“Gaza was the first Palestinian territory rid of [Israeli] occupation and settlement and we want a lifting of the blockade so that it can be free and linked to the rest of the nation,” he said from his West Bank power-base.”

However, the BBC fails to mention other aspects of Abbas’ speech, including his lack of distinction between Jerusalem as a whole and the eastern neighbourhoods of the city where the PA is said to aspire to establish the capital of a future Palestinian state: 

“Our people are living under an occupation and a siege and our mission is to unite our efforts to save our capital Jerusalem,” he said. “But victory is coming and we will see in soon, in Gaza.”

“He went on to praise the various Fatah “shahids” – militants who died a “martyr’s” death and made it a point to offer similar praise to Hamas militants who were killed, as well as prominent operatives in the other Palestinian factions.”

Among those terror leaders praised by Abbas were Hamas founders Ahmed Yassin and Abed Aziz al Rantissi as well as the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Fathi Shiqaqi

Notably absent over the past few days has been any BBC coverage of the rallies held by Fatah in PA-controlled areas earlier in the week. On January 3rd a rally was held in Nablus (Schem) and in the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, masked armed members of Fatah paraded through the streets undisturbed by PA security forces, as can be seen in this video.

Fatah rally Dheisheh

Licence fee-payers might consider it the obligation of a media organization committed to increasing its audience’s understanding of world events to fully report terror-glorifying parades and rallies – especially those organized by the faction which is supposed to be one half of the Middle East peace process.

Apparently, the BBC does not. Instead it condescendingly ‘tidies up’ events to present a sanitized view of the Palestinian street (literally and figuratively) to audiences around the world.  

Related post: What Jon Donnison did not report about the Hamas rally in Nablus

Antisemitic trope on BBC comments board – again

Among the already moderated comments on this article currently on display in the “In Pictures” section of the BBC News website, and also promoted on its Middle East page, is the following one.

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This is not the first instance of offensive comments being allowed to stand on BBC comments boards, as we documented earlier this month and, as we wrote then, it is the BBC’s responsibility to ensure that its moderators adhere to its own house rules which prohibit racist comments.

Those ‘house rules’ also state [emphasis added] that:  

“The blog author or host does not usually moderate the content of the boards, although it is their job to keep the discussions relevant to the topic and within the BBC’s guidelines. They may close off-topic or other rule-breaking discussions, and sometimes make a decision on comments that have been referred to them by the moderators. They may also alert the moderators to rule-breaking comments that they see in the course of their work.”

In this particular case, that would appear to be the BBC’s Picture Editor Phil Coomes.